We all know that the Bible is a great place to turn for hope and inspiration. One thing that may be a hard pill to swallow is that the Bible is also full of affliction, tribulations, and persecution. Not only did these things happen to the people in the Bible, but God's word actually promises us that we will also be subject to the sames thing.
It would be forgivable for a new Christian to think that deciding to follow God will result in a lot of blessings, and they would not be wrong. However, it's also important to understand that following Christ does not mean that everything will be kittens and rainbows. When someone is trying to do the right thing and lead a Christ centered life, it is very easy to begin questioning things whenever our lives suddenly take a turn for the worst. However, taking a step back to understand why we are going through the things we are going through can give us the hope we need to persevere. In this post I am going to offer up some words of encouragement for those of you that might be experiencing your own personal trials.
Firstly, it's very important to understand that some of the difficult times we go through are a direct result or consequence of a poor decision we have made in our lives. For example, when I was in my alcohol addiction, there were several consequences that were a direct result of my decision, and therefore I had nobody to blame but myself. For instance, health problems, broken relationships, poor performance in my career, and the subsequent financial difficulties were all a direct result of my alcoholism. In similar fashion, some of the trials we go through could simply be chastisement from the Lord.
Let's take Jonah as an example of this. His trial (being stuck in the belly of a great fish or whale) was a direct result of blatantly disobeying a commission from the Lord to go to Ninevah. Therefore he brought this trial upon himself, and he ended up doing what God had asked anyway! This is a great example of how God will see His providential will done regardless of our voluntary contribution.
Job is an old testament example of a faithful follower of Christ of being put through trials and tribulations for no other reason than to Glorify God. Job showed great perseverance in the face of these trials and continued to praise and worship God throughout the whole ordeal.
However, the purpose of this post is not to dig in to these stories. The purpose of this is to understand why we go through things in our lives and how we should respond when we do. So let's get started.
Paul gives us a lot of insight into suffering in his letter to the Corinthians. It could be argued that he brought some of his sufferings on himself because of the life he lived as Saul when he was persecuting believers. Regardless, he gives us a recounting of some of the things he endured in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
There is no doubt that Paul had his fair share of tribulations and affliction. However, we have much to learn about his attitude towards these afflictions.
Sometimes God uses these trials and tribulations to make us grown closer to him. God wants us to seek him and cry out for help when we are going through things, and he promises us comfort us. Maybe we are drifting off our path and we need to be redirected in order to focus our attention on him. I know that when I am going through a particularly difficult time it prompts me to step back and evaluate if the things I am going through are there to teach me a lesson.
God uses suffering to expose the sin in our lives. When we suddenly bear an affliction, our pride, impatience, and unbelief will show its ugly head. Pain has a way of making us vulnerable and open our hearts, laying everything out there. When I’ve faced suffering, I’ve responded with anger. Sometimes it reveals my lack of faith in God’s promises. I begin questioning God: How could you let this happen?
If we’re prone to love something in this world whether it's a house, spouse, children, job—more than God, he may sometimes remove the idol. And it will hurt. In doing so, though, we're forced to refocus on him alone.
However, whatever the reason may be, 2 Cor 1:4 promises that God will be be there to comfort us in our affliction.
[He] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
It doesn't stop there. If we read that verse carefully it tells us that He comforts us for a reason, and we are expected to respond to that comfort. This means that we can not only be comforted, but we can use the lessons we learned in order to comfort others that may be going through something similar. No matter what we may think, we are not unique in our trials. That's something I learned while at John 3:16. It only houses about 230 men currently, but amazingly, it seems that no matter what someone has gone through, there always seems to be someone there that has gone through something similar. This results in being able to either be encouraged by someone that has survived what you are going through, or it enables you to use your affliction to glorify God by helping another believer. You may be able to share your testimony with them in order to give them hope.
I have said before that if I knew everything I went through during my addiction only serves no other function other than to keep my children from repeating my mistakes, I would go through it 100 more times. I can also take comfort in the fact that if, for some reason, my children do make some of the same mistakes I have made, I am now uniquely equipped to understand and help them overcome their problems as I have.
James 1:2-4 tells us to not only persevere during trials, but also to take it a step further!
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
That's kind of a tall order isn't it? Why would James tell us to find joy in suffering?
Suffering can feel senseless, especially if you don’t know why it is happening to you. However there is no need to suffer without cause. By choosing the right mindset, you can rise above your suffering and focus on the joy that’s possible for you in Christ Jesus.
Seeking joy in suffering gives a purpose for the suffering. However, letting suffering simply sweep over you in waves can be disheartening. But if you are looking for signs of joy even while you suffer, the purpose of the suffering is affirmed, and you can have some hope.
Another reason to seek joy in suffering is to be like more like Jesus. Jesus also endured a lot of suffering when he humbled himself to become human. He endured that suffering so we could be with him. Our suffering matters to God, and it helps us become more like Jesus as we endure.
You may not be able to see this now, but God may use your current time of suffering to encourage other people in the future as we discussed above in 2 Corinthians 1:4.
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. – 1 Peter 2:19
This scripture tells us that God commends those who suffer for doing what is right, even when the cause of suffering is unfair. This is a sign of hope and perseverance that you can display when you trust God to bring good things out of your hard time.
So, what should your focus be when you are suffering? The following passage tells us to focus on Jesus. As you study Jesus’ example, you can run your race with greater perseverance. He looked forward to the joy that lay beyond his suffering, and you can look forward to the joy that awaits you with Christ once your suffering is over.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1b-2
So in summary, whether you are undergoing trials brought on by yourself due to poor decision making, or if God is trying to teach you something, you can find hope in scripture. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Bible is full of suffering as well, but ultimately even suffering points to The Cross, and we find hope and redemption at the foot of the cross. Just remember to keep things in perspective and continue to run the good race, because the prize is much greater than any amount of suffering we endure in this very short time in this world!
I love you guys, and I hope you enjoyed reading this. Be sure to comment and participate!