Pain, Suffering, Hardship, Oppression, Unanswered Prayer, Spiritual Maturity & God’s Love

The Spiritual Value of Suffering Trials

Why Hard Times Bless Christians

By Grantley Morris

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Why we Suffer Trials

Maturity, whether physical, mental or spiritual, comes neither from a book nor from an instant answer to prayer. Consider this biblical reference to spiritual maturity:

    Hebrews 5:11-14 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
    (Emphasis mine.)

Note those last words. The emphasis is on intense experience in repeatedly choosing what is right, rather than sliding into what is convenient or comfortable. I have highlighted that it says maturity comes to those who have “trained themselves.” Like the physical training an athlete endures, God and various people can instruct and inspire but without the trainee personally exerting himself, nothing will be achieved. The critical importance of intense personal involvement makes painful trials an integral part of gaining spiritual maturity:

    James 1:2-3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
    (Emphasis mine.)

This truth is of such importance that an entirely different writer says virtually the identical thing. Both James and Paul insisted that painfully oppressive trials end up achieving so much spiritual good in our lives that their presence is something to rejoice about:

    Romans 5:3-4  . . . we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

By calling it suffering, Romans emphasizes how painfully unpleasant the trials are that empower us to grow up spiritually. Hebrews calls these spiritually beneficial experiences the discipline that children must respond to positively if they are to grow into responsible adults. It does not sidestep the fact that this is unpleasant:

    Hebrews 12:7-11 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? . . . we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! . . . God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
    (Emphasis mine.)

Seize the fact that this says that having hardship thrust upon us does not mean God dislikes us; it is actually proof that he believes in us and cares for us with true wisdom and boundless love. The “discipline” is often not punishment but intense training like a coach would put his star athletes through to bring them to an even higher level.

If possible, I would like you to continue with this fascinating, potentially life-changing, biblical exploration of the spiritual benefits of suffering. Discussing trials that Christians can face, however, raises two concerns, either of which might alarm some readers so much that they stop reading or even give up on God before finding the sections later in this webpage where these matters are fully addressed. The issues are:

    1.  Reading about trials might give you a seriously wrong view about God.

      You might, for example, have had cold, harsh parents who, despite their claims, acted unlike God, and this experience has warped your ability to grasp the true meaning of the Bible’s analogy of discipline. It is vital that we understand that, like the suffering of his precious Son, our temporary distress pains him and appalls him, regardless of how much good comes from it and how extravagantly we will be eternally compensated. At this moment, we live in a world that refuses to act in accordance with God’s kind and gentle ways, and there are complex, loving reasons why God has not currently wiped all evil from this planet. I will shortly endeavor to put your mind at rest about God’s tender compassion. If you can read a little more before moving to that section, please do. Otherwise, go straight to Why Suffering Breaks God’s Heart & Yet Temporarily Continues.

    2.  Is it worth being a Christian?

We have been mining the Bible for precious information about the surprising value of suffering, and especially how it enables us to mature spiritually. We are beginning to see that, in his astounding love and mind-boggling ability to “overcome evil with good,” the Lord intervenes in our lives so that evil attacks against us that should have weakened and deformed us end up spiritually beautifying and empowering us. We have seen that for those who entrust their lives to God, hardship ceases to be meaningless oppression and instead acts like the loving discipline that takes a child unable to be trusted with responsibility and slowly transforms him or her into a highly capable and praiseworthy adult. And rather than being a useless nuisance, unwanted affliction is cunningly refashioned until it becomes like a coach’s invaluable training that builds a weakling into a champion; a loser into a winner.

Peter employed yet another analogy to convey the same truth about trials as found in Romans, James and Hebrews. He taught that as ore needs heat to purify it and make it more useful and increase its value, so Christians need “fiery” trials (1 Peter 4:12 – literal translation):

    1 Peter 2:19,21 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. . . . To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

    1 Peter 4:12-13 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
    (Emphasis mine.)

We should not be surprised, says Peter, when we suffer painful trials. In fact, we are called to suffer unjustly, just as Christ was. Throughout his letter, Peter keeps returning to this theme, explaining how normal and beneficial it is for Christians to suffer. He even wrote:

    1 Peter 4:1-2 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

Consider how Paul and Barnabas went about “strengthening” and “encouraging” the early Christians:

    Acts 14:22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

The book of Revelation is sometimes misrepresented as saying, “Come to Christ so you can avoid hard times.” In reality, what Paul and Barnabas said about hardships and the kingdom of God is virtually a summary of much of the book:

    Revelation 2:9-10 I know your afflictions and your poverty . . . Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

    Revelation 12:17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

    Revelation 13:7 He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. . . .

    Revelation 13:10 If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

    Revelation 20:4  . . . I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. . . .
    (Emphasis mine.)

    Seven More examples in Revelation

Suffering is so normal for a Christian that Paul wrote:

    2 Timothy 3:10-12 You, however, know all about my . . . persecutions, sufferings . . . In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted
    (Emphasis mine.)

So that they knew what he had in mind, Paul referred to his own persecutions and sufferings, and we know from all the times he was physically tortured, this meant intense suffering. Here’s some of the milder stuff:

    1 Corinthians 4:11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.

    2 Corinthians 1:8-9 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
    (Emphasis mine.)

    Notice, incidentally, how Paul refused to view the almost unbearable opposition they suffered as a useless, meaningless frustration. Despite its original source and evil intent, he saw it as being lovingly refashioned by the omnipotent Lord into something spiritually beneficial; motivating them to rely on God.

    By focusing his astounding powers on senseless, anti-God violence, the Almighty transformed his enemies’ frenzy into the very opposite of what they intended. What they hoped would annihilate God’s loved ones, ended up fostering the spiritual development of those they planned to destroy. How frightening and futile it is to rage against a God so powerful that he turns his enemies’ every hate-filled attack into a blessing that furthers his own loving commitment to keep spiritually strengthening those who love him!

