Suffering can be dangerous. The choices we make in suffering can easily alter the course of our lives. There can come a point in one’s time of affliction where we allow ourselves to become so used to suffering, so overwhelmed by its demands, so exhausted by its continual presence, that it becomes monotonous. Our minds can become paralyzed by the worries and anxieties that we allow our suffering to cause us. If we are not careful, we can almost begin to worship our misery. Not worship as in an exuberant time of praising God in awe of Who He is and in gratitude for His goodness to us. No, we can make an idol of our suffering and worship the misery that our suffering can cause as if it has the right to define every aspect, thought, and moment of our lives. We can bow down to it as if it deserves our obeisance and as if we have no choice but to surrender to it forever.
It is easy to devote attention to the pain, agony, and fear of our suffering. But no matter the impetus of our suffering, what might hurt the most is not knowing or understanding the reason for the suffering and how long it will last. Certainly, much of our suffering is self-inflicted, such as drinking too much alcohol can corrode the liver or not exercising enough can lead to obesity. And if we don’t accept responsibility for the choices we have made and realize the destruction can often be of our own making, we can become entirely consumed by our misery. We can easily find ourselves lost in a place we never considered possible when we were at the height of our arrogance, glorying in the ignorance of our foolish choices, courting sin by wooing it with our time, energy and money, naively lost in its sweet promises of all pleasure and no pain. But the wages of sin is ultimately death and therefore, nothing good comes from sin. Sickness, broken relationships, lost friendships or jobs, fear, anxiety, lack of peace, etc. all can result from our foolish choices.
Regardless of what type of suffering or the cause of it, there can come a time when we are tired of battling for freedom from it. Tired physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. We may grow tired of praying for deliverance from it or even just tired of talking about it. Certainly we become tired of thinking about it. If we are honest with ourselves and the Lord, the art of patience is one that none of us are naturally inclined to or even desire to become well-versed in. Waiting on anything in this day and age is almost an insult to our pride. “Why should I have to wait?” we think to ourselves. We race to beat someone in line, all the time comforting ourselves half-jokingly as my brother says, that the other person “can be first after me.” If the last will be first, as Jesus said, we unconsciously think, “well, I’m not going to wait around to find out.”
But what if we saw waiting on God to rescue/change/heal/deliver us from our suffering as an act of worship? Instead of drowning in our misery we drowned our souls in praise for the One who can and will deliver us? What if we didn’t waste our suffering and didn’t allow it to waste us? If we forced ourselves to focus on God and His purpose in the suffering instead of the pain and misery? What would happen if we did what it took to remain humble, faithful, and grateful to God no matter the pain and agony? If instead of bowing to our suffering, listening to its cries like a tired message that no one wants to hear, we engaged ourselves diligently in getting to know God better and love others more than ourselves? Self-pity is not a true form of mercy. It is often a foolish and selfish attempt for attention while keeping others at arm’s length (and then complaining that no one understands or cares.) Isolation leads to desperation. Suffering can indeed be lonely, and loneliness can be a terrible form of suffering. Yet we don’t need to truly ever be lonely if we turn to the Lord for help and salvation. The prophet Isaiah stated in all of our affliction He was afflicted with us. Ponder that a moment. A King who comes alongside and joins me in my suffering, who promises to never leave me, and who will ultimately deliver me from my suffering, either in this life or the next, is the kind of king that I want to serve and the kind of friend that I want near me. I can’t endure on my own. My strength is not enough. My wisdom is insufficient. But Jesus promises to be more than enough- if I will only let Him. If I will but get my eyes off of myself and my feelings, my suffering and my pain, and look to Him and keep my mind on Him; if I will but obey His Word, than sooner or later, my suffering will be a memory I give thanks for and not a nightmare I can’t escape from. The suffering that so consumed my time and overwhelmed my mind and heart will be yet another reason to worship the Lord.
