It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues. (Psalm 119:71 ESV)
HOW MANY OF US who have become Christians, who have asked Jesus Christ to come into our lives as our Savior, have done so looking to suffer for that decision?
Most of us probably have resonated to Jesus’ promise in Matt. 11:28-30, which starts with these words: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” and ends with these: “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (BSB).
When it came to that moment when we raised our hands and marched down the aisle, or dropped to our knees and raised our faces to the ceiling, or even placed our foreheads to the ground in agony, most of us were not thinking of Ephesians 6:10-13, which includes these stirring words: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v. 12, NIV).
Nor were we likely thinking of James 1:2-4 (NIV), “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
WHAT, THEN, ARE WE TO MAKE of Bible verses that clearly foretell of suffering in this world as a result of our conversion?
God tells us to rejoice in all things and to persevere, holding fast to Him through prayer
and devotion, because He is shaping our characters for eternity with Him. In Romans 5:3-5, Paul tells us, “[W]e 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” (ESV).
Moreover, Jesus told us there will be suffering in this life; in fact, His earthly life was filled with suffering for our sakes, but He also assured us that He would be our refuge (Psalm 46:1). We should place our trust in Him because He will give us the strength to get through the travail (Jeremiah 16:19a; 1 Corinthians 10:13). He assures us in Matthew 24:13 that if we preserve to the end, we will be saved.
How often do we hear a testimony of suffering and temptation in a Bible class or spiritual retreat and nod our heads knowingly, yet, secretly, identify more with the elder son in Jesus’ account of the prodigal son (Luke 15:29), you know, the one who thought he had done all the right things and deserved the appropriate rewards.
So far, so good.
We can mouth the words that God’s assurances are true, and we can say we believe them without doubt, yet, when “real life” intervenes, we may stagger under the weight of our affliction. This struggle comes in many forms — a life-threatening illness, a critical accident, a tragic event striking a loved one, or just the recognition one evening that one’s life really hasn’t amounted to much.
THAT’S WHERE THE BEAUTY of Christ’s healing grace comes in. This is where He adds to the grace He’s already shown us and gives us an extra layer, much like replacing a windbreaker with a fur-lined coat when the temperature drops.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT), tells us that when he asked God to take away the thorn in his side, God responded: “’My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness,’” leading Paul to conclude, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
The apostle Peter, who, like Paul, would be martyred for his devotion to Jesus, tells us in 2 Peter 1:3 (BSB): “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
WHEN WE RESPOND ‘YES’ to the call of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, God will show us the equations of life have been turned upside down — or, in reality, they have been turned right side up — so we should not despair when He allows the tribulations of this world to invade our calm.
Instead, we should see this as God preparing our character for an eternity in Paradise with Him, where Jesus says, “so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:30 NIV, Rev. 19:9).
Battling temptations, shouldering tribulations, enduring insults are disturbing to our earthly minds. There’s no denying that. What Jesus offers is to walk the path with us, to give us the boost to grow through difficulties, so that our Christian character can mature. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV, Paul tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”
Jesus is less interested than we are in this moment of our lives on this earth. His focus is on eternity in the Kingdom of God, and He invites us to join Him there.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, hear our prayers and grant us your peace. Help us to keep our focus on the prize — eternity with You in Paradise. In Jesus’ Name. Amen