By Mike Willis
We all suffer in life. No man is exempt from suffering, as is seen from the fact that all men die. Consequently, we ask, “What can we learn from suffering?” Here are some suggestions:
1. Obedience. The Lord Jesus learned obedience from the things which he suffered. “Who in the days of his flesh when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. . . ” (Heb. 5:7-8). The submission of one’s will to the will of the Father is a difficult lesson to learn. Jesus learned submission from the cross. Paul also learned to submit to the Father’s will from the things he suffered. In 2 Corinthians 12:6-7, he was given a thorn in the flesh which he asked the Lord to remove three times. When the Lord refused to remove his thorn in the flesh, Paul resolved, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). If you are called to suffer, you can learn obedience.
2. Steadfastness. A person can also learn to be steadfast through the things which he suffers. James wrote, “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas. 1:2-3). Paul added, “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:3-5). The word “patience” means “steadfastness, constancy, endurance … the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings” (Thayer, definition of hupomone, p. 644).
3. Dependence upon God. David wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word” (Psa. 119:67). The afflictions which come to us remind us of our own frailty. They remind us that we shall surely die. Frequently in the hour of sickness, a person resolves to serve the Lord. The oppressed turn to the Lord for the deliverance which no man can or will give: “the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless” (Psa. 10:14). Since our sufferings sometimes drive us to greater dependence upon God, we can be thankful that they come to us.
4. Prayer. Another lesson which we can learn from our sufferings is to pray. When all human help fails us, we turn to the Almighty God. David reflects this when he wrote, “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears” (Psa. 18:46). “In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me” (Psa. 86:7).
I have witnessed this impact of suffering on several occasions when men, who had no habit of praying, turned to God in prayer in the midst of their afflictions. A father waits in the hospital while his child is being treated for some illness; while his heart aches, he prays to God for his child. A man watches his world crumble around him – his family is torn apart by divorce, he loses his job, old age takes his parents – and turns in desperation to God. Indeed, afflictions drive us to God in prayer – prayers which express the very depths of our soul (not some cold, formalistic prayer). Learning to pray is one lesson which one can learn from suffering.
5. Suffering lasts but a short period of time. In the hour of grief and suffering, the days seem long and drawn out; days seem like weeks, weeks like months, and months like years. We think our suffering will last forever. Most suffering, however, is short-lived. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psa. 30:5).
I attended a funeral two or three years ago in which a gospel preacher lost his God-fearing wife. As he left the funeral home to drive to the grave side, the man had to be supported to walk. His grief was greater than he could bear alone. This same gospel preacher has since remarried and has found happiness anew. This is not to minimize the pain of his grief and loss or his love for his first wife; rather, it is to remind us that our afflictions and sufferings last for a relatively brief moment of time – a time which too shall pass. Even those who suffer throughout a lifetime need to remember that the brief span of a lifetime is a relatively short period of time in view of eternity.
So, in the midst of your sufferings, remember that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” William and Gloria Gaither expressed this thought like this:
Joy Comes In The Morning
If you’ve knelt beside the rubble of an aching, broken hew,
When the things you gave your life to fell apart;
You’re not the first to be acquainted with sorrow, grief or pain,
But the Master promised sunshine after rain.
To invest your seed of trust in God in mountains you can’t move,
You risk your life on things you cannot prove,
But to give the things you cannot prove for what you cannot lose
Is the way to find the joy God has for you.
Hold on my child, Joy comes in the morning.
Weeping only lasts for the night;
Hold on my child, Joy comes in the morning.
The darkest hour means dawn is just in sight.
6. Suffering reminds us of our frailty. When I visit the hospitals, I am reminded that this world is not our permanent home. “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am” (Psa. 39:4). “For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth” (Psa. 102:3). The illnesses of the body remind us that one day we too shall die. They serve as reminders to us that we must be making preparation for eternity. Regardless of how far back in my mind that I hide death from today’s consideration, I cannot escape the fact that I shall die. Sufferings should serve as reminders of this fact.
7. Suffering tries our faith. The Devil charged that man only serves God because of what he gets from God (Job 1:9). God allowed Satan to tempt Job to test his faith in God. The psalmist stated that “the word of the Lord tried” Joseph (Psa. 105:19) during the time that he was an Egyptian slave and prisoner. Whether or not suffering has the design from God to test our faith we may never know; however, we do know that suffering does test our faith. When suffering comes, men ask, “Why does God allow me to suffer?” “Why did God take my child?” “Why me, Lord?” All of these questions are questions related to one’s faith in God. Will a man renounce his faith in God in the midst of his sufferings? The Devil will use any circumstances in your life to destroy your faithfulness to God. One of the circumstances he will use is suffering. “For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou brougbtest us out into a wealthy place” (Psa. 66:10-12). Those who have maintained their faith through suffering are like gold or silver refined by fire.
