We all know what it is like when our life is falling apart faster than we can put it back together. And the worse part of it is, sometimes we don’t even know why it’s falling apart. This last year has brought about a lot of hard changes for my family. As my mom’s health plummets, we’ve been forced to make some very tough decisions. We have had to wait weeks at a time where our future was unsure.
Suffering is a very hard topic to cover, especially when you try to dive into God’s purposes in it all. Nevertheless, it’s been weighing rather heavily on my heart lately. So, in this series of three articles, which I have titled as a whole, “Understanding Our Trials,” I will do my best to share what God has taught me on the subject in the hopes that you may be able to take away some level of encouragement from it. Please know that I am not writing this as someone who has it all figured out, but as someone who is still growing, still learning, and still struggling.
What We Can Understand
Though we may never be able to fully understand all the “ins and outs” of God’s plan for us, the Bible still reveals God’s ultimate purpose for His children, not just in their suffering, but in every aspect of life. Romans 8:28 is a commonly quoted verse for the sufferer, but when we quote Romans 8:28 we must remember that there is also a Romans 8:29.
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.Romans 8:28-29
To cut these verses off at verse 28 is a sore mistake, because without verse 29, you aren’t able to understand what the “good” described in verse 28 is. With verse 29, however, it becomes clear that the “good” talked about in verse 28 is God’s predestination for believers to be conformed to the image of His Son. In other words, God has predetermined that those who place their faith in Him will become more like Him: perfect, flawless, and beautiful. Of course, this purpose will find its fulfillment in heaven, but the process to get you there starts now. If you are a child of God, then He is working in your heart and mind to make you more like Himself.
Though we’d like to think that this work is accomplished solely through the “good” times in our lives, we know that God’s greatest work in us often happens in the rough and rocky.
Now, the truth that the ultimate purpose of our suffering is to make us more like Christ may be easy to accept on a factual level, but it is much harder to accept on an experiential level. Oftentimes, when I am in the midst of difficulty, I’d rather the difficulty go away than become more like Christ. Knowing that there is a purpose behind our suffering is comforting, but sometimes it’s hard for us to see how our suffering is worth that purpose. Our fleshly desires tell us that it isn’t worth it, that living a life of comfort is better than growing closer to Jesus. But as believers, we must learn to deny our sinful desires and feelings and submit ourselves to the truth found in Scripture. This is no easy thing to do, especially in the midst of intense suffering. The fight is real and difficult, there’s just no way around it. That is why it is so important to pray! Pray that the Lord will help you to see every bit of adversity and calamity as worth growing closer to Him. Pray that you can say with the apostle Paul:
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
So what comfort should we take in our suffering? Just this: Our suffering is not in vain. Even if we can’t see it yet, our suffering will result in a closer relationship with Christ and a greater conformity to the likeness of His Son, which can only lead to an increase of joy.