In Times of Suffering
Evangel Tabernacle | On 30, Jan 2018
By: Bro. Joel Lao – 28 January 2018
1 Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble.
Life is short and sad to say life is also full of trouble. We face trials, affliction, death, injustice, unfairness, hardships, and suffering in one way or the other. Be it in our family, school, workplace, ministry and not one of us is exempted from SUFFERING. The most common reaction we have in times of suffering is to blame God. This is because we simply cannot see beyond ourselves nor see beyond our suffering towards the true character of God. We easily become discouraged and we allow our condition of being discouraged to doubt God’s goodness, mercy and love. We turn our back on God thinking that God is not faithful in keeping His promises to us. If God is a good God, why do His people suffer? Today, I would like to share with you a message entitled “IN TIMES OF SUFFERING”.
1. What is suffering?
2. Why do people suffer?
3. What is the purpose of suffering?
4. How do we respond in times of suffering?
5. Can anything good come out of suffering?
WHAT IS SUFFERING?
Suffering can be physical pain.
Like right now, I injured both my shoulders so everytime I carry heavy objects I am suffering from a severe physical pain.
Suffering can also refer to mental pain.
When I was working in BDO, I have to oversee both marketing and operations of the whole branch. And since my branch is located in the main business district, I handle the accounts of businessmen – and their demands can be really stressful. I have to always think of new ways to upgrade our service that competitor banks cannot match. Otherwise I will lose the account. And if I lose the account, branch performance will plunge down and I have to answer to my higher ups. Reaching sales targets year after year is a clear example of mental pain.
Suffering can also refer to any unpleasant feeling we call as emotional pain.
It can be a misery resulting from affliction, depression, or oppression. For those who are in love and rejected, it is emotional pain you are feeling.
Whatever kind of suffering it may be, be it physical, mental, or emotional, NONE of us likes to suffer. We want to avoid suffering, skip it, run away from it as far as possible if we have a choice. Who among you here have not experienced suffering of any kind? Clearly -NO ONE. We all have tasted the bitter pill of suffering.
WHY DO PEOPLE SUFFER?
There are a number of reasons why people suffer.
1. BECAUSE WE ARE LIVING IN A FALLEN WORLD.
16 To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Suffering is the consequence of the flawed nature of creation. It does not make any difference if you are living in a first world or a third world country. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. The fact is we are living in a fallen world where bad people continue to prosper and good people suffer in poverty. We live in a world where criminals, outlaws, corrupt employees have pampered lives, while the innocent suffer in pain. That’s totally wrong. That’s totally unfair. Yes it is. And I agree with you. But sadly our world is like that. The moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin and Satan has twisted justice and made our world unpredictable, unpleasant, and ugly. Man’s disobedience from God has brought sorrow and suffering to this world.
2. PEOPLE SUFFER BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN SINS
We live in a world where sin reigns in the hearts of men. If a person continues to disobey God and acquires AIDS because of sexual immorality, this is the result of his own doing. He cannot blame anybody for that. The suffering he experiences is a result of his disobedience to God and his own sin. His wrong choices in life led to his suffering.
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord!” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.
14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”….
When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the Lord did forgave David when he repented of his sin, but the consequences of David’s sin were irreversible. David suffered the loss of his son to Bathsheba. We can always ask forgiveness from God but we must not forget that by sinning we may set into motion events that will lead us to suffer the consequences of our sin.
3. PEOPLE SUFFER BECAUSE OF OTHER PEOPLE’S SIN
Many times, innocent people suffer because of other people’s sin – like, children suffer sexual abuse because their parents are so high on drugs or too drunk to even know what they are doing.
The book of Joshua tells us of one man, Achan, who sinned against the Lord and yet the whole Israelites suffered from his disobedience. Achan’s sin brought judgment to all Israelites.
If we read Joshua chapter 7, we will find out that the Israelites were defeated when they went up against Ai, a small city compared to Jericho which they were able to conquer. What was Achan’s sin? He stole some of the devoted things. The “devoted things” here referred to plunders that God said Israel should destroy when they conquered Jericho. Achan’s sin was a serious offense because it was in direct defiance to an explicit command of God.
Like Achan, our mistakes will always affect other people and not just ourselves.
In our SCG, Pastor Lily is teaching us about generational curse. You will be surprised to learn that oftentimes, the trouble that we are in today is the outcome of the sins made by our parents or grandparents or our ancestors before them. The consequences brought about by our sins will not end with us. The people that we love can suffer the consequences of our sins.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF SUFFERING?
1. SUFFERING DEFINES OUR FAITH
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Sometimes suffering comes simply to test and purify our faith. It is part of a refining process that burns away our impurities. Like gold, as it is heated to a high temperature, impurities float to the top to be skimmed off and what remains after is pure gold. Likewise, our suffering refines our impurities, our character flaws. Our faith becomes more defined as it is being refined thru suffering.
