For the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of teaching adult Sunday school at my church. We had a wonderful seven weeks of learning about biblical joy. Interesting enough, session six was about maintaining joy in the midst of suffering. Most would think joy and suffering could not exist in the same person at the same time, but that’s not true. Although we live in this fallen world and suffering is inevitable, as believers we also have the gift of joy as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
This gift is not dependent on our current circumstance but the fact that our Heavenly Father gave it to us. Still, it’s a challenging concept to grasp as I’ve learned that many Christians sometimes have misconceptions about suffering. We accept Christ thinking all the benefits of a relationship with Him and the fruits of the Spirit exempt us from suffering. This thinking, however, is harmful because guess what? Believers still suffer on this side of eternity.
Now, this does not mean God has forgotten us. It means He’s with us during both the good and the bad. Actually, suffering itself provides gifts for the believer that you may find encouraging. Here are five gifts that result from seasons of suffering.
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1. Closeness to God
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Psalms 34:18-19 ESV)
Many times we believe that the presence of suffering means the absence of God. On the contrary! When God’s children are suffering the Bible tells us He is then close to us, not far away. God is not the cause of our suffering and does not delight in our pain. He does not take our hurt lightly. As I would run to my children’s side even at the smallest scrap of the knee, surely our Heavenly Father is with us when our hearts are crushed, and despair has taken over.
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"One of God’s greatest gifts to us is His presence."
The gift of God’s presence is not dependent on how well our life is going but on His love for us. And since He loves us all the time, even sending His Son to die on our behalf, He will always be with us during the good and the bad. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is His presence. Though we sometimes have to walk through the valley, we do not walk alone.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalms 23:4 ESV)
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2. Increased Faith
“In all this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 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.” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV)
Suffering surely does test our faith. It’s easy to believe our God is a good Father when things are going well. But can we uphold this faith when it feels like we are going through the fires of life?
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"The most defining faith moments in my life have been in times of suffering..."
The Apostle Peter in the verse above encourages believers that the development of our faith during suffering is of great worth. Suffering causes us to cling to God like never before, granting us the ability to see God’s strength, love, and power in our lives like never before.
The most defining faith moments in my life have been in times of suffering, giving me a clear revelation of God and His love for me that strengthened my trust in Him.
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3. Ability to Comfort Others
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who 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.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV)
When we’re suffering, it’s easy to get caught up in our own struggles and focus solely on our own issues. However, we don’t have to search far to find others suffering just like us and, many times, facing much more difficulties. What our suffering does is grant us the ability to truly understand the hurting world around us with compassion, care, and empathy.
When I’m suffering, I find great encouragement from those who’ve walked the same or a similar path. It’s a testimony that if God brought them through, He can do so from me as well. This gives me great comfort. In my suffering, I too can offer this same gift of comfort to others.
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4. Fellowship with Christ
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)
One of the most unique aspects of the Christian faith is that our Savior suffered and overcame. Yes, Jesus was sinless, but He lived a tough life.
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"...not only does our God care, He understands."
He knew all about suffering. So when we suffer we can know that not only does our God care, He understands. In our suffering, we gain more fellowship with Christ that the Apostle Paul describes in Philippians 3:8-11 as far more significant than everything he was able to attain in the flesh.
What a gift that our God does not turn His back on those who suffer because He too suffered.
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5. Eternal Perspective
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18 NIV)
Our sorrow here on earth is temporary, whereas the benefits of the Gospel will last forever. This is the hope and gift for the one who is suffering. Our present suffering is not the end. This too shall pass. This fallen earth is not our final destination.
We are passing through and our time here is temporary. There is work to do and God has His purposes for having us here but the Bible tells us this is not where we hold citizenship. Philippians 3:20-21 reminds us of this:
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21 NIV)
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"Our suffering is a constant reminder that this is not the end."
Our suffering is a constant reminder that this is not the end. Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are gifted the hope of an eternal perspective even when we are hurting – especially when we are hurting. During seasons of suffering our fear is we will be in pain forever, but the Gospel gives us greater perspective on suffering and pain.
No one wants to suffer, but praise be to God Our Father that this is not the end. And even while we suffer here on this side of eternity, we have the gifts of closeness to God, increased faith, comfort, fellowship with Christ, and hope for a better tomorrow.
Christina Patterson is a wife and stay-at-home mom with a passion to encourage women in the love of Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s Word. When she is not folding laundry or playing blocks you will find her with her head deep in her Bible or a commentary. She holds her masters in Theology from Liberty University and is the founder of Beloved Women, a non-profit providing resources and community for women to truly know who they are in Christ: His Beloved. She blogs at belovedwomen.org.
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Originally published Monday, 26 November 2018.