    The God of infinite love and power habitually performs staggering miracles of this magnitude in the lives of his beloved.

    Consider Paul’s “thorn”; the “messenger of Satan” that tormented him so much that the apostle repeatedly prayed for it to stop. It is appropriate to quote here what I wrote many years ago about the distressing attack that sent Paul reeling:

      Christ deflected the Devil’s dart with such precision that it punctured only that part of Paul that was in danger of bloating with pride. Though hurled in Satanic wrath, it passed through the scarred hands of Jesus and entered Paul as a manifestation of divine love and wisdom.

    I think it also helpful to include here a slightly modified version of something else I wrote years ago:

      Being the all-powerful One in whom we all – even anti-Christians – “live and move and have our being,” God can cause anyone to further his own loving plans. Our magnificent Lord is so intellectually superior – so able to outwit every other intelligence in the universe – that he repeatedly uses as his own instruments, humans and spiritual beings who passionately hate him and are doing everything they can to ruin God’s purposes. Consider Joseph’s brothers, whose evil plans God used as instruments of his love. “You intended to harm me,” declared Joseph, “but God intended it for good . . .” (Genesis 50:20). The Almighty’s power to use his enemies is stunningly displayed at the opposite end of the Bible, where it speaks of the ten “horns” who serve the beast that emerges from the abyss. They are so violently anti-God that they “make war against” the Son of God. Scripture reveals that the Almighty will put into the very hearts of these evil, God-hating beings the desire to do something that serves God’s purposes (Revelation 17:12-17). Such is the genius of the Almighty Lord that, in the blind fury of their venomous hatred for Jesus, God’s enemies end up furthering God’s plans.

    This is why even evil attacks that by their very nature are totally contrary to God’s loving ways, end up spiritually blessing those who are committed to spiritual growth. This does not in the slightest mean that God approves of suffering but if, for reasons explained below, it must be temporarily tolerated for the greater good, our loving Lord will never allow our suffering to be in vain. On the contrary, he will transform it into something that brings about so much good within us that we will rejoice about for all of eternity.

    See in the following Scripture the centrality of suffering “persecutions and trials” in being “counted worthy of the kingdom of God”:

      2 Thessalonians 1:4-5  . . . we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.

    Likewise, Jesus affirmed that we are blessed and have reason to rejoice when we are impoverished, weep, suffer persecution, and so on (Luke 6:21-23). We are often tempted to imagine that being spared hard times indicates God’s blessing but, consistent with the Hebrews quote about discipline and many other Scriptures, Jesus insisted that the exact opposite is true.

    In Jesus’ day, to take up one’s cross meant more than just the humiliation of being treated like criminal lowlife in a manner that even the most degraded Roman citizen was spared. It was a one-way journey not merely to the gallows but to being mercilessly tortured to death. Nothing on earth could be more terrifying, and yet this is the expression our Lord chose to describe the basic requirement of all who wanted to follow him.

    Despite the value and necessity of Christians suffering being such a strong and recurrent theme throughout the New Testament, many of today’s preachers in western countries have grown amazingly adept at ducking and weaving their way through the Bible so as to avoid the obvious. In fact, their avoidance is so persistently enforced as to end up making this foundational teaching seem like deep teaching or even a foreign concept.



Why we Suffer Trials



The Blessing of Hardship

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Why Suffering Breaks God’s Heart & Yet Temporarily Continues

Mentioning the spiritual benefits of hard times obligates me to pen this next section. If you are absolutely convinced about God’s tender love and goodness, you are still likely to be blessed by it but you can skip it if you are in a hurry.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you,” says James 4:8. It is exceedingly difficult, however, to stay motivated to keep moving closer to someone we think might be displeased with us. Here’s one of my quotes that I find myself frequently sharing with people:

    One of the most important things is to focus on God’s great love for you and not let deceptive spirits trick you into thinking that God frowns on you when you fall into sin. Yes, God is disappointed, but when a little child with good parents runs off and falls, what’s the first thing he does? He looks to mommy or daddy for comfort. You, too, should run into Daddy’s arms for the comfort you need. God is on your side. He cares deeply for you. Your spiritual enemies, however, want to make you feel uneasy about running to God. They know we instinctively recoil from anyone we fear might be angry or displeased with us and we will keep that person at arm’s length. Your enemies want you to be standoffish from the only One who can truly deliver you and defeat their attempts to bring you down. They don’t want you to rejoice in God’s forgiveness but to feel miserable and isolated from the warmth of God’s comfort.

To nurture your awareness of God’s love for you, read the link Receiving a Personal Revelation of God’s Love for You at the end of this webpage and all the links that link leads to.

For help in overcoming the fear that God is displeased with you, there is a vast number of resources listed in the Feeling Condemned? link at the end of this webpage.

The other factor that will hinder us from drawing close to God is the fear that he might be some cold-hearted ogre. Conversely, the more warmly we feel toward God, the easier it will be to draw near to him.

We have seen that suffering hard times is a key to gaining spiritual maturity. In fact, suffering was necessary even to perfect our Lord for ministry:

    Hebrews 2:10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

If, however, we begin supposing that our suffering might mean that God is callous or even cruel, we would not only be mistaken, our misunderstanding would sabotage our motivation to draw near enough to God to hear his whispers. Love and admiration for God will not only prove the strongest motivations, they are by far the most acceptable motivations. Intellectual curiosity or a lust for power or anything else that might motivate us to seek God is hardly desirable.

As much as we might talk about God’s omnipotence and sovereignty and Christ’s stupendous victory of the cross, earth was not transformed as soon as Jesus rose from the dead. Our glorious Lord won the right to do so but only when he returns to this planet to execute the Final Judgment will everything change physically. Until then, insists 1 John 5:19, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” At present, Satan remains “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” (Ephesians 2:2). The forces of evil currently have so much power over what Christians suffer that, as mindboggling as it initially seems, Scripture declares that the devil somehow compelled the Son of God to physically move from place to place during his forty days of temptation and his holy mind was invaded by a satanic vision (Proof).

