Our Suffering Serves a Purpose

Lamentations 3:1-3 ESV

“I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.”

Life has its difficulties, doesn’t it? I think all humans face some kind of affliction from time to time, in this life. We live in a fallen world. Sin is rampant. And sinners sin against others. We also live in flesh bodies and these bodies of ours are subject to getting sick and injured and to experiencing pain and suffering. Not one of us is immune from suffering.

Some of us will see an abundance of affliction in this life while others may not see much at all. Some of us will have a lifetime of affliction while others’ affliction may be short-lived and infrequent. Some of us will experience pain and suffering on multiple levels while others’ pain and suffering may be more localized and limited. But the point is, we all suffer sometimes.

Also, God is absolutely sovereign over all that he has made and he is fully in control over all things, so these sufferings could not happen to us unless God allows them in our lives. And as followers of Jesus, our suffering serves God’s purposes, for he uses suffering in our lives to teach us his will for our lives, to mature us in Christ, to teach us perseverance, to teach us to rely on him and not on ourselves, and sometimes to prepare us for ministry.

I know from my own life experiences that I can see the hand of God in my life through all that I suffered, in how he was preparing me for the calling that he has on my life. For had I not gone through what I did, and am still going through, I would not have been equipped to do what I do. Through it all the Lord strengthened me in my walk of faith with him so that I would remain steadfast in his calling on my life despite all opposition.

Lamentations 3:7-9, 16-18 ESV

“He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.”

“He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, ‘My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.’”

Sometimes it feels like this, doesn’t it? It seems that no matter where we go or what we do that suffering awaits us and we cannot escape it, even if we try. We get hurt one place and so we flee to another only to get hurt there, too. We do what we think we will help in alleviating some of our suffering only for it to increase the suffering, and thus for our plans to backfire. So the moral of this story is that whatever God has planned for us will happen.

If the Lord wants us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that is where we will go. If we wants us to walk through the waters, trusting him that we will not drown, then through the waters we will go. We can’t resist him. Well, we can, but it will not go well for us. The best thing we can do always is to submit to his sovereignty over our lives and to let him work his will and purpose in our lives, and then be teachable and to learn from him.

And I am certainly not suggesting here that we should just be “happy, happy” all the time through it all. Jesus knew what it was like to suffer deeply, and he felt every inch of it so that he cried out to God the Father and even asked, if it was God’s will, that this cup could pass from him. Paul even talked about how they suffered to the point of despairing of life. They felt that they had received the sentence of death (Matt 26:39; 2 Co 1:8-9).

But Jesus submitted his will to the will of the Father. And Paul said that this happened to them “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Jesus submitted to the Father’s will and he went to the cross to die for our sins. Paul submitted himself to the will of God and God used him to nurture many congregations of the saints and to write over half of the New Testament books for our edification.

So, our suffering serves a purpose. It isn’t that we can’t pray to be relieved of our suffering. We can. But that when Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you,” then we need to let God have his will and his way in our lives. For we could end up fighting against what God is trying to accomplish in our lives by trying to alleviate our own suffering when that suffering serves God’s purposes in our lives and thus is for our good. Don’t resist God!

Lamentations 3:19-24 ESV

“Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

I love this, don’t you? And this is where the peace comes, when we do not resist the Lord and what he is trying to do in our lives but when we submit to his will and purposes, and when we let him do his work of grace in our lives. It is when we do not take matters into our own hands, thinking that God needs our help, and when we don’t try to escape the pain ourselves, only heaping more pain upon ourselves, but when we yield to the Lord.

Suffering will go so much better for us when we recognize the hand of God in it all and when we accept his hand on our lives even if it causes us to suffer. We have to realize that God is in control over everything, so he is in control over all our circumstances and all the things he allows to come into our lives. Now this doesn’t mean that we just lay down and play dead and say, “Whatever!” It means we yield control of our lives over to the Lord and we learn from him what he wants us to learn through our suffering.

And we need to have the perspective that suffering is for our good. For the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and his mercies never come to an end, but those mercies may sometimes take on strange forms which may not feel like mercy sometimes. Do you get what I am saying? We like to think of mercy as God always rescuing us from our difficult circumstances, but often his mercies are felt through the things that we suffer and through the things he teaches us while we are still suffering.

So, put your hope and your trust fully in the Lord, and allow him to work his will in your life even through the hard times which are for our good. Let him show you his purpose in your suffering and then be teachable and let him teach you what you need to learn so that you can become the person of God that he wants you to be for his glory and honor and praise. Amen!

He Keeps Me Singing

by Luther B. Bridgers, 1910

There’s within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
“Fear not, I am with thee, peace be still,”
In all of life’s ebb and flow.

All my life was wrecked by sin and strife,
Discord filled my heart with pain;
Jesus swept across the broken strings,
Stirred the slumbering chords again.

Feasting on the riches of His grace,
Resting ‘neath His sheltering wing,
Always looking on His smiling face –
That is why I shout and sing.

Though sometimes He leads through waters deep,
Trials fall across the way,
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep
See His foot-prints all the way.

Soon He’s coming back to welcome me
Far beyond the starry sky;
I shall wing my flight to world’s unknown,
I shall reign with Him on high.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus –
Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.

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