Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. When we step out onto to the mission field suffering just might increase. We can prepare for this suffering by developing our theology of suffering, building a strong support team, and staying close to the Lord. However, suffering is always difficult and painful regardless of what shape it takes. It will reveal things in our hearts that are ugly and need to be mortified. Suffering will press us to a place of dependence on the Lord that we have not previously known. Our gracious God uses suffering for our good and His glory. Here are 5 ways that suffering is beneficial.
- Suffering produces deeper faith. The “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 gives us example after example of Old Testament saints who endured immense hardship. The author of Hebrews is exhorting the original readers to hold fast to their confession of faith without wavering. The OT saints persevered through suffering and difficulty trusting that God was faithful to fulfill his promises. We can endure suffering because we know with absolute certainty that God is faithful. Suffering strengthens our faith because we are forced to look to what is unseen instead of being crushed by what we see and experience in this temporary world.
- Suffering is refining. We all carry within us remaining sin that seeks to destroy all that is good. There are deeply imbedded sin habits and dark corners of our hearts that we either ignore or deceptively keep hidden. But, God is our Father who disciplines those who are his children. Our Father is a master at applying the appropriate discipline at the appropriate time in order to root out sin that otherwise seems immovable. The author of Hebrews says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (12:11).
- Suffering reveals our weakness and his strength. Perhaps there is no greater pitfall for pastors and church planters than pride. Pride is always lurking and strategizing as it seeks to gain a foothold in our hearts. It could be through boasting in our “success” or being overly crushed by our “failures.” Or we could simply become self-dependent as we trust more in our strategies and plans than displaying trust and confidence in Christ to build his church. The Lord gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to make him painfully aware of his own weakness so that he sought the Lord’s strength. When suffering comes we can cling to this truth, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- Suffering can give us joy. You will doubt this when your life or church seem to be falling apart. But, we can know that God is always in the midst of our suffering and hardship. He is always working. He never sleeps. Therefore, suffering is always We can weep before the Lord begging him for his help and direction while simultaneously experiencing a deep sense of joy that he is the God who provides. He is producing in us steadfastness so that we can be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1)
- Suffering reveals the greatness of his grace. Planting or revitalizing a church can seem like a never ending series of hurdles to jump. Sometimes we feel as though we are simply running and jumping as we move from one thing to another. Suffering slows us down and shows us the marvelous grace of God. He has unsparingly lavished on us the riches of his super-abounding grace. (Ephesians 1:7,8) It is because of his grace that Paul can say, “We are afflicted in every way; but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9)
Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. When we step out to serve the Lord through church planting, re-planting, or missions suffering may just increase. It is not because the Lord is not powerful or unconcerned about our assignment. He is not distant or indifferent. He is forever present in your suffering. He is always working like a master craftsman doing exactly what must be done even if we don’t understand it. He is good, sovereign, and wise in all that he does. He is abundantly faithful to his children. We can trust him through all of the difficulties we face.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17,18)