Later, Paul told the Thessalonians he had wanted to visit them “again and again – but Satan stopped us,” (1 Thessalonians 2:18), and in Revelation 2:10 Jesus told the church in Smyrna, “the devil will put some of you in prison to test you . . .” (emphasis mine).

The Lord’s Prayer remains the model for prayers we must utter precisely because right now God’s will is not done throughout earth “as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Even in this, the age of the Spirit, “our struggle is . . . against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” (Ephesians 6:12). To accept this biblical truth means accepting that much that currently happens on this planet flows not from God’s heart but from his enemies whose ways are totally opposed to God’s.

I have devoted other webpages to explaining how the existence of suffering in a fallen world does not in any way lessen the intensity of God’s longing to remove all suffering and in no way diminishes the integrity and intensity of his love and goodness. Nevertheless, I should touch on it here.

With a passion and intensity that defies description, God hates evil and all the pain and suffering it inevitably causes. It breaks his heart, ruins his creation and hurts his loved ones. It is so contrary to his selfless love, wisdom, goodness and everything else dear to him that it infuriates him to extremes beyond our comprehension. In fact, the Almighty’s yearning to destroy all evil is so stupendous that his temporary tolerance of evil is the greatest display of love, kindness, patience and self-control the universe has ever seen.

In the words of Scripture:

    2 Peter 3:7,9-10  . . . the present heavens and earth are . . . being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. . . . The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. . . .

    Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

In other words, the Almighty delaying judgment – and removing everyone who causes suffering – is emphatically not because he is weak or approves of evil but solely an act of extreme kindness in the hope that sinners will repent before it is too late.

Now that we are saved, God’s temporary tolerance of evil costs us – though it costs our Lord far more. Right up until the moment we sought cleansing through Jesus, however, his merciful tolerance of evil was the only thing that allowed us the opportunity to be saved. Otherwise, we would either have never existed – if all evil (which would have included our ancestors) had been destroyed prior to our birth – or we would have been banished to hell – if every cause of evil had been destroyed in the period between our birth and when we finally accepted Jesus’ salvation.

To quote another part of my website:

    A holy God would yearn to wipe out every cause of pain. But if he eradicated everyone who has ever caused pain by selfishness, cheating, lying, gossiping or hurtful remarks, who would be left?

    “Suffering is God’s fault!” some of us sneer, conveniently forgetting times our anger, greed and lies have hurt others. Naturally, there is a degree of hurt we deem excusable, and for some suspicious reason the hurt we have inflicted happens to fall within the standard we arbitrarily set. It is like failing an exam and then moving the pass mark to make our score look good. A holy God could not be partner to such hypocrisy. To wipe out some people who cause suffering and spare you and me would make God guilty of gross injustice. We have each added to humanity’s shame. The dilemma is that God is driven by love, tenderness and justice, and the people he loves and longs to place in a pain-free world are the very ones who cause humanity’s suffering.

    We are so far from being innocent that we owe our very existence to sin. If, for example, we traced our family tree back far enough, we would probably each find an ancestor born as a result of sin – rape, unlawful incest, a despised pregnancy, and the like.

    Christ claimed an existence independent of human ancestry (John 8:56-59; 17:5). If true, and if he subsequently lived a perfect life, he alone could be innocent in every conceivable sense. And we know this man suffered.

    He appeared as the uniquely perfect human who preached impossibly high standards, claimed they were God’s requirements and actually lived them. Turning the cheek, loving his enemies, just as he had preached, he yielded to abuse and torture, somehow absorbing within his mangled body the horrific consequences of all humanity’s sin.

    Humanity can boast one perfect Person. We killed him. Yet our only Innocent gladly suffered the injustice to free the guilty from suffering eternal justice. In this cataclysmic exchange, the Innocent and the guilty traded places, making it spiritually legal for his suffering to end your suffering. As incredible as it seems, this has ushered us to the brink of a new world where the longing deep within us will be met – deceit, abuse, and hurtful actions will be swallowed by goodness; misery will dissolve in endless joy.

    But temporary earthly pain continues for a wonderful reason. A paradise of harmony, trust, openness and love would quickly spoil if just one of its citizens acted remotely like we presently behave. To enter a perfect world without shattering its perfection, would require a personality transformation more radical than ever seen on earth. Through Jesus’ intervention, God can perform this miracle and make us fit for such a world, but he won’t abuse us by forcing a personality change upon us against our will. We must be willing to let God take our pet sins from us and, in his unlimited wisdom and love, rule every part of our lives.

    Humanity quivers on the brink of extinction, mesmerized by sin like serpent’s prey. Each moment that God suppresses his explosive urge to extinguish evil, is a moment in which billions of us have yet another chance to come to our senses and let Jesus deliver us from our infatuation with sin. But the end of this period of grace is hurtling toward us. Soon all suffering will cease. All wrongdoing will be destroyed, along with everyone still caught in its deadly embrace.

Suffering can never be traced back to the heart of God, but always to beings (human or supernatural) acting contrary to God’s heart; preferring selfish disregard for the well-being of others rather than treating others with the love, peace, gentleness, patience, kindness, goodness self-control, and so on that God wants both for the giver and the receiver. The precise cause of one’s suffering might not be because of one’s own selfish refusal to do what is right, but track back far enough – perhaps even for generations – and we will find that the ultimate cause is someone acting in a manner that breaks God’s heart and inevitably ends up hurting people.

