Suffering: Are There Any Positives?
I had the privilege this past week to officiate the memorial service for a woman who was a member of our church. As long as I have known her (about 6 years), she has suffered from endless pain. She was a cancer survivor, had COPD, back issues with multiple surgeries, MRSA, many foot surgeries, hernia surgeries, and the list goes on. And no amount of painkillers would completely mask the pain. How can someone exist under such circumstances? Yet, she did. I never heard her complain. She would always have a smile on her face and insisted on getting a hug.
Are there any positives in suffering like that? The Scriptures are filled with passages that deal with suffering and pain. When I thought of this lady's life, I searched the Scriptures and found five positive results of suffering.
1. Suffering allows for encouragement to others.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard other people, who were going through difficult times themselves, mention this woman by name and how she was an encouragement to them. They knew of her horrendous pain, yet she handled it so well. No bitterness. No whining. Just a smile, which I am sure was often forced, as she gritted her teeth and grinned.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 the Apostle Paul writes, "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 will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
We can find comfort in difficult times through the God who comforts us in all our afflictions. As a result, we are able to live out Galatians 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."
2. Suffering builds character.
1 Peter 5:6-11 says, "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever."
Satan would love nothing more than for a believer to give up when suffering. But, God uses suffering to build character. He perfects, confirms, strengthens and establishes the believer when going through the greatest of trials.
3. Suffering prepares us for death.
Death like taxes is inevitable. We will all die someday if the Lord doesn't return first. Some are prepared for death and some are not. Those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ are prepared. Those who reject Christ are not prepared.
Even as believers we often find ourselves wanting to hang on to this world. We want to see our children or grandchildren grow up. We often say that we are ready to be with the Lord, but not on the next bus out of this world. But, suffering prepares us to leave this world behind and long to be with Jesus.
Romans 8:16-18 says, "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified." And notice carefully the next verse. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
What? The sufferings in this life are nothing compared to what we will experience in heaven with Christ. The more we suffer here, the greater heaven will be. It will be that much sweeter than life itself.
4. Suffering gives us a greater appreciation for Jesus.
The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:7-11, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."
The woman who I watched suffer so much had a crucifix hanging on her wall near her hospital bed at her home. Each morning she would wake up and look at that crucifix and cry because she said that the pain she suffered was nothing in comparison to what He experienced on that cross as He died for her sins. What an object lesson of how we should see our personal sufferings. Do we ever come close to suffering to the extent that He did?
5. Suffering gives an opportunity for the Gospel.
Earthly suffering is only temporary. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. In heaven there will be no more pain. There will be no more suffering. There will be no more tears.
A life that is well-lived through suffering is an incredible testimony to the brevity of life and the lengthiness of eternity with Jesus. And for those who know Jesus, it is a great comfort to realize that our suffering loved one is with the Lord.
When referring to the Rapture of the church by Jesus Christ, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
Life is so transient. Even if we live many years, either in suffering or not, it is nothing compared to what we have to look forward to in eternity. We need to have an eternal perspective on life and any suffering we experience!