Sanctification through suffering is part of every Christian experience. The shades and duration of suffering vary with the individual, and the temporal nature of most trials do end with the hopeful promise of a new day as light breaks through the darkness.
We cling to the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, intensely yearning for a new season to begin. But how do we persevere when it seems we have entered the long winter of Narnia and Christmas is no more? How do we endure suffering when there is no end in sight? What if God calls us to suffer for a lifetime?
A friend asked me this question recently while searching for a way to glorify God in an unexpected and difficult trial that had a potentially lifelong impact: How do people who revere and adore God respond to life-long trials in a glorifying manner and with a joyful testimony?
My family and I have wrestled with this dilemma. We sought the Lord in learning how to cling to and honour him with joy and hope while processing the changes that accompanied an unexpected life of suffering brought about through a medical tragedy. God’s word imparted spiritual peace and joy as we applied three practices of biblical thinking:
Begin at the End
Suffering may leave us overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings of sorrow, confusion, loneliness, anger, and fear tempt us to take our eyes off our God of promise and hope and shortsightedly only see the obstacles in front of us.
Yet God has given his people eternal hope through his Son. Romans 8:18 reminds us that the sufferings of the present are incomparable to the glory that is to come. Our eyes need to lift and look forward as we anticipate the end and our future hope!
How might your suffering be transformed into joy if you began each day remembering the eternal promises of God? How might your words and actions be changed if you believed in the certainty that one day you will be united with your Saviour and participate in his glory as a co-heir?
Romans 8:23–24 reminds us we already have the firstfruits of the Spirit; in hope, we have been saved and we will one day experience the redemption of our bodies even as our souls have already been given new life. We can follow the example of Abraham who believed the covenant promises given to him but did not see their complete fulfillment in his lifetime. He looked beyond the immediate circumstances and desired a better country, a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16).
One of the biggest challenges in processing a momentous trial is keeping your thoughts in check. The temptation to spiral into untrue, anxious, or “what-if” thoughts is a constant battle and an important one to wage war against. They attempt to chip our faith and cause us to doubt the goodness of God. As Paul fought back against false teachers and ideologies in 2 Corinthians 10:5, taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ, so we too should hold our thoughts against the truth of who God is and then praise him for his unchanging, holy character. Actively search the Scriptures reading the psalms of praise to remind yourself to Whom you belong.
As Scripture reveals the Almighty God who rules over all of creation, let your heart sing and meditate on his faithful loving-kindness, goodness, and compassion for the broken-hearted. Follow the example of David in the laments: pour out your anguish, pain, sorrow, and uncertainty and then leave it at the cross where Christ suffered the same as he bore the weight of man’s sin so peace, rest, and comfort may be found in his finished work. Praise the Rescuer and Redeemer whose sacrifice guarantees your delivery from sin and suffering!
Submit to Christ’s sovereignty and find rest
Colossians 1:15–20 proclaims the magnificent preeminence of Christ. All things hold together in him and he has reconciled us to God through the blood of his cross. Peace and rest are ours through Christ. Ongoing suffering in the life of the Christian tempts us to believe the lie that God has forgotten us, or worse, that he is against us, and we fight to find relief. Chronic suffering can either weaken the body and soul in its unrelenting cyclical nature (if we doubt the immanence and sovereign power of God), or it can strengthen our faith if we know in Whom we believe (1 Tim 1:12).
God is not surprised by our suffering; his plans and purposes are not thwarted! Rather, he is active in and draws near to us in hardship. He gifts us the opportunity to know him more intimately, to practice humility, to be recipients of the Spirit’s comfort, to proclaim his praises and the gospel to unbelievers, and to encourage the church with a testimony of his unfailing love and faithfulness. God’s sovereignty reigns in our suffering for the glory of his name.
This truth that our transcendent God is in control assures us we will not be lost or abandoned in a trial. On the contrary, he offers us himself. We encounter the all-powerful God of the universe most intimately. He comes down to us. He came down to us: Immanuel, God with us. Christ took on flesh, humbled himself and went to the cross to suffer for our sake so that we might be restored to the Father.
If the Sovereign God of all creation loved us enough to send His Son to break the curse of sin and death in our lives, will he not be our strength and help in time of need and bring us peace and rest through the Comforter? We can be encouraged by Peter’s exhortation to the elders to remember, “…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
As a believer encountering ongoing suffering you can endure with gospel hope and joy knowing in Whom you have believed. Meditating on eternal promises, applying gospel truth to drive praise, and submitting to and resting in God’s sovereign care for you through the Spirit will glorify him and gladden your heart.