By Dick Koehneke
In many congregations last weekend (the second Sunday in Lent), the Epistle was from Romans chapter 5. In the first five verses the apostle Paul says that we are able to rejoice in our sufferings. He goes on to say that suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope; and hope does not disappoint us, because we know that God loves us. The cross of Christ proves that God loves us. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the source of our hope and our joy.
What is suffering? Suffering is anything that hurts. It includes physical pain and illness, but not only that. Suffering can come because of rejection – grief – financial problems – disappointment – loneliness – and more. Suffering is anything that hurts in any area of your life.
By God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in us, pain can lead to gain. Suffering can produce some valuable results for our faith and life. Here are some that occur to me on the basis of God’s Word. When we experience pain and hardship of any kind:
- We learn to trust God’s grace and not our works. Our relationship with God can become performance-oriented and production-driven. When that happens, we start to labor under the pressure of earning God’s favor, an impossible task. Suffering can reduce our capacity to perform. God’s grace removes the pressure to produce. We put our trust in God, not ourselves.
“God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
- We discover or re-discover the faithfulness of God. Suffering doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. His character is changeless. He is with us and for us all the time, not only in the good times.
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ ” (Lamentations 3:19-24)
- We become less attached to this passing world. When things are going well, it’s easy to think this world is our home. We can forget that we are pilgrims here. Our home is in heaven with God.
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
- We look forward to the glory that is to come. Romans 8:18 does not trivialize our pain but points us to the magnificence of our future glory in the presence of God. Heaven is not “a better place.” The word “better” implies comparison. There is no comparison.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
- We learn to appreciate the concern and care that we receive from others. We learn the skill of receiving care. Our need for help gives the people around us an opportunity to exercise their love muscles, and that’s a good thing for them to do.
“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” (Philippians 4:10, 14)
- We develop greater compassion for others who are hurting. When you have gone through something painful, you understand how it feels. God can use your pain to prepare you to be a messenger of compassion to someone else who is hurting.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
- We become more grateful to our suffering Savior.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:21-25)
God bless you in these days of Lent as we contemplate the suffering and death of Christ and prepare to rejoice in His glorious resurrection!