Being so filled with loving compassion that one loves both the victim and the offender creates enormous dilemmas, even if one has infinite power. In one webpage I wrote:

    You cannot fervently love someone without aching for that person to love you – especially if you know that person desperately needs you in his/her life. To deeply love someone means you could have everything else in the universe, and yet without that person’s love you would still be heartbroken. To love is to make oneself so vulnerable that even having unlimited power could not help. Omnipotence could easily force someone to obey you. Or it could produce something like a ‘love’ potion, causing a person to be under the illusion of loving you. But genuine love can never be compelled. If it involves force or chemicals or deceit or bribery, it is a sham, and can never satisfy your yearning for that person’s love.

    There are things that not even omnipotence can achieve. It cannot, for example, produce a square circle. It can easily turn a circle into a square, but the instant it has straight sides it is not a circle. Likewise, when someone is forced to act in love, it is not genuine love. Even with unlimited power, there is little anyone could do to induce genuine love in a person, other than be loving and wait for a response.

    We would be appalled if a man kidnapped a woman and raped and enslaved her because he claims he loves her, wants her as his wife and is convinced he can make her happy. It would be an immoral abuse of power, regardless of whether he used physical force or threats – in which case she would be conscious of the violation of her rights – or if he used drugs or hypnotism so that she is unaware that what is happening is against her will. Real love respects the desires of the beloved, no matter how much it clashes with the lover’s personal longings, and no matter how certain he is that the person would benefit from lifelong intimacy with him.

Since we have never had God’s mind-boggling powers, nor an eternity in which to view the consequences of each action, it is disturbingly easy for us to misunderstand him. One of the reasons making it vitally important to keep deepening our understanding of God’s heart is that it will help us avoid defaming God by jumping to blasphemous presumptions about him. When the Almighty’s intellectual superiority and our failure to see the big picture prevent us from grasping his reasons, the more we know his heart, the more certain we will be that his motives are always pure and good and right. The greater our understanding, the greater will be our awe at the perfection of God’s ways. The more we discover, the more we will exclaim with the psalmist:

    Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.

    Psalm 145:8-10,17 The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you . . . The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.

God is so good that he is in a class of his own:

    Mark 10:18  . . . No one is good – except God alone. . . .

Until our knowledge is perfect, however, faith must cement the gaps in our understanding.

An area of confusion we must be careful to avoid is to imagine that the Almighty foiling anti-God plots by bringing good out of them – rather than by preventing the evil acts themselves – somehow implies he initiated the godless acts or approved of them. The Holy One always despises evil. It is always contrary to his nature. When all the eternal ramifications on everyone – both sinners and saints – directly or indirectly affected are carefully considered, if there were a better or kinder or smarter course of action the good Lord could have taken, he would have already done it.

If you are surprised that Jesus’ suffering has continued long after the cross, it is because you had not thought through the implications of what our Lord told Paul while he was “still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” (Acts 9:1). Here’s the critical exchange:

    Acts 9:4-5  . . . “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
    (Emphasis mine.)

We must never forget that God so loves us and identifies with us that when we hurt, he hurts. We are Christ’s body. An attack on any one of us is an attack on him. Just as he did not prevent his suffering on the cross because it ended up achieving astounding good, so he does not prevent his current suffering, but only because of the immense good it will end up achieving.

Let’s honor the Innocent One who for our sakes handed himself over to be tortured to death. Let’s not insult him by remaining skeptical until it is too late and all is revealed. That’s when:

    Isaiah 45:24 They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

Rather than leave it too late, let’s honor him right now by praising him in faith for his flawless integrity and loving kindness.

As Peter grieved his Lord by not understanding the necessity of the cross (Matthew 16:21-23), many of his disciples today grieve him by not understanding the necessity of their own cross.

It is wondrously true that the holy Son of God suffered in our place and by so doing has spared us an eternity of suffering. This does not negate the fact, however, that yet another purpose of his suffering was to provide the ultimate example for us to follow, so that like him we, too, might be inspired to suffer for the greater good:

    1 Peter 2:20-21  . . . if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

    1 Peter 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude . . .
    (Emphasis mine.)

    Similar Scriptures

It is common to so focus on the last hours of Jesus’ time on earth as to lose sight of how much his entire earthly life was characterized by alienation, deprivation and suffering. His agony on the cross was not some aberration; a few hours of torment at the end of a life of bliss or carefree ease. Being tortured to death was merely the culmination and logical conclusion of a life of suffering and hardships. For insight, see the brief webpage: Jesus: A Life of Suffering & Hardship.

Jesus did not say or imply that we, his followers would have it easier than him. On the contrary he promised:

    Matthew 10:21-28 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. . . . A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! So do not be afraid of them. . . . Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. . . .”
    (Emphasis mine.)

Christ’s suffering has indeed spared us an eternity of suffering but, this side of eternity and when entrusted to Christ, our own suffering can achieve things of mind-boggling value. Paul spoke of his personal suffering as making up what was lacking in Christ’s suffering:

    Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

Ponder the implications of this:

    Hebrews 12:2-4 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
    (Emphasis mine.)

Yes, this passage implies we could have hard times and it urges us to look to Jesus as our role model. However, it emphasizes that we should be inspired by his example, not merely by what he suffered, but by his exaltation that his suffering produced. Suffering like Jesus has a profound purpose. It achieves much to be exceedingly joyful about and results in being exalted to the throne of God. Our Leader scorned the shame of the cross because, no matter how atrocious and devastating, his suffering was totally eclipsed by all the good it achieved and by the astounding rewards. Jesus is not just our example in what he suffered but in his exaltation.

