counseling

You Will Experience Suffering. Have You Prepared Yourself?

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By Craig Morrisette

Suffering is not a topic for discussion as much as it is a reality each person must face.[1] Yet, we tend to do little to prepare our hearts for it.

You should actively be grounding yourself biblically and theologically in order to face suffering. Failing to do so is like a man who must run a marathon but doesn’t train for it. His lack of preparation results in disorienting exhaustion and, at worst, total collapse.

In this article, I want to focus on what has been revealed to us in Scripture and how that should instruct us about suffering and grief. The Bible teaches us to get as much Christ-exalting meaning out of suffering as we can. We need to see how Christ meets us in these moments of great darkness.

I want to offer to you three important truths about suffering that are important to know prior to suffering.

The disciples overestimated the threat and underestimated their resources of help.

1. All circumstances submit themselves to Christ.

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
(Matthew 8:23-27)

In this passage, the disciples are in real danger. They are in a small, sinking boat. The waves are crashing over the sides. The disciples are terrified — and Jesus is asleep.

Do you ever feel like Jesus is asleep as you face something terrifying or some form of suffering? Do you ever feel like your prayers don’t get past the ceiling, or that you’re all alone? The disciples felt this way. They were desperate, and their circumstances overwhelmed them.

Look at what Jesus does: He gets up. According to Mark 4:39, Jesus simply speaks three words, “Peace be still,” and everything went calm. This is truly God in the flesh showing us his divine power over external circumstances. Jesus Christ has total control over external circumstances, and this truth should comfort you.

Following Jesus doesn’t exempt us from pain and suffering. The point Jesus is making is that God is present, He is powerful and He is in control. Fear can be diminished as one increases their faith and by trusting in the reality that God is in charge. 

The disciples overestimated the threat and underestimated their resources of help. So often, we do the same thing.

If we read a bit further in verses 28-34 we see Jesus continues sailing to the other side of this body of water, and he casts out demons from two different men. The demons speak to Jesus and know him. This is also a display of Christ’s divinity. He not only controls external circumstances like the wind and sea, but he also can control internal circumstances like demon possession.

Consider this for a moment: Jesus sailed across a large body of water just to rescue these two men. Christ pursues two tormented, destitute, outcast and sickly men simply because he loves them. I think that Matthew is trying to get us to ask one big question: If Jesus controls all circumstances (external and internal), what is there really to fear?

All circumstances submit themselves to Christ. Let this truth comfort you.

2. Suffering and trials are meaningful, not meaningless.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
(2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Later, in 2 Corinthians 11:25-29, Paul describes the sufferings he endured: beatings, shipwrecks, stonings, danger from robbers, danger from all people (even those he counted as friends), sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, cold and being exposed to the elements, anxiety, daily pressure and stress to protect the Church.

Can you relate to something in this list? Maybe you have experienced sleeplessness or betrayal; anxiety or extreme pressure; danger from someone you deemed trustworthy. If you have, you are in good company. Paul experienced this too.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that he was under so much pressure and affliction that he despaired of life itself. He felt a sense of hopelessness. Isn’t that what despair is, a point of utter hopelessness? He thought he was going to die. Maybe you can relate. You too have thought that the pain, the pressure or the suffering you felt, was going to result in your death.

Paul was in a dark place, yet he viewed his suffering as deeply meaningful. In verse 9, Paul offers a purpose for his suffering: to turn his heart away from relying upon himself and towards relying upon God. Most people view their troubles as the reason that they are unhappy, poor, fragile, angry or grumbling. But Paul is saying that our suffering, if we are a believer, is fundamentally meaningful. God brings value to our suffering.

Suffering always exposes what we truly believe.

3. Suffering and trials reveal where or in whom we place our faith.

In 1 Peter 1:3-5, the Apostle Peter lists several incredible, undeniable, gospel-rich truths for believers to cling to. It almost sounds like he is jumping up and down as he writes them. These truths give us hope. Peter says that we have a living hope in Christ, Christ’s mercy redeems us, we have an inheritance that is imperishable, and our salvation is being guarded. This is all worth praising God for and rejoicing over.

And that is exactly what Peter writes next:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 
(1 Peter 1:6-7)

Peter includes this word “various” trials which means, “insert your suffering here.” It is for any situation, pain or circumstance that tests you. Peter is telling us that various trials and sufferings we experience are what actually help us to see if our faith is genuine. If our faith is genuine, then we have something in which to rejoice.

How do you know if you truly love Jesus Christ? One way you gain assurance of your faith is to have it experience pressure and real weight.

Suffering always exposes what we truly believe. Always. Suffering is a truth serum of sorts. This means that suffering provides critical knowledge for the believer: the knowledge that their faith is or is not authentic. As believers, seeing proof of faith is comforting. Faith is hollow until it is tested and proven. Suffering and trials give you the ability to obtain assurance and perseverance. Job’s suffering stood as a sign of God’s favor and approval, not his disfavor. [2]

You, like me, have seen people experience suffering resulting in bitterness towards God. You have seen people walk away from Christ and his Church. If suffering can prove our faith as authentic, then it also means that suffering can prove us lacking in faith. This also can be good, if we respond appropriately, as Peter did, when he denied Christ three times. Peter, the author of the verses we just read, spectacularly failed one of his trials. He knows the shame of failure. Christ looked right at Peter as he denied him the third time (Luke 22:61). Yet, Peter, the one who failed his test so miserably, he tells us in this text that it is good to be tested.

Suffering always reveals where or in whom we place our faith.

Conclusion

Preparing biblically and theologically can help us tremendously before we experience suffering. Suffering is never easy, but a biblical framework of suffering can make suffering bearable. The scriptures argue for so many meaningful purposes in suffering. As a believer, learn them prior to your suffering.

The marathon is coming. Now is the time to prepare.

[1] David Powlison. All is Lost. CCEF National Conference Talk 2014.

[2] Dan McCartney, Why Does It Have To Hurt? Pp. 92-93, 38

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  • counseling
  • suffering
Craig Morrisette

Craig gives leadership to the ministry of The HOPE Counseling Center at North Wake Church in Wake Forest, NC. He aims to help others connect the transforming power of the Gospel with everyday life. He is a graduate of Southeastern Seminary and East Carolina University. Craig is a husband to Kim, father to Caleb, Lydia and Moriah. He enjoys his children, photography, hunting, BBQ wings, ECU football, all kinds of music, soccer (especially World Cup Soccer) and Eastern NC BBQ. He is not a fan of mosquitos, squirrels or groundhogs.

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