As I look around there seems to be a lot of suffering in the lives of my friends. Maybe even more than usual. Mother in laws that are terminally ill, a mom who is dealing with the news that her little son has cancer, another mom who has just miscarried twins, a couple who long for a child and yet their arms remain empty. Suffering and sadness is everywhere.
Whenever I think of suffering I think of the puritans. They knew what it meant to experience hard times and loss in their life. I think this is why they wrote so much about it. Suffering was a normal part of life for many of them.
John Bunyan lost his first wife, had a daughter who was blind, and found himself incarcerated for 10 years for preaching in public.
Spurgeon’s mother had 17 children of whom 9 died in infancy.
“I love my suffering because it comes from God.” These words were spoken by a woman who lived a coupled hundred years ago. Can you say this? Do you love your suffering because it comes from God?
God has given us many precious gifts; but I believe, that next to the unspeakable gift of His beloved Son, we shall thank and praise Him the loudest in heaven for the gift of suffering. -Octavius Winslow
Gifts are given out of love, kindness, and affection for another. The gift of suffering is given to us by a loving God who only wants our best and his glory. This can be hard for us to wrap our brains around, so here are a few reasons why seasons of suffering and loss are God’s good gifts to his people.
1. Suffering Moves Us To Hold Tight to Jesus
We take our eyes off of Jesus much too easily and quickly. Instead of fighting the good fight we pitch our tents on the sidelines and try to create for ourselves a life of comfort and ease, filled with things that the world tells us we need. Jesus is quickly forgotten, the word neglected and sin indulged.
When suffering comes into our lives we are roused out of our sleep to see reality that earthly blessings do not satisfy or save. That we must cling to Jesus for all our needs and for life itself. That we must take up the armor of God and join in the battle against Satan and evil in the world that seeks to ruin us. We are reminded of the gift of Jesus that we already possess; a Gift that is truly all we need.
2. Suffering Helps Us Sympathize with Others
We can say kind words to those who are suffering. We can take them a meal or give them a hug, but until we have experienced suffering ourselves we cannot fully sympathize with a fellow sister or brother who is going through some tough times. Our suffering makes us sensitive to the afflictions of others. And if we have found peace through our trials, we are able to comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received.
3. Suffering Is God’s Tool for Our Sanctification
The process of becoming more like Jesus is not an easy transformation. Sin digs in its heels and doesn’t want to let go. Our pride says that we know better and selfishness is constantly pushing Jesus aside. In order to look more like the humble, selfless Son of God we must go through some fire so that our impurities can be burned off (Is. 48:10). While it is not pleasant at the time we will shine more brightly once we make it through (James 1:24).
4. Suffering Exercises Our Faith
During many of our hard days of difficulty and uncertainty, when we may not understand why we are suffering, it becomes necessary to exercise our faith in the truths we know about God. The truths that never move. Truths of his person like his wisdom, goodness, and sovereignty.
We must be careful that we not react like the world does to loss and hardship. Such times are not occasion to shake our fists at God who has somehow let us down, as if we are entitled to a life of ease, free from conflict.
Nowhere in scripture have we been promised an easy life. In fact we have been told that life will be hard and that afflictions will be many. But God has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). That he has a purpose for all that takes place in our lives, both the good and the bad. Our suffering is not only tests our faith, but it works it out and makes it stronger.
Only the gospel can teach us this truth, that suffering is a gift. Jesus suffered on our behalf, for our sins, for our joy. But not only for our own joy, but for the glory that was set before him (Heb. 12:2). Through Jesus’ suffering we have life, and we have an example of the Son of God who suffered well and saw it as a gift.
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. Phi. 1:29
Jen Thorn lives in Illinois where she serves alongside her husband, Joe, at Redeemer Fellowship. She loves studying theology, reading the Puritans, and has a passion for all things chocolate. Jen has 4 children and blogs at jenthorn.com, lovegodgreatly.com, club31women.com and forthefamily.org. Follow her on Twitter @jenlthorn