This message is one that is echoed throughout Scripture — both Old and New Testament. It is also one that believers of our time should be conversant with because we are not exempt from suffering in this world.
I reckon that it is not the most attractive topic one can come up with — nobody likes the idea of suffering. However, it is something we simply cannot run away from. It is not a matter of if but when it comes to us, so we need to be prepared.
As I sought solace in the Scriptures during a very trying period in my life, I was able to learn so much about what it says about suffering and how we can navigate through such difficult times as people of faith.
I will be the first to admit that total devotion to God is not exactly a bed of roses, especially for those who are new to the faith. Yes, it starts with accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour but that is only the beginning. Living the Christian life requires us to drop certain things as we go. The freedom we have in Christ is not one that allows us to live in sin, but one that allows us to be free from sin (Galatians 5:14).
The walk with Christ remains the most fruitful pilgrimage anyone can embark on in their lifetime but it is not without its own challenges. Be rest assured that you will face temptations. Also, persecution and tribulations may arise as well. Some days you will experience excruciating pain, both on the physical and mental level. You would become so weak at times and the enemy will begin to fill your mind with reasons why you should abandon your faith… and even at that, things could still get worse.
It is important to note that our suffering is not necessarily a result of some sort of ‘karmic repercussion’. I feel the need to clarify this because in some cultures today, it is very common for people (even Christians) to attribute someone’s misfortune to their past sins — They say, “God is punishing so and so person for their sins”. While I am not entirely ruling out the possibility of God punishing people for their sins, I know that is not always the case. In the Bible, we find stories of people who had their faith tested at different times. I am talking of true servants of God who went through extreme levels of suffering and persecution during their walk with God and it wasn’t because of their sins.
A good example is Job, who God allowed the devil to visit with tragedy and afflictions in order to test his loyalty, but Job remained faithful to God and was eventually rewarded for his perseverance.
Joseph was another exemplary character who went through long years of suffering despite his faithfulness to God. He was exported to a foreign land by his own brothers, sold to the land of Egypt as a slave, falsely accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife and was left to rot in prison for an offence he did not commit. Joseph endured all of these sufferings for a period of thirteen years and I am quite sure he would have been tempted to ask; “Where is God? Why is He letting all these happen to me?”. Long story short, Joseph went on to become governor over the land of Egypt — second in office only to the Pharaoh himself.
If the story of Job teaches us that God will reward faithfulness, Joseph’s story shows that God can use the distinct details of our suffering to redeem us. But in as much as God can reward our faith here on earth, we should also know that as believers, our grand reward is not of this earth. Our grand reward is eternal life with our maker and that should be the ultimate goal.
We all love a happy-ending story like that of Job and Joseph in the Bible, but realistically speaking, that won’t always be the case. In as much as God can reward our faithfulness here on earth, sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. Our part is to put in our best effort and pray with diligence and faith for God to turn the situation around, but ultimately we always have to submit to the will of God — regardless of whether the outcome is looking pretty on the surface or not. Our faith should be evident to all, not just when things are going smoothly, but even when things are rough for us.
There is no faith worth having that has not been tested by fire. Being disciples of Christ means we are willing to lay down your life proclaiming the gospel and doing the will of the father regardless of our situation in life. If you renounce or deny your faith because of your sufferings, it means what you had in the first place was a fragile or emotional faith without a solid foundation.
In the case of John the Baptist for example; we see a special man of God, he was given a specific and unique mandate by God to be the forerunner of our Lord. He preached repentance and baptized many. He was someone you could describe as “a fearless soldier of God”, he spoke truth to the authority calling out King Herod for immorality and because of his boldness, he was arrested and put in jail. After spending years behind bars, he was eventually decapitated at the request of the King’s daughter.
The Disciples of Jesus, as well as most of His early followers, were often persecuted for proclaiming the good news but not a single one of them recanted their belief even though it would eventually cost them their lives.
This might be a bitter pill to swallow, but sometimes we don’t get the world defined happy ending, but Jesus assures us that whoever losses his life for His sake has ultimately preserved it (Mathew 16:25).This tells us that as believers, whatever the tribulations we are going through, we should learn to look at the bigger picture because the way of God is not the way of man. Sometimes His work might not be clear to our limited understanding.
Many Christians struggle with their faith whenever they go through difficulties. It could be health problems, it could be financial or business challenges, it could be marital problems, students face academic challenges, it could be a lack of job opportunities, it could be the loss of a friend or family member. The enemy can take advantage of any of these situations to attack our faith. We should equip ourselves, in order not to fall for the Devil’s snare.
Prayer has always been and is very much still the master key, consistent study and meditation on the scriptures can also offer encouragement to carry us through difficult times as well as strengthen our faith in God. I find the below Scripture passage very helpful in such times:
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Above all taking the shield of faith and wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:11,12,16,17 KJV)
One important thing to note is that, while praying and trusting God in to turn our situation around for the better, we should always maintain a grateful heart and show appreciation to God for the things we do have because no matter how bad our situation gets, there is always a reason to be thankful. Questioning or blaming God during such period will not solve anything, It will only go to show the weakness of your faith. In fact, by doing that, you are giving the Devil the chance to rejoice over you and further poison your mind.
It is normal to feel hurt during this kind of period, Jesus knew that such times will arise when we feel the pain, times when our problems can be so overwhelming that we become tempted to give up on God. In such times, He implores us to come to Him with all our burden and He assures us that we shall find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28). Nonetheless, even in the midst of the storm, we should always glorify God, never losing sight of His unending love
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3–5, KJV)
Suffering and trials are part of our journey, it is what makes us stronger, gives us endurance and build up our faith. The scripture tells us not to be surprised when they come but rather we should look up to God with a joyful heart.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share in the suffering of Christ, keep rejoicing… (1 Peter 4:12–13, KJV)
In this context, faith can be said to be; knowing that you are going through a really difficult period and yes, you are hurting, but even with all the pain, you rejoice in gratitude to God, because you are deeply rooted in the promise and love of God. Such tribulations won’t break your faith, it would only strengthen it. Now that is a faith built on a solid foundation — an impenetrable faith.
As believers, we will surely find ourselves in situations where we would need to display the depths of our faith in God. It is easy to boldly proclaim our faith when things are going well, but of all times and scenarios, there is none greater and appealing to God than when we display faith in the midst of our suffering.