In the light of what we are discovering, there is more to the following passage than I previously realized:

    Philippians 2:5-11 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I used to think this Scripture is merely exhorting us to humble ourselves as Jesus did, and then it leaves behind reference to us to tell us more about Jesus. What it is actually saying, however, is that if we humble ourselves and suffer like Jesus, we shall also be highly exalted like Jesus. There is even a parallel with Jesus commencing his journey to exaltation from the point of being equal with God. (“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing . . .”) From the moment we commence our spiritual union with God through faith in Jesus, we are, in a sense, equal with God. Without Christ, we all deserve to suffer because of our sin, but through him swapping places with us on the cross, we are so totally pardoned that we no longer deserve to suffer. Like Jesus, we will always submit to God and, of course, we are not equal with God in the absolute sense that the eternal Son of God is, but through Christ we are granted Godlike status. There are now mindboggling similarities between us and God and they will continue to increase:

    Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

    1 Corinthians 15:49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

    Ephesians 4:24  . . . put on the new self, created to be like God . . .

    1 John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

    John 10:33-35 “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came – and the Scripture cannot be broken . . .”

    Exodus 4:16 He [Aaron] will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.

    Exodus 7:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh . . .”

Similarly, the exaltation of those who suffer will not be as extreme as Christ’s but there will be astounding similarities:

    2 Timothy 2:12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. . . .

    Matthew 19:28-30 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

    Romans 8:17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

    1 Corinthians 6:3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? . . .

    Revelation 2:26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations

    Revelation 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

    Revelation 5:10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.

    Revelation 20:4  . . . I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

    Revelation 22:5  . . . And they will reign for ever and ever.

So, like the perfect Son of God, we suffer not because we deserve it but because we live in a world that keeps hurting people since so many of its inhabitants hate God and reject his kind and selfless ways.

God’s Word tells us to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). This is the very tactic that our Lord himself uses throughout this period prior to Judgment Day:

    Matthew 5:44-45  . . . Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

We are called to act in partnership with Christ and complete his work on earth. Our suffering is part of this holy task.



The Blessing of Hardship



The Joy of Hard Times

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Is Following Christ Worth the Cost?

All we have said about suffering for Christ begs the question: If this is what it takes to be an authentic Christian, who would choose to be one? The answer is simple: anyone whose love for God and humanity is at least a poor reflection of Christ’s love.

Even among non-Christians, the world is filled with people who have found something they love more than they love themselves, despite the fact that whatever has claimed their love is infinitely less desirable than our Lord and will not last. People who believe in a cause bigger than themselves find themselves willing to embrace all manner of hardship and suffering for that cause. Secular history is filled with countless millions of examples, but it seems many who claim allegiance to Christ are yet to find a God who is bigger than themselves. We need a radical change of mindset until we think like a boxer relishing the chance to fight the world title holder. He knows he will be punched over and over but he sees being exposed to the inevitable pain as a great honor and opportunity, and the culmination of years of arduous training.

Consider all the hardship and horrors and maiming and death, mindboggling numbers of soldiers down through the ages have voluntarily endured so they can kill people. Would we endure as much in order to bring life? Some people have done amazing things for the sake of what we wrongly call saving a life. I say “wrongly” because, without Christ, at best we could only delay someone’s death by a few years. Through Christ, however, we can truly save lives so that people live forever. What price is that worth?

For most of human history, the number of births per woman was far higher than today and not only were there no modern pain medications, the likelihood of a mother dying in childbirth was appalling, as was that of her newborn dying or not reaching age five. Despite all these negatives, literally billions of women willingly suffered immensely – and vast numbers gave their lives – just in the hope of bringing a live baby into a temporary, imperfect world. If we do not consider it insane, nor even unusually heroic for women to do this, how much more should average Christians willingly suffer to have spiritual children, when that means people are saved from the horror of a Christless eternity and, instead, are destined for the incomparable joy of eternal perfection in a sparkling, pristine world of total love and fulfillment.

The eternal Son of God has always been worthy of endless praise but it is precisely because he was stripped naked and dehumanized and publicly humiliated in every way that he is adored and will be forever praised by millions of us. Jesus endured the cross that we might be like him. The thrilling news is that this involves not only enduring suffering but ending up loved and adored and forever hailed as a hero. He blazed the trail for us to follow all the way to endless glory.

Note how the following is worded:

    1 Peter 1:6-7  . . . you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials . . . so that your faith . . . may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

This does not state that the “praise, glory and honor” will be Jesus’ alone. Many Scriptures declare that those who are victorious over trials will themselves bask in “praise, glory and honor”. Yes, ultimately every good thing is because of Jesus, but our Lord longs to shower his loved ones with “praise, glory and honor”. Those who suffer like him will be honored like him.

Some of us might be born cowards but we have been born again. As God’s child, you now have, as it were, God’s very genes. Your potential and destiny is entirely different to what you used to think it was.

We might sometimes mess up like Peter and the other disciples (at least Peter, the denier, had the courage to follow at a distance) but, like them, we can pick ourselves up and become heroes.

In the ancient Olympic Games, champions won a crude headdress made from leaves. Even next day it would begin to decay. Despite nations trying to honor their war heroes, their efforts are almost equally pathetic, relative to how Almighty God eternally honors those who endure earthly suffering for him.

Perhaps included in the special revelation Paul received was a glimpse of the indescribable rewards God has for his spiritual heroes – rewards so astounding that Scripture declares, “no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 – emphasis mine). The apostle was so certain that the mindboggling rewards so totally eclipse anything they could ever cost us that it made his own earthly suffering, as appalling as it was, seem a ridiculously tiny price (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17).

We need to set our minds “on things above,” (Colossians 3:2), not on things that cannot last. In the words of Jim Elliot, the young missionary who died for the sake of the Gospel and whose widow thereafter devoted herself to serving those who had killed him, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Like those whose god is sensual pleasure and whose “glory is in their shame”(Philippians 3:19), many of us are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4) who think a good life is about avoiding hardship and scrounging as much ease and physical pleasure as possible.

Like alcoholics who stubbornly refuse to admit to themselves that they are enslaved by drink, most of us are spiritually in far worse shape than we realize. How far today’s western Christians have slipped from biblical Christianity is shown by the bewilderment many of us feel when the apostles left after their flogging “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace” for their Lord (Acts 5:41). To grasp the apostles’ mentality, think of a soldier wearing with honor a Purple Heart medal awarded to him for being wounded in battle, or an elite soldier, apprehensive but thrilled to be counted worthy to be chosen for a particularly dangerous and critical mission.