Jesus is more interested in our character than our comfort. For some of us, in times of suffering, we pray that God will change the circumstances around us that we may avoid suffering altogether. But God’s only desire in our time of suffering is for us to exercise a higher level of faith in order for us to circumvent our suffering.
It is easy to profess our faith if we live a perfect life. This is Satan’s first accusation to Job. And Job’s faith was tested. Job lost his possession and even his family. How did Job react?
21 “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job acknowledged God’s sovereign authority over everything in his life. He continued to put his trust in God. His faith was defined thru suffering.
When I became a Christian in the early years, I often ask God the question “WHY” everytime I face a problem. Why is this happening to me? Why are you doing this to me God? While it seems harmless to ask the question “why”, but the truth is we are questioning God’s sovereignty. The way we respond to our personal struggles shows our attitude toward God. Rather than becoming angry with God, we should continue to trust Him, no matter what our circumstances are. Although it is sometimes difficult to understand what we are going through, always remember that God is sovereign. We must continue to submit to his Will and commit ourselves to Him, so that His purpose will be revealed in our lives.
I have come to know that If we always know all the time why we are suffering, our faith will have no room to grow.
2. A NEED FOR BROKENNESS.
Sometimes we can be so proud and self-righteous that God can no longer penetrate our hearts. And He needs us to be broken so that He can get to us. Some of us may not like the word BROKENNESS, but in this context, it is not really that bad. God doesn’t desire to break our spirits, but He just wants to break that outer shell, the outer layer we call the flesh that prevents Him from being all that He can be -in us. He wants to break our pride, disobedience, selfishness and self-sufficiency – and suffering can bring us to that point of BROKENNESS. Suffering forces us to turn from trust in our resources to living by faith in God’s resources.
3. TO EFFECTIVELY MINISTER TO OTHERS
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
4 who comforts us in all troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Sometimes suffering shapes us for special service to other people. By having gone through various trials and suffering ourselves we will be more equipped to minister to others in the future.
Dealing with people who are in a bad place now, the same place that you’ve been thru before will give credibility to your counsel because you understand by heart what that person is going thru. And understanding by heart means having compassion – because- you too- were once in their shoes, you too had suffered the same thing. You will be effective in ministering to them because not only that you’ve ‘been there’ but ‘you’ve been there and you overcame it.’ As we overcome our sufferings, our lives become an evidence of God’s truth, a living testimony of God’s goodness and His redeeming power.
15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.
Who else can minister to us more than Jesus Himself. God came down and dwelt among us so that He can identify with us. It is possible to know a lot about a person but not really understand who that person is or what that person is going through. Jesus came down to earth and became a man so that He can understand and know what we are going through. Jesus Christ, the eternal son of God, lived on earth as a human being and endured hunger, thirst, temptation, shame, persecution, nakedness, betrayal, injustice, and even went through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus experienced the same suffering that we have today and know that He is one with us in our every pain and suffering.
Though suffering is difficult to endure but if we put God’s will above our own, we allow Him to accomplish His purpose in us . Our pain is never wasted as we use it to minister to others.
HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND IN TIMES SUFFERING?
It is during the time of our suffering that Satan becomes busiest. It is Satan’s strategy to get us to doubt God when we are in the midst of suffering. He clouds our mind to doubt God’s goodness by saying that God is the cause of our suffering. God only allows us to suffer but He is not the cause of our suffering. There is a big difference between God causing us to suffer and God allowing us to suffer.
In times of suffering, we easily believe that God does not care for us. If we are not careful Satan will lead us to commit sin and this very same sin made at a point of our suffering will further intensify the very same suffering that we are experiencing.
Example: Common TV drama will show a family living in poverty having no food to eat. Because of this the mother is forced to either steal, sell drugs or enter prostitution. The present suffering which is poverty is aggravated even further when the mother commits a crime by either stealing, pushing drugs or prostitution –thus, adding to the original suffering. Her inability to provide food for her family here led to sin, and sin made because of poverty led to more suffering as the mother goes to jail.
In order to avoid this, we need to have the right response during times of suffering as:
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
When faced with suffering, it is but natural to express our grief but we should not give in to bitterness and despair.
The Greek word for perseverance is HUPOMONE describing the ability of a plant to thrive in a harsh environment – literally in the deserts and rocky slopes. In Jewish literature, it was used to refer to the ’spiritual staying power’ which enabled the faithful to die for their God.
The word PERSEVERANCE was also used for the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and retains their faith and piety through even the greatest trials and sufferings. It means to keep continuing forward with an attitude of hope even when confronted with unpleasant circumstances.
