We all suffer. It is inescapable because of the broken and imperfect world we live in. Suffering is experiencing pain from living that life. We do not suffer in generalities, either. There are specific points of pain, snapshots of suffering that each of us experiences. Mine is different than yours. Each is valid though the type, circumstances, and severity may vary.
My most recent suffering has been watching my 10-year-old baby girl go through painful foot surgery and spend weeks recovering in bed. Other snapshots of suffering from my own life have included childhood sexual abuse, my own 15 major surgeries, financial trouble, and marital strife.
What Has Brought You Low?
Whatever pain is present and prevailing in your heart and mind, that is your suffering. Let God’s grace minister at your specific point of pain.
The temptation is to compare your suffering with others’. We either fall on the end of minimizing our pain because “it’s not that bad,” or we overblow our pain because “no one we know has been through what we have suffered.” On either end of the spectrum, God is present. He is equally aware of the intimate details of your pain, be it from mundane or tragic circumstances, or simple or significant sources.
Bent Down in Suffering
In Isaiah 30:15, God says to us, “‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling.”
Suffering, by its very nature, brings us low. It affects our physical bodies, our hearts, our minds, our mood, our finances, our relationships. It strips us defenseless, causing us to look for salvation and strength to endure it.
Suffering changes our posture. In our weakness, we are brought low by life. It is in the midst of our suffering that we discover whether we are bent down in despair or in worship.
God is our salvation and source of strength in suffering. If you know Jesus, you nod in agreement with the rest of us on that point. But we also recognize that, at times, our hearts are unwilling.
A Posture of Despair or Worship?
Our response to suffering says a lot about what we believe about God and ourselves. It shows us where our identity lies. It shows us whether we are willing to let God be God. We add more suffering when we despair instead of worship.
To react to suffering in despair is a self-focused, hopeless position. It adds suffering to our suffering by fueling lies and creating isolation. It is a deeply emotional—painful and tearful.
To respond to suffering in worship is an equally emotionally expression but it is directed upward towards God instead of inward toward self. God grieves with us and for us. He created emotion. There is nothing godly or right about suppressing emotion; grief and groaning in our suffering are acknowledgements that things are not the way they should be.
Good theology does not take the pain out of suffering but it does create a container to hold it. It changes the crying of despair to crying out to God in worship. It changes hopelessness to hope in Christ, which we are told does not disappoint. It urges us to persevere instead of give up, remembering the promises of God when we forget.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Do You Resist God or Return to Him?
Despair can cause us to push away from the comfort of God. We resist the grace of God, believing we can devise an easier way out of pain. Our suffering may have brought us low, but our pride is standing in rebellion and resistance to God’s redemptive purposes for suffering. We rebel against letting God be God and grumble about our situation.
Worship returns us to the place we were created to be. It humbles us to a posture of submission. It restores us to a place of safety, salvation and strength, even if it doesn’t make the suffering subside.
There is no shame in returning. Our pride and our enemy would make us believe that God is tired of the continual return. He is not. He rejoices at our returning, he has compassion on our weakness, he redeems our suffering.
I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.
Are You Fixing or Resting?
Fixing things puts us in control. We grab for tangible relief and grasp at false comfort. Temporary comfort measures take the form of people, food, alcohol, shopping—you name it. In our suffering, we demand from God and others that they take our pain away and soothe our struggles.
Resting in the character and sovereignty of God is worship. Resting under his protection and promises is an acknowledgement of our utter dependence upon him. Resting gives us a respite from the desire to control our surroundings. Rest in suffering is a gift from God.
Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
Are You Chaotic or Quiet?
Suffering creates chaos. The many voices of pain, confusion, condemnation, and fear become amplified when we are brought low in despair. Satan loves to use our suffering to build a case that God hates us and has abandoned us.
Worship brings quiet and clarity to our souls. Not a silent, suppress-your-wailing-because-God-doesn’t-want-to-hear-it quiet, but a heart quieted with true comfort. After enduring devastating suffering like you and I may never know, Job responds to God in worship, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”
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.
Is There Unbelief or Trust?
Suffering often reveals our unbelief. It is in the unguarded moments of deep pain that our hearts are exposed. Because we have been brought low, we may admit that we really don’t know whether God is good or compassionate. In our despair, we may wonder whether the promises of God will truly uphold us, or whether they apply to us in that moment.
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, ‘Be gone!’
Worship is based on trust. We pour out our affections to the person or thing that we trust to rescue us. God is the only trustworthy rock in our suffering. He may not take our suffering away, but he has told us what we can expect of him. God never utters an untrue, unnecessary word. What more do we need for him to say to us than what he said to us through Christ’s death and resurrection: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”