Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Promise in Suffering

A Devotional I wrote for the release of Burning Sky

Blue Ridge Mountains, photo by Mary Ann Baker, Flickr Commons


Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress. Psalm 4:1 KJV

There are many promises for the believer given by God in the scriptures, but there’s one promise we’re often hesitant to claim, or even acknowledge as part and parcel of our fellowship with Jesus Christ. It’s the promise of suffering.

Which of us, left to ourselves, would choose suffering over joy? And yet when suffering comes, haven’t we experienced God’s grace in its midst?

For there is also a promise in suffering. The loss of a dream, a loved one, a job, good health or independence, all these temporal experiences for the believer bring about eternal gain—in a realization of the need for Christ’s sustaining strength, for His peace that is deeper than our understanding, and for the sweetness of intimacy in our trust in and fellowship with Him, tested through the fires of disappointment, setback, or grief.

by Becky, Flickr Commons
Loss and suffering also bring gain in the form of soul-stretching. It’s in the constricting of our outward lives—through distress, as the psalmist declares—that inwardly our souls are enlarged. Not only enlarged with greater trust and faith in our Heavenly Father, but also with compassion for, and patience and kinship with, the sorrow and loss of those to whom God divinely links us on our journey through life. For… Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 2 Corinthians 3-4 KJV

Through that work of enlarging—and comforting—we’re prepared for the greater works and blessings God has in store for us, either in this life or eternally. Those blessings may look different than what we once dreamed, but in the end they will bring a greater fulfillment than anything we might have imagined for ourselves from our smaller and more self-absorbed perspective.

9 comments:

  1. Beautifully expressed. God wants us to experience "the fellowship of His sufferings that we may KNOW Him" We are scared of experiences that bring suffering but we are promised that He will be with us and we will begin to have joy unspeakable and full of glory; that we may have His peace that passes understanding. What promises for us! No person, saved or otherwise, can escape suffering but as believers we can place our little hands into his Mighty One and He will never leave us or forsake us.

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    1. That we may KNOW Him. Yes. There are aspects to His character and nature that we learn to know through difficulties, challenges, disappointments, and suffering, that can't be known any other way than in utter helplessness and surrender. Looking back now on one of my greatest struggles, going through cancer at age 30, I would never want to have that part of my life erased, or its consequences to my health now undone, because I came to know Jesus in the sweetest of ways during that year, and that knowing has never left me.

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  2. Oh, amen! Beautifully expressed, Lori. My pastor has been delving into this subject recently while preaching through the book of 1 Peter. It's hard to think about rejoicing in suffering, but it's truly in times of trial that we discover treasures we'd never find otherwise.

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    1. 1 Peter is one of my favorite books!

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  3. Suffering is not payment for not being good enough. God does not balance the scale of sin in a person's life with punishment. If that were so, none of us would be here.
    I once had someone tell me, after asking about my health, which was lousy, "Wow, you must have a lot of sin in your life!"
    My response? "And you must have a lot of stupid."

    Would she say that to a Syrian Christian? Or a Woman in a tent in Darfur?
    Or Jesus?


    Great post, Lori.

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    1. Oh my goodness, Jennifer. I can't think of a more hurtful thing someone could have said to you than that. Or potentially hurtful, if you weren't grounded in what the Bible has to teach us about suffering. One quick look at Job should straighten that sort of thinking out.

      "If that were so, none of us would be here." Amen! Romans 3:10

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  4. And by the by, I look at a lot of photos of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the course of setting research, but the one pictured in this post, taken by Mary Ann Baker (Flickr Creative Commons, used under the attribution license) is one of my favorites. The colors are the mixture of bright autumn hues and understated shades that I find most appealing. I'd love to step into that photo and watch the sun finish setting. Then turn back to a bright fire sending sparks flying upward into the night, reflecting its heat off a rock face, and roast something yummy for dinner.

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  5. As a person who has not experienced a lot of suffering in life, this is a promise that scares me. Will I have what it takes when suffering comes? No--but Christ does and he lives within me. Thanks for these great words, Lori. And I love the pictures! I'm living right in the heart of the BR mountains.

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    1. Until age 30 I would have said the same thing. I was the first person in my family to experience cancer. It was a huge unknown. In my 20s I used to be so relieved there was no cancer in my family, so I'd probably never have to face that. How did anyone face that? But God's grace and peace met me right in that moment of understanding what I was facing that March day in 1999 in a way I'd never experienced before. His grace is there when we need it. This is something I learned through that particular time of physical suffering, so now I can remind myself of all of the ways, big and small, He sustained and blessed through that time, when I look ahead and wonder what other trials this life might hold.

      What a wonderful place to be living, Sondra. I've visited the Appalachians many times, in many states, having grown up back east and taken several research trips there since moving west. I live in mountains too now, and cannot imagine being away from them for long. They become so much a part of us.

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