The point of this essay is to not allow ourselves to become bored with and jaded by our suffering, to not allow our hearts to be hardened towards God and His Word so that He can’t do the work He wants to do in us. Suffering is a tool God uses to mold, prune, shape, and change us; therefore, we shouldn’t waste it. To allow ourselves to become indifferent to or complacent in our suffering and to just accept the thoughts that things can’t and won’t ever change, or that God can’t make something good in our lives from it is a dangerous place to be. At the very least, if we let our hearts grow cold and indifferent toward our own suffering, then we can easily become cold toward God, and indifferent toward others. At most, we hinder God’s work and potentially ruin our entire lives and the lives of others (both people we know and people we don’t-for we never know how God intends to use us to touch the lives of others.)
It is not always easy to fend off fear, anxiety, and worry and it is indeed hard to endure them. Conversely, it is not always easy to have faith and can be very hard to be diligent to believe God’s Word and trust Him when we see the symptoms of our sickness never getting better or our problems lingering for days, weeks, and years with seemingly no end in sight. Yet, if we have to choose between two hard choices- giving into fear and worry or having faith and trusting in God, why not do what we have to do to hold onto our faith and live by it? What good will giving into fear and worry do? It will only make matters worse and possibly prolong the suffering. It certainly won’t help us to enjoy or redeem the time God grants us. But having faith, growing closer to God, in short, believing and obeying the Word, will allow God to work and in His perfect timing, end the suffering. If we don’t wait on God, we are superseding Him in our actions and thoughts. We are saying that He is not good enough, His ways are not perfect, His judgments and wisdom are faulty, and that He can’t be trusted. It does us no good to insult God by not trusting Him or being unwilling to wait on Him. If we don’t continually put our hope in Him, our problems will only metastasize until we are entirely overwhelmed and distraught. It is counterintuitive to wait on God for we don’t like waiting on anything. We think, “how can waiting on God renew our strength” as it says in Isaiah 40? Waiting is exasperating and seemingly counterproductive to the action we think necessary to change things and get delivered from our afflictions. But if there is one person guaranteed to be worth waiting on, it is the Lord. He promises that those who wait on Him will never be ashamed (Isaiah 49:23.) Sometimes, we just need rest from the fears, anxieties, pain, worries, torments, etc. that afflictions can cause. And we can find that rest in waiting patiently on God, both by being still in His presence (Psalm 46:10) and coming to Him for rest (Matthew 11:28-30.) Both of these passages instruct us to be still and get to know the Lord better, which incidentally is one of the reasons He allows suffering to begin with. Sometimes when things are going well, we tend to pay less attention to God as if we don’t need Him. But we need Him just as much in the good times as we do in the hardships. And He is worthy to be praised just as much in the seasons of affliction as in the seasons of rejoicing for He is perfect and doesn’t change.
Of course, much more could be said about the monotony of suffering and all of its implications. For now, what are some practical ways to endure suffering until God’s hour of deliverance and redemption arrives?
- Use every moment of pain, fear, temptation to worry, in essence, every reminder of the affliction as a reminder, not as a chance to doubt, but a prompt to have faith and look to the Lord. It is imperative that we keep our eyes, hearts, and minds focused on the Lord as it says in Psalm 123:2: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us.”
- View waiting on God as an act of worship. We must redeem the time we are given and one of the best ways to do so, especially during suffering, is to worship God.
- Accept no excuses from ourselves not to walk in faith and trust God. God fulfilled dozens of promises from the Old Testament when Jesus came as Messiah. He is sovereign over all and has proved His faithfulness. What right do we have not to believe and trust Him?
- Seek God’s wisdom first and above all other wisdom. Don’t spend precious time seeking wisdom from other sources- it may be helpful, and it may not. God knows the situation exactly, why He allowed it, what He is trying to teach us through it, how He is trying to change us, and what to do about it.
Let’s make the conscious and deliberate choice daily not to waste our season of suffering. God won’t if we allow Him to have His way, He will redeem it and make us glad through His work if we will but submit to Him and His timing. Instead of letting ourselves become lethargic physically, spiritually, or mentally let’s rely on the Holy Spirit to transform the monotony of suffering into an unending symphony of praise and yet another testimony of God’s goodness that all may know that the love of Christ that paid the price for the redemption of our sins is the same love that redeems our suffering.