formation

Growing in the Soil of Suffering

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Expecting the Expected

There are certain promises of God that are just easier to cling to. God is good to us and, by all means, we should believe him when he promises us good things. But we don’t tend to meditate much on that middle part of John 16:33. “In this world you will have tribulation…”

The phone rings, and tragedy rages on the other end. Betrayal bewilders you. The life you thought you would have by now seems as elusive as a passing breeze. A seemingly small misunderstanding mangles a relationship. In an instant life can become very sad.

Has heartache found you now? You are in good company. Hannah was here too, heavy with the heartache of a barren womb. Job saw with his own eyes how death can sweep over everything you love. The apostle Paul was impaired, imprisoned, and persecuted.

Though we may not sit and wait for it, suffering will find us. We all find out, eventually, how quickly darkness can shroud everything we’ve ever known. We either have wrestled or will wrestle with why a good God allows bad things to happen.

Inevitably, suffering will affect us in some way. Just as sure as we experience blessing, we will know darkness too. Despite our druthers, we can expect this.

When trials do come, the posture we take toward them matters. The writer of Hebrews says that we should prepare even our bodies for what God intends to work in us (Hebrews 12:12-13). We may not always be able to change our circumstances, but we can direct our gaze. We can choose to hold our anguish in tension with God’s intentions.

We may not always be able to change our circumstances, but we can direct our gaze.

Making Sense of the Senseless

But what does God intend for us in our suffering? The older saints could surely tell you. Talk with those who have walked with Jesus for a long time. Sit with some of the mothers and the fathers in this faith of ours. Ask them what they know about God now that they didn’t know then. They will tell you that there is a purpose in your pain. They will tell you that on the other end of our unanswered prayers and unwelcome outcomes, we are being formed into the image of Christ.

We may never know why disaster happens. However, we can know, in part, its results. Friend, certain fruits grow best in the soil of suffering. And like any type of growth, it will take time. The goal is not that you make it through your circumstances quickly with the least amount of wounding as possible. Instead, we aim to be changed  in the midst of them. In this truth, we can find an objective in our agony. We can make some sense of what is otherwise wholly senseless.

Here are three of the fruits that suffering grows in us, transforming us into the image of Christ.

1. Empathy

  • “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

The old saying “it takes one to know one” is especially true when you’ve been through something. Pain recognizes pain. Look around you. There are hurting people everywhere. Our own sorrow gives us fresh eyes to see them and equips us with a reservoir of compassion toward them.

Is this not who Christ has been to us first? We serve a Savior who sympathizes. Jesus made his dwelling among us. He became like us. Then, he suffered in our place so that we, in turn, could become like him. Jesus suffered on purpose. He went to great lengths to love us when we endured the worst kind of suffering.

As we gain comfort from the presence and power of God, we can then remind our fellow sojourners that there is comfort available for them too. We become more like Jesus when our experiences inform the way we respond to others.

2. Endurance

“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.” (Romans 5:3)

Suffering will end, but not yet. So we need endurance. Endurance is the way of Jesus. He was steadfast to the very end. The Man of Sorrows modeled perseverance for us when, in the face of death itself, he was unmoved in his mission.

As we are transformed into Christ’s likeness through suffering, we begin to exhibit the same type of forbearance. We will endure for endurance’s sake. We will endure so we can learn to endure again. After all, the Christian life is “by grace, through faith” over and over again until we reach glory.

Oftentimes, our endurance will lead us to the resolve we prayed for. The restoration of the relationship or the return of the prodigal. Sometimes we will see supernatural healing and deliverance. But even if you don’t, God will be faithful to you in your suffering. His faithfulness will be the grace that sustains you from valley to hill to valley again. Jesus trusted God the Father to glorify him after he suffered a little while. In our troubles, we learn to trust him too. We learn that he is worth our staying, even when it’s hard.

3. Eschatological Hope

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

One day nobody’s going to cry anymore. This is the end to which we endure. Heaven is making its way here and it won’t be long.

The reality that our pain and frustration may not be resolved here and now is not an easy one to accept. But the hope that we have in Christ casts an eclipsing shadow on every lesser silhouette of suffering here in the temporary. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Preach to your soul about a better dwelling. One that decay will never touch and where grief is locked forever out of the gates. A heavenly city with no emergency rooms, or funeral homes, or graveyards. There awaits reward. There awaits eternal joy. There awaits Christ, the one who suffered for the suffering. In that place, on that day, we will be made just like him.

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  • formation
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Anteneshia Sanders

Anteneshia is from Hopkinsville, Kentucky and currently lives in Wake Forest, North Carolina. She is on staff at the Summit Church in Raleigh, NC. She's also a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Master’s in Ministry to Women. Anteneshia enjoys vanilla lattes and any conversation about spiritual motherhood (ideally at the same time). Her muses include her family and friends and “grace in place of grace already given (John 1:16)."

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