We live in a beautiful but broken world where things are not the way they are supposed to be. Pain is real here. Suffering is real. Sickness and disease and tragedy are real.
But so is hope. So is healing. So is grace. So is God.
As I continue to wrestle with the topic of pain and suffering in our world and in our lives (in light of our son’s fight against cancer), I find myself constantly asking God to help me. To help me respond rightly to the painful journey we are currently walking. To respond in a way that fuels hope and peace and even joy in my son and in my family. To respond in a way that encourages others. To respond in a way that honors and brings glory to Christ, my King.
I don’t want to waste my pain. I really don’t.
Here’s the understatement of the year: I need the Lord’s help if this is to happen. To not waste my pain, to respond rightly to this trial, I need the supernatural grace and power of God working big time in my heart and mind.
How you and I respond to trials and hardship in our lives matters. How we respond to pain and suffering can either lead us to a deeper trust and joy in the Lord or it can have the opposite effect, leading us into a place of deep anger and bitterness toward God. As a pastor, I’ve seen many examples of both over the years.
So, the question is this: How should we respond? How should we respond to the pain and suffering that is sure to come our way in life this side of heaven?
Let me introduce you to one of my mentors in this. J.C. Ryle, an Anglican Pastor and author in 19th century England, wrote a great deal on suffering as he experienced much of it in his own life. Ryle lays out 7 specific ways God desires to use suffering in our lives for His glory, our joy, and the good of others. These apply to everyone of us whether we are presently experiencing a trial or whether a trial is just around the corner. I pray Ryle’s words of truth and wisdom encourage you as they have me over the past week…
7 specific ways God desires to work in our pain…
1. To teach us that there is a world beyond the grave. The world we now live in is not our real home. Heaven awaits us where there will be no more pain, sorrow, tears, misery, cancer, and sin.
2. To make us see the emptiness of this worldand its utter inability to satisfy the deepest needs of the soul.
3. To send us to God’s Word. Suffering should drive us to the one place we can find words of truth in the midst of chaos and confusion: The God-breathed, Holy Scriptures. Only here do we find true words of hope, true words of peace, true words of love and life and promise that come directly from the mouth of God to you.
4. To make us pray. As Ryle puts it, “Too many, I fear, never pray at all, or they only rattle over a few hurried words morning and evening without thinking what they do. But prayer often becomes a reality when the valley of the shadow of death is in sight.”
How true these words have been for me. You don’t truly realize God is all you need until God is all you have. Whether we get this or not is reflected in our desperation (or lack thereof) for God in prayer.
5. To make us “feeling” and “sympathizing” toward others. It is amazing how God uses our own suffering to soften us toward others and their suffering. Our pain should make us more loving people.
6. To help us learn how to find joy in the Lord even in the midst of what feels like hopeless circumstances.
We read in James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
In light of this passage, Ryle writes, “Beware of fretting, murmuring, complaining, and giving way to an impatient spirit. Regard your suffering as a blessing in disguise – a good and not an evil – a friend and not an enemy.No doubt we should all prefer to learn spiritual lessons in the school of ease…but rest assured that God knows better than we do how to teach us. The light of the last day will show you that there was a meaning and a “need be” in all your pain.”
7. To draw us and conform to Christ. God uses our suffering to draw us close to Christ – to create in us a greater desire for Jesus above all other things. He also uses our suffering to conform us to Jesus – to shape us and change us and make us more and more like Christ in the way we feel, think, speak, and act.
The bottom line is this: The Lord doesn’t want us to waste our pain. We shouldn’t want to waste it either.
Lord, please use the trials and suffering in our lives to transform and conform us into the men and women You created us to be. For Your glory, our joy, and the good of others. Amen (so be it).