In the previous article, we established that God is sovereign in the sufferings His children go through in life. In this article, we take a look at the purposes to which God employs suffering in the lives of Christians.
- Suffering keeps us humble
One of the greatest problems God has with man is the issue of pride. Seven times in the Bible we read “God opposes the proud” in various forms (Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 29:23; Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; James 4:6; 1Peter 5:5)
When we are strong in our abilities or resources, we are tempted to forget that we are what we are by God’s grace – and that results in pride. God said, “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8). Like in the case of Paul (2Corinthians 12: 8-9), God may sometimes permit a “thorn in the flesh to torment us” — so we may learn to be humble under His mighty hand of grace.
- Our sufferings remind us of our need for constant contact with God
In the passage from 2Corinthians 12 vs 8-9 God did not heal Paul but He promised to demonstrate His power in Paul’s life. The fact that God’s power is displayed in our weakness should give us courage. Our weaknesses help us develop good Christian character; and also deepens our relationship with God.
When we are weak, it allows God to fill us with his power, then we are strong. If we don’t acknowledge our need for God, we do not give room for Him to act in our lives.
- God uses suffering to shape us
There is a saying that ‘no pain, no gain!” When we trust Christ as our Lord and Saviour, He does not automatically or suddenly make us perfect people. God uses the experiences of everyday life to develop our Christian character. Suffering has a way of dramatically forcing us to deal with the deeper issues of life. By so doing, we grow stronger in the Lord. Scripture makes us know that our relationship to God is akin to that of a potter and the clay:
Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? (Isaiah 45:9b)
But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8).
God uses our sufferings to continually shape us to bring glory to Himself. He uses the hardships of life to shape us to be mature in faith, more godly, and more Christ-like.
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only so, but 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.  For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:2-6).
How could Paul say that we should rejoice or be happy when we are in pain?
He is not telling us to celebrate our suffering just for the sake of it; rather He wants us to rejoice about what God can and will do in and for us and His glory through our sufferings and trials. He is encouraging us to celebrate the end product of our suffering.
Apostle James corroborates Paul’s words when he said that we should rejoice in the end result of our troubles:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;  Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)
- Suffering draws us closer to God
During the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, they cried out to God when Pharaoh and his army pursued (Exodus 14:10). Their time of despair drove them into prayer. It is in our times of suffering that we see the ultimate need of the hand of God in our lives.
A Scottish missionary, John Paton, on his sick bed shortly before his death was visited by a friend. The friend remarked “I am so sorry to see you lying on your back”. John, smiling, asked his friend, “do you know why God puts us on our backs?” His friend answered “no“, to which John replied “in order that we may look upward to Him!”
- In Suffering, we gain true knowledge of our God
God uses the seasons of suffering to teach us more about life and Himself. After God delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh and his army, they sang:
“The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2).
This kind of intimate knowledge of God as their salvation and habitation was only possible after their experience of God’s deliverance from Pharaoh. In Exodus 15:11, they proclaimed, “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
David is someone else who similarly testified of an intimate knowledge of God through suffering. He writes, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:71).
- Suffering helps us to see our need of other believers in our lives
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.  Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (1 Corinthians 12:26-27).
Paul used the analogy of a human body to aptly describe how we need each other as a Church (the body of Christ). He said if one suffers, all suffer. Pain and suffering have a special ability to show us how much we need each other. Our struggles remind us how fragile we really are.
This truth was brought home to me very sharply during the period of my sickness in 2016. My house became like a Church — prayers were poured for me morning and evening; with preaching and consolation from the many Christian friends who visited our home. Anytime these prayers were offered, I felt strong on the inside. God uses pain and suffering for the purpose of consolidating our unity with other believers in Christ (Galatians 6:2; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
When we experience the comfort of God during suffering, then we are able to identify with those who undergo similar situations.
Christian friend, realise that you are the special object of God’s love. Even in times of suffering, He promises us His peace. The death of Jesus on the cross means “God-who-suffers-with-us“. May God bless and strengthen you in any suffering you may find yourself, in Jesus’ name! Amen.