FIRST-PERSON: Should we be thankful for suffering?

NASHVILLE (BP) – “My grandfather probably won’t make it through the night,” said the text from a friend last week. The folks in our small group had been praying for his family for weeks. I was instantly reminded of the conversation we had this summer when our group worked through 1 Thessalonians 4:13-19 and talked about the hope of resurrection.

That conversation has stayed with me over the past few months. In fact, I think it has stayed with all of us. We’ve brought it up in numerous conversations since the group discussed sorrow, death, hope and resurrection under a picnic pavilion as the sun slowly sank behind the trees.

Christians certainly aren’t exempt from suffering and difficulty. I haven’t been. I’m a stroke survivor, and several years ago my wife and I buried a baby boy as tears streamed down our faces.

Other followers of Jesus have suffered even more than we have.

Is there hope in the midst of suffering? Is it even possible to be thankful for suffering? While none of us enjoys it or longs for the next season of suffering, God does redeem suffering if we let Him.

Here are a few reasons I am thankful for suffering.

God uses suffering to teach me to consider the motives of my heart.

Times of suffering often bring opportunities for reflection. While this time can be used to consider one’s goals and priorities in life, there’s a deeper question beneath the surface – why do I want what I want?

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:5 that there will be a day when the Lord will “reveal the intentions of the hearts.” Our goal and priorities are important, but the reason behind them is more important. Seasons of suffering give us the opportunity to ask deeper questions.

What is propelling me to live and act the way I am?

God uses suffering to teach me to trust Him.

There was about 35 minutes from the time my stroke began until my head was down on a mall food court table. I could barely speak and couldn’t move. I was alone even though there were people moving all around me. It seemed like an eternity.

As I wondered what was happening and what would happen, my repetitive thought was, “Lord, I trust you.”

I didn’t know what would happen to my family.

I didn’t know if I would wake up.

But I knew the Lord was trustworthy.

During a season of suffering, we learn about the source of our strength. If we look to ourselves, our world will crumble. If we look to Jesus, we can find rest in the midst of grief and pain.

God uses suffering to teach me I need friends.

I am a processor. My mind is constantly active (sometimes too active) analyzing life. I can get lost in my thoughts during seasons of suffering. It’s easy to conceive a thought, believe the thought and put it on repeat in my head.

I’ve learned that good friends are helpful to determine whether my thinking is right or wrong. Sometimes they affirm my thought process, and other times they tell me that my thinking is way off.

Proverbs 27:6 says the wounds of a friend are trustworthy. That may sound like an odd thing to say as we consider suffering, but it is valuable. I have found that those wounds resemble the work of a surgeon, who is trying to help me rather than a thief trying to harm me.

In His kindness, the Lord gives us friends who help us face suffering even if it brings painful change to our lives.

God uses suffering to teach me the answers aren’t within me.

One of the most helpful patterns I’ve observed in suffering is that I’m forced to look outside of myself. I remember the people who gathered with us at the graveside service to bury our baby boy. It’s a picture forever forged in my memory. My wife and I needed help, and these were the people God sent to provide it.

They walked the hard road with us. They listened and grieved with us. As they helped pick up the pieces of our broken hearts, they pointed us to the love, hope and promise found in God. They avoided cliches; and when they couldn’t answer why, they just listened, prayed and encouraged us.

We may be tempted to withdraw and look within, but, if we are to persevere through suffering, we must look outside of ourselves.

Just as the fall leaves give way to the frosty mornings of winter, seasons of suffering come to all of us. Let us be thankful and trust God’s Word in the midst of suffering, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

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