Consider Job. His friends looked down on him, thinking he must have sinned, and he himself was bewildered and wished he had never been born (Job 3:1-17). Unable to see the bigger picture, he did not realize he had become Satan’s target only because God strongly believed in him and was proud of him (Scriptures). He had no idea he would be forever lauded as a spiritual hero merely for holding on as the trial raged. Neither did he know how many he would inspire and that without his afflictions we would never have heard of him. The apostles rejoiced, while Job complained. The difference was not because the apostles’ faith empowered them to avoid pain but because, through Jesus, their faith enabled them to see the bigger picture before it materialized.

I am intrigued by Jesus telling Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you . . .” (Luke 22:31). Satan seeking divine permission to test God’s servant is exactly what is described in the first two chapters of Job’s story. Job’s endurance proved to Satan and the forces of evil that, besides Jesus, there has been at least one person on this planet who does what is right without God having to bribe or mollycoddle him. Peter proved to the Evil One and the hordes under his sway that at least one human who, after succumbing to cowardice, will bounce back again and become stronger than ever. I flood with shame, however, to think of the millions that Satan can point to who have gone to extremes not to do what is right, but in the pursuit of godless selfishness. I ponder all the soldiers, sports stars, thrill seekers, entrepreneurs, adventurers, and so on, who have taken risks, worked so hard and endured so much in the hope of fame or fleeting riches or to delay their own death, or some other inferior or selfish cause. Then I cringe to think of the shame it brings our Lord to contrast this with how little today’s average western Christian is willing to endure for the infinitely superior, lofty and eternal cause of the One who gave his all for us.

Will you help swing the balance in God’s favor? Now that you have the Spirit of Christ, will you prove yourself more willing to sacrifice for love and goodness than others are willing to sacrifice for hate and greed? Think of all the shame, distress and degradation risked and suffered by swindlers, gamblers, smokers, prostitutes, adulterers, drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, and so on, for the sake of sin. If so many suffer so much for shameful things, what will we willingly endure for the sake of what is good, wholesome and right? What sacrifices will we make for achievements that we will forever be proud of?

Our calling is to be spiritual adventurers, achievers and daring rescuers. We should be so in love with God that we are driven to endure all manner of hardship and suffering not merely to avoid endless regret and shame but to see our Lord smile with delight as he proudly says, “Well done!” We are called to be glory-seekers – not for a short-lived rush or fifteen minutes of fame or for small-minded self-centeredness, but for the endless thrill of glorifying the God of perfection, the Love of our lives, the most wonderful person in the universe.



The Joy of Hard Times



Benefits of Pain & Suffering

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Types of Beneficial Trials

There are two types of beneficial trials or tests, but for many years I only recognized one of them. The type I wrongly thought God valued exclusively was the pain or hardship voluntarily entered into for Christ’s sake and could usually be stopped by turning one’s back on him or through spiritual compromise.

What I had failed to adequately appreciate, however, is that suffering that would occur regardless of our devotion to Christ can become something noble and win us eternal glory if we endure it in a Christlike way.

Even when I was young, the expression was rarely used except by much older people, but I used to get annoyed when they referred to such things as arthritis as the cross they have to bear. When Jesus told would-be followers to ‘take up your cross,’ he was clearly referring to something they did for Christ’s sake and could choose not to ‘take up’. Arthritis suffered through being imprisoned in appalling conditions for one’s faith would indeed fit what Jesus was referring to, as would bouts of malaria suffered through obeying a missionary call, but not something a person would have suffered even if he or she had not followed Jesus.

Biblical examples of the ‘take up your cross’ category of trial include Abraham taking his son Isaac to the mountains of Moriah to be sacrificed. For three days Abraham suffered the horror of believing he would kill his beloved son. At any moment he could have ended his agony by deciding to disobey God (which for God’s children usually involves trying to convince ourselves we have misheard God).

In my case, though death literally seemed exceedingly preferable to another agonizing moment of being single, I felt divinely challenged never to ask God for a wife but instead to pray solely for whatever marital status would most glorify him. I expected this to mean decades of ceaseless agony until finally being granted the relief that death offers a Christian. This came close to what eventuated. Among people who refuse immoral substitutes, most ache for a happy marriage. My craving, however, was so over the top as to be virtually irrational. For me, marriage meant digging my self-esteem at least partly out of the gaping abyss into which it had crashed. It meant not only the ending of my horrendous loneliness and calming the curse of a torturously intense sex drive, but ending the crippling shame and feeling of rejection that never ceased to haunt me. I believed if I asked God for a wife, he would give me one with his blessing but it would mean I had put the ending of my agony higher than choosing what most glorifies God. Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, the anguish was so hellacious it seemed it would have to result in either physical or mental illness. Compromise was just a prayer away but not once did I give in and breathe that prayer. Only after thirty torturous years had staggered by and I was in my mid-fifties did God end this torment. I praise God for his grace that enabled me to keep enduring the pain and I am so grateful for all the positive things this trial built into my life.

Job’s suffering fits the other category of trial or test in that he had no way of avoiding its commencement nor of hastening its end. There are other biblical examples. Much that Joseph suffered before entering the courts of Pharaoh fits this category, except that he could have sidestepped prison had he compromised sexually (Genesis 39:7-20). Abraham, too, had a mix of both types of test. In his case, the first type lasted only for three harrowing days but the second type dragged on decade after decade after wearying decade: his wife, Sarah, was barren.

I was wrong to downgrade the spiritual value of afflictions that even the godless suffer because in these, too, we have a choice. We might have no input as to whether we face such a trial, nor how long it lasts, but it is our choice whether we honor God throughout the trial or react to the pressure as the godless would. We choose, for example, not to resort to alcohol or drug abuse to dull the pain, nor to opt for suicide or to resent God.

