Suffering, Part 10

The purpose of this post is to provide a few Scriptural resources for encouragement to you in your suffering. At the bottom you will find a link to a PDF mini-publication containing this ten-part series on suffering, so you can download it as a ready help in your time of need.

Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

Jesus had his eyes on the prize of obedience to the Father and obtaining us for his own. His eyes were not on the suffering. The suffering was not what he thought about, focused on, or daily enumerated to himself or to others. He disregarded or despised the nakedness of the cross, the physical pain, and the social misunderstanding of his goal.

He is our model of endurance, and he himself is our prize. Often as we suffer, we are completely misunderstood by those from whom we hope to gain the most support—our family, friends, and fellow believers. Jesus, too, experienced this. In the following passage, we learn his mindset for enduring hostility and misunderstanding.

1 Peter 2:21-24 NLT
For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
He never sinned,
nor ever deceived anyone.
He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
who always judges fairly.

He personally carried our sins
in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
and live for what is right.

By his wounds you are healed.

To run with endurance the race God has set before us, we fix our eyes on Jesus’ model and we rely on him for the grace to follow in his steps. We follow Christ, because we love him. He is our pioneer, the perfecter of our faith, our model, whether our suffering comes because we live and serve as true believers or if our suffering stems from physical calamity which God has allowed or brought into our lives for our refining.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NLT
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

Lest this become a legalistic adherence to rule-keeping, we recall that God does this refining work of suffering within us, not only to give us faith, but also to transform us. We are his workmanship. We cannot please him through our own efforts at holiness.

Living out the reality of Christ in us produces and requires continual awareness of our inner thoughts and trust in him for the ability to live in a Spirit-filled manner throughout. We ask ourselves:

  • Are we relying on ourselves for our obedience?
  • Are we becoming pharisaical believers?
  • OR are we relying on him and living out his grace?

Philippians 2:12-16 NLT
Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing (this is the test that shows us the truth of what is in our hearts), so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God (another test), shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life (yet another test); then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.

To suffer as Jesus did, we must grow in godliness. We will be brought to the end of our physical, emotional, and spiritual resources. To determine why we struggle in our trials—and we will struggle, we must be skilled at assessing the whys of our sin habits.

In the previous and in the following passages, Paul addresses the proof of maturity. The evidence of maturity is surprising. It is not marked by vast amounts of theological information at our ready recall. It is not shown by our ability to best someone at a theological argument. It is not evidenced by our list of service projects.

In short, evidence of maturity can be determined by how we answer these questions:

  • Do we think we have “arrived” at maturity and are in no need of further growth?
  • Do we complain in our suffering?
  • Do we argue more with others when we reach the end of ourselves?

If we answer yes to any of these, we know we are in need of growth. Maturity is marked by knowing we will be in need of growth until the day we are with Christ. Our suffering refines us for this purpose.

Philippians 3:12-15 NLT
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things (the listed attitudes). If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

Until we enter trial, we may feel we are mature and self-sufficient. But suffering shows us the very worst selfishness that lies at our core. It tempts us toward self-centeredness, self-pity, and bitterness. Discerning these weaknesses and learning to rely on Christ for our godliness require discipline and humility—a deep recognition of our need for Christ and of our inability to live a godly life without the help of his Spirit. Meditating on the discipline required for the following occupations helps keep us on course.

2 Timothy 2:3-5 NLT
Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.

The reality in our suffering is not the physical pain or loss of health or beauty. The reality is what lies ahead of us—an eternity with Christ, face to face, when he transforms our broken bodies to be like his glorious body. These are the things that are true and unfading. These facts are where our focus must remain, or we will lose heart.

2 Timothy 4:7-8, 17-18 NLT
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing…But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength… And he rescued me from certain death. Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

When it is not our day to die, he will rescue us. Psalm 139 tells us that our days were numbered before there was even one of them. If our days are “cut short,” it was only our own reckoning that was disappointed. The Lord always knew. When our days come to their end, death is our ultimate rescue, for he brings us safely to his kingdom.

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8 (NIV)
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

This is what our Lord has for us. This is why we do not give up. We have an eternal home where no pain, sorrow, heartache, or discord awaits us. This is why we fix our eyes on Jesus, learning to love him with all our hearts and striving to please him because of that love. This is why we silence our complaints. We go toward him.

We haven’t come to laws that cannot be kept and holiness that cannot be approached. We have come to grace. There is mercy for those who cast themselves upon God’s grace to see us through to the end.

Hebrews 12:18-21,23 NLT
You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.” No, you have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven.

For a PDF containing encouragement for you in your suffering, CLICK HERE.