8. That God will be with us in trouble. We pray for the Lord to deliver us from trouble and many times he does. However, we need to recognize that God will be with us through the troubles of life. He will not leave us or forsake us at the difficult periods of our life. The psalmist said, “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him” (Psa. 91:15). “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Psa. 34:19). “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5), said the Lord. One poet expressed it like this:
“When you walk through a storm,
Hold your head up high.
And don’t be afraid of the dawn.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
For you never walk alone.”
Indeed, God will be with you through the storms of life.
9. To be sympathetic. Everyone states that the ability to be sympathetic is a virtue; yet it is a virtue learned at the school of suffering. The suffering saint learns to communicate a comfort to others which the one who has not suffered cannot give. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 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 Cor. 1:34). Who can better minister to a wife at the death of her husband, than a widow who has experienced the same suffering? She can help the suffering saint through the problems which she faces. Recently I visited in the home of a young man who had lost his young wife three days after she gave birth to her second child. He told of the support which he received from talking to another Christian who had lost his wife through sharing their common experiences. The reassurance of knowing that what was happening to him in his grief was not uncommon helped him pass through the grief with hope and assurance that life would be better down the road.
As we experience the comfort which other sufferers can give to us, we should resolve to share our comfort with others who later experience similar griefs. A person should consciously look for others who are experiencing the troubles through which he has come and minister to their needs.
10. To build the pilgrim spirit. A pilgrim is someone in a land which is not his home. The sufferings of life should remind us that “here we are but straying pilgrims.” “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us. . . . For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal,” (2 Cor. 1:9-10; 4:618).
“For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). The sufferings of life awaken the yearnings in the soul for our eternal home, creating a longing for that time when we shall go to be with the Lord forever. Being reminded that this world is not my home, I reassess the priorities of my life, putting greatest emphasis on those things which affect my soul.
11. To glorify God. The book 101 Hymn Stories relates the events in the life of the authors of various hymns from which the songs were written. Many of our modern songs of praise come from the sufferings of life. Such is the case with “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” as related by Willie W. White in What The Bible Says About Suffering (pp. 131-132):
Joseph Scriven was a graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. At the age of 25 he migrated to Canada where he met a delightful and dedicated young Christian lady. At the time they were engaged to be married they knelt together in prayer. As their love continued to deepen, and their wedding day drew near, they resolved that throughout their married life they would take every problem to God in prayer.
On the day before the happy young couple were to be wed Joseph was handed a letter, bearing the tragic news that hi; beloved fiancee had drowned. The groom-to-be was stunned, then turned bitterly on God. It was not right! It was not fair! How cruel of God to “take her!” . . . and then Joseph remembered the resolution which they had made: take every problem to God in prayer.
The bereaved young man fell to his knees and for three hours he begged God for light and guidance and strength. And God answered, as He always does. Joseph Scriven was granted the grace of Christ, and he arose from his knees and penned the words which have brought solace and strength to myriads of aching hearts:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry,
Everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou will find a solace there.
What is demonstrated by this modern book is confirmed by the ancient book of songs known as Psalms. The sufferings of David at the hands of wicked men (Saul, Absalom, Ahitophel, etc.) were the backdrop from which the psalms were written. The lips of Paul and Silas offered praise to God after the two had been beaten by Roman soldiers and put in a Philippian jail (Acts 16:25). “Did song ever come out of the heart of deeper injustice and did it thereby ever have deeper meaning? They went higher and higher in their notes of praise until they struck such high notes that God had to bring in the earthquake for a bass” (E. Stanley Jones, Christ and Human Suffering, pp. 86-87).
12. To Be Humble. Suffering may make and keep us humble. Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7) was given to him “lest (he) be exalted above measure.”
I am confident that there are many other lessons which one can learn from suffering. I hope that a consideration of these which have been fisted will cause us to accept our lot in life remembering the advice of Solomon: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” (Eccl. 7:14). God’s purposes are accomplished through suffering just as they are through prosperity. Let us learn from our sufferings. I close with the poem “Friendly Obstacles” (author unknown):
For every hill I’ve had to climb,
For every stone that bruised my feet,
For all the blood and sweat and grime,
For blinding storm and burning heat,
My heart sings but a grateful song —
These were the things that made me strong.
For all the heartaches and the tears,
For all the anguish and the pain,
For gloomy days and fruitless years,
And for the hopes that lived in vain,
I do give thanks; for now I know
These were the things that made me grow.
‘Tis not the softer things of life,
Which stimulates man’s will to strive,
But bleak adversity and strife
Do most to keep man’s will alive.
O’er rose-strewn paths the weaklings creep,
But brave hearts dare to climb the steep.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 17, pp. 514, 547-549
September 1, 1988