Sarah’s barrenness belonged to the second category of tests because there was nothing godless that Abraham could have done to avoid it. Nevertheless, he still had the choice of responding in an ungodly way by hating God, committing adultery, divorcing Sarah to marry a woman capable of giving him a child, or taking his frustration out on Sarah with emotional or physical abuse. In the shorter test of taking Isaac to be sacrificed, Abraham attained a perfect score but in this other test, by resorting to using Sarah’s maid, he missed those dizzy heights. He did well enough, however, to be acclaimed forever as a prime example of faith. Faith, by the way, is one of the many spiritual qualities that can be developed only through continual exercise. Usually it is trials that provide the needed exercise regime. The Bible’s entire Faith Chapter is all about God’s people facing grueling situations. Do not for a moment imagine it is about avoiding such times:

    Hebrews 11:35-39  . . . Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.

As every student knows, to graduate to the next level, we must not only be tested but do well enough in each test to pass. With spiritual training, this involves responding to each test in a Christlike way. To react to devastating times by lashing out at God would prove we have much to learn. The mature response is confident gratefulness to God that, regardless of how opposed to God’s way it starts off, each oppressive situation is part of the “all things” that God lovingly uses for the good of those who love him. The good that God yearns for us is to turn trials into tools that fashion our Christlikeness.

    Romans 8:28-29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son . . .
    (Emphasis mine.)

To react to hard times by lashing out at people who are oppressing us would again be far from Christlikeness and we would need to grow significantly more in selfless love. This is well expressed in a powerful Scripture that deserves careful reading:

    Philippians 1:9-11 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

Note how the above passage, “that you may be able to discern what is best . . . filled with the fruit of righteousness . . .” dovetails nicely with Hebrews defining maturity as those “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil”. A key to this, reveals Philippians. is for our love to abound.

To let bitter times make us bitter would be to miss the whole point of the test and fail miserably. God would not give up on us but it would keep us too immature to progress until the lesson is thoroughly learned. We might treat ministry as a career and advance dramatically but there can be an appalling difference between genuine spiritual growth and such futility.

What makes it still more difficult for us to understand hard times is that it is typical for fellow believers to misconstrue what we are going through and to add to our torment, rather than bring the comfort and encouragement we crave. Like so many of us, Job’s friends thought his immense loss and affliction must have happened because he had somehow failed God. Thankfully, the introductory chapters of this saga take us into the hidden, spiritual realm that few humans ever see. As you know, they reveal that Job’s afflictions occurred precisely because he had done exceptionally well and was particularly righteous.

Similarly, had we not known how Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son unfolded, how many of us would have turned on Abraham, believing he had misheard God and was acting like a pagan by planning a human sacrifice? Not surprisingly, I suffered hurtful attacks from Christians lovingly trying to tell me I was needlessly denying myself marriage and had misheard God. I could hardly blame them: I was repeatedly tempted to think the same way myself.

I continually receive heart-rending e-mails from Christians suffering appalling trials (mental illness, horrific battles with addictions, atrocious marriages, coping with the aftermath of child sex abuse, and so on) who are completely misunderstood by fellow Christians. Their friends’ and pastors’ attempts to support and comfort them are as unhelpful as Job’s friends. Usually this is simply because what these people are suffering is outside the experience of average Christians.

As has happened since Old Testament times, in the midst of a trial some of the most hurtful attacks are likely to come from well-intentioned believers. We must keep reminding ourselves that this says nothing about how God sees things but simply reflects the lack of understanding prevalent in most Christians.

* * *

I am genuinely grateful for all I have suffered. For decades, my trials often seemed to edge close to unbearable but I now have living proof of how valuable they have been in my spiritual development. And what seemed like interminable years of inner pain now seem as nothing. I find myself unable to be so dismissive of my wife’s distress, however, even in the face of the immense good I see flowing from it. Not only have her experiences been particularly harrowing, it can sometimes seem more tolerable to suffer oneself than to see a loved one suffer. (I think God feels that way, too, and he certainly chose that path via the cross.) I yearn for the rest of my wife’s life to be so much easier than her past but she keeps seeing herself as a spiritual warrior. I wince because I know the terrors and horrors soldiers endure for the sake of their cause. I understand the advantage of such a mentality, however, as it remains undeniable that everyone on this planet – the most spiritual as well as the most cowardly and the greatest slave to pleasure – lives in a spiritual war zone and is subject to attack.

I know many survivors of severe child abuse who are staggering forward on a long healing journey. Eventually they will end up empowered by their experiences to help other hurting people. So I often encourage them to think of themselves as trail-blazers cutting a path through a hostile environment for others to follow. Evangelists might see themselves as daring rescuers. Others might see themselves as spiritual parents who would willingly sacrifice everything – even their lives – to help their children thrive. Some might think of themselves as spiritual treasure hunters risking everything to find indescribable riches. We can nurture such passionate love for God that there is nothing we would not do just to give him the slightest pleasure. Regardless of how Christians see themselves, it should not be as lazy slobs who have found nothing that makes the costliest sacrifice worthwhile. We cannot truly live until we have found something we would die for.

I’m uncomfortable with the fact that, in this age, people are often exalted or get it easy simply through an accident of birth. They get ahead either by being born into a relatively influential or well-to-do family or through being born with certain abilities that others miss out on. Then there are those who, through no effort on their part, get the lucky breaks. Even among Christians there is much unfairness as to who is honored. Still more disconcerting are those who prosper through such disgusting behavior as bullying, stealing, lying, cheating, or other assorted forms of cold-hearted disregard for people.