Perseverance is often not welcome in today’s society since nobody would like to persevere in times of suffering. When the heat is on we want to get out. We don’t want to persevere under the heat. We are people of the instant now and we always want to skip the hard part. We are experts in finding the easy way out by making detours and short cuts. Oftentimes, we use money, we use our connections, we yield to sin, and commit suicide just so we can get out of the mess that we’re in. But, still God’s ways are higher than our ways. We are called to persevere and to allow the Spirit to have His work in our lives.
Most will probably COMPLAIN why they have to experience suffering even though they already have accepted Jesus.
TO COMPLAIN does not only mean to express grief or discontent but it also means to make a formal accusation or charge.
So whenever we complain to God about the suffering we face we are not just merely disliking the things we have to bear but we are also finding fault with God.
Instead of complaining, let us learn Perseverance from the life of Jesus Christ Himself:
Jesus suffered to the point of death. Some of us may think that well He is God and it was easy for Him to endure. But remember that Jesus prayed to God that if it is possible for Him not to undergo such kind of humiliation.
Jesus was able to persevere because he knew what lay ahead of the suffering. He was able to ignore the present suffering because He was looking forward for the glory to be revealed.
Revelations 2:10 says
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
I am not saying that we should look forward to more suffering. I don’t consider suffering as an occasion to rejoice. But we are to look beyond the pain and discomfort of suffering to the lasting effect they will have on our character, our relationship with God and to the glory that awaits at the end. These will cause us to rejoice in times of suffering.
John 16:33 (NET)
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.”
Jesus is telling His disciples that they would be facing struggles but they would not be facing them alone. Real courage here comes when a Christian aligns himself in the will of God. In Him we can have the courage to do what is right in the midst of suffering.
Our enemy will want us to give up and turn our back on God. But instead, we should take up our cross and follow Jesus. We may sometimes have to submit to unpleasant circumstances so that others will see Christ in us.
One of the reasons we hesitate or that cause us to be afraid to follow Jesus is because we know that following Jesus will lead us to the cross. The reality is each of us will have to carry his own cross. The cross symbolizes SUFFERING. But remember that the cross also symbolizes VICTORY.
Finally, we look at the life of Jesus Christ in learning how to respond in the middle of pain and affliction. The apostle Peter encourages us to look to Christ’s example when he suffered. He writes,
1Peter 2:22-23 (NET)
22 He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth.
23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.
Jesus Christ never sinned, and yet he suffered for our sins so that we could be set free. Jesus knew from the very start that He will suffer the death on the cross as this was part of God’s plan.
In 1Peter 3:17 (NIV), Peter adds:
17 “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil”
And in 1Peter 4:19 (NIV)
19 “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
CAN ANYTHING GOOD COME OUT OF SUFFERING?
Yes certainly. Something good can come out of suffering if we are to respond by doing good. Let us look at the life of some bible characters.
Joseph endured the life of a slave in Egypt when he was sold by his own brothers. Although his brothers wanted to get rid of him, God used even their evil actions to fulfil His plan. He sent Joseph ahead to preserve their lives and prepare the way for the beginning of the nation of Israel.
20 Your intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
The experiences in Joseph’s life taught him that God brings good from evil for those who trust Him. Joseph responded to his suffering by doing good, enduring the life of a slave in Egypt, hence, a great deal of good came out of his suffering.
How about Job?
Job went through life’s struggle and lost everything he had. Satan himself inflicted pain and suffering on him. Though Job never understood why all those things happened to him, he refused to give up his God. And in the end God restored everything that he lost, and he received even greater blessings than he had before.
Job responded to his suffering by doing good, he persisted in trusting God unconditionally and he was rewarded.
Jesus experienced the worse kind of human suffering when God made Himself flesh and dwelt among us. He was betrayed, mocked, and crucified. He took upon himself the consequences of our sin, including God’s judgment and death. But the story did not end in Jesus’s death. He conquered death and Satan when He was resurrected on the third day. His resurrection has become the source of new life for those who believe in Him.
Suffering will help us to be more like Christ. Followers of Christ should be willing and prepared to do God’s will and to suffer for it if necessary. We can overcome suffering if we focus on Christ and what He wants us to do.
Suffering, like all other human experiences, is directed by the sovereign wisdom of God. It is true that God loves us but it is also true that we will not be free from suffering. We should therefore not measure God’s love for us by how great or how little we suffer in this world.
We may have no answers as to why God sometimes allow suffering to happen to His people, but remember that He can also turn it around for our good. So the next time we face trials and sufferings, see it as an opportunity to turn to God for strength. And you will be surprised to find a God whose only desire is to show His love and compassion to us as He is with us in our times of suffering.