After Judgment Day, however, when God finally reasserts his right to have full sway, things will be very different. Then, like now, some will be exalted and rewarded more than others (Many Scriptures), but it will be on a basis that thrills me. We will be rewarded, not according to how spoilt we were on earth, but solely on how faithful we were with whatever we had been given. Someone who had only five cents and gave it all to the Lord will be rewarded far beyond a billionaire who gave a few million dollars. A mentally disabled person who had done his utmost to love, will not only be healed but will be forever exalted above a lazy or self-centered genius. In the era when all is revealed, we will reap what we have sown. Everyone will see and agree that God’s judgment is right. We will marvel at people like the apostle Paul, not for their natural or spiritual gifts, but because they chose to suffer horrifically for their Lord. We, like the angels, will forever honor those who have suffered immensely for Christ. People like me who have suffered far less will count it a privilege to serve those who heroically endured so much and we will forever praise God for rightly exalting them above us.

* * *

We must not take to extremes the truths we have discovered about hardship and suffering, lest we end up tolerating oppression when God longs for us to rise up in faith and find deliverance. Paul did not automatically resign himself to accepting his “thorn”. Instead, he prayed three times for deliverance until God clearly spoke to him about changing the direction of his prayers. We should follow his lead because on another, superficially similar occasion, deliverance might well have been the best option, in which case tolerating it would not have been heroic but a lazy, defeatist response that disappoints God.

No matter what the situation, praising God is always the perfect response. Not only is God always worthy of praise, it lifts us and changes our outlook until we are utterly transformed. Praise touches God. That renders praise not just powerful but supernatural.

Many of us merely dip a toe into praise and worship and are left clueless as to its powers. Those who truly plunge in, however, enter into a whole new world. Nothing seems to happen for quite a while but as we persist with praise, our spirits slowly rise. Praising God lifts our eyes off the mud of the momentary until we are captivated by the beauty of the eternal; off the tension of the present on to the triumph that momentary distress is leading to. If we keep persisting, our spirits will slowly soar heavenward until, when we look down, we see earthly things from heaven’s perspective. The result is not only exhilarating but liberating.

I explain a little more about praise in the link listed below: The Surprising Joy of Trials.

In addition to praising God, we should always pray that we learn from the trial as much as possible and as quickly as possible. Like Paul, praying and believing for a quick end to the trial should be our instinctive response. Whether instant deliverance, however, is really God’s best is not nearly as obvious as praise and praying for understanding. In each situation we need to keep looking to our Lord for his guidance as to the wisest, most God-glorifying way to pray and act. Life is far too complex for us to trust our guesses.

For example, in From Mystery to Ministry: The Role of Sickness in Your Life (a link at the end of this webpage) I list many scriptural ways in which sickness can end up greatly blessing us. Nevertheless, the Bible remains crammed with records of miraculous healings. Even in some of the cases where sickness and/or disability bring unexpected blessings, there might possibly be other ways to receive the same blessing.

Sometimes, ascertaining the best way to pray can be a little like Paul finding it hard to know whether to choose more suffering, which he knew would end up beneficial for other people, or to choose to end his suffering, which meant leaving this world. “I am torn between the two,” he wrote, but he opted for more suffering (Philippians 1:22-25).

“You get what you settle for,” is a saying that haunts me. May I settle for nothing less than God’s best! I think of Jacob wrestling the angel of God and refusing to give up until he was blessed (Genesis 32:24-30). I think of ordinary, desperate people who became the Bible’s faith heroes simply by persisting; people like the hemorrhaging woman squeezing her way through the crush of people to the edge of Jesus’ garment, blind Bartimaeus crying out to Jesus even louder when the crowd tried to shame him into silence, the Canaanite woman persisting despite Jesus seeming to give her the brush off, and the man who refused to give up but went direct to Jesus after Jesus’ disciples failed to help his son, (Mark 5:25-34; 10:46-52; Matthew 15:22-28; Matthew 17:15-19).

There is no glory in needless suffering or missing out through spiritual laziness. I want all the blessings, healings, deliverances, miracles, victories and any other good thing I can get. The sole exception is if God has an alternative plan that ends up producing even greater good. I remain committed to God’s best regardless of whether I find it utterly bewildering as to how any greater good could be achieved. In fact, the more impossible it seems to me that God can wring good from an apparent disaster, the more I can honor our Lord and win for myself eternal acclaim by displaying greater faith.

I refuse to be conned by the glitter of short term happiness that robs me of my chance to maximize eternal achievement. I yearn to avoid the fate of those who suffer the eternal shame of seeing all their earthly efforts going up in smoke and even if they are saved, it is “only as one escaping through the flames,” (1 Corinthians 3:15). None of us was born for such shame. Through Christ we can sacrifice all this world offers to gain all that this world can never offer.



Benefits of Pain & Suffering



As mentioned, the Lord kindly gave me a choice, in that both marrying and denying myself would have had his blessing but, like Paul, (though there is no comparison between my suffering with his) suffering would end up doing more good. In some cases, however, it is ending suffering that brings God more glory. An example of this is the blind man described in John 9. When the disciples questioned Jesus as to why he had been born blind Jesus answered. “ . . . so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Then Jesus healed him.

Additionally, timing is critical. If, when we seek deliverance, our Lord responds with “Not yet,” this must not be confused with “Never.” Trials often feel endless, but they never are. In the words of the psalmist, “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning,” (Psalm 30:5). Moreover, since we know where it is leading, we can rejoice ahead of time.

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Related Webpages

Why Christians Suffer
A Very Insightful Webpage

The Surprising Joy of Trials

The Joy of Unanswered Prayer

Receiving a Personal Revelation of God’s Love for You

Feeling Condemned?

Christian Insights into Martyrdom and Persecution

God Isn’t Fair?

From Mystery to Ministry: The Role of Sickness in Your Life

When Good, Powerful Christians Seem Defeated by Demons

Chronic Pain: A Christian Testimony of Triumph

Jesus: A Life of Suffering & Hardship

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Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2014, 2015. For much more by the same author, see   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.