Suffering. For so many of us, suffering unearths a mountain of painful memories. The loss of a loved one. The loss of friendships. Financial hardship. Emotional or physical abuse. Over the course of the past few months, struggle seems to be the theme for myself and for so many of my closest friends. Whether it’s the loss of loved ones, the dense fog that is their future, or just life, for so many, the mere act of waking up to face the day seems almost impossible.
But in the midst of such suffering, truth has this funny way of sneaking into our lives. In the song, “When the Fight Calls” by Hillsong Young & Free, the chorus says:
“Cause even when the world caves, even when the fight calls, even when the war’s waged I’ll take heart. I know You are greater, forever You are Savior. I will sing Your praise with all that I have, with all that I am, Lord.”
And even though songs like these are so relevant to our situations, do we believe them? Do we even want to sing these songs? No matter the circumstance, are we able to worship God, recognizing that everything is in His hands? Chances are, most people, including myself, would say no. For myself these past few months, even acknowledging God was the last thing I wanted to do. Just about every detail in my life reminded me of my struggles. Whether it was my friends, my campus ministry, even my own church seemed to distract me from the saving grace that is the Gospel. It seemed like I found a way to blame everything else but the real root of it all. In his book New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp says, “People, locations, and situations don’t cause me to sin; they’re where the sin of my heart gets revealed.”
From the new believer to the seasoned Jesus freak, suffering really brings out the worst of our humanity; it reveals our greatest weaknesses and greatest fears. But isn’t God greater than that? Who spoke the world into motion? Whose glory does all of creation point to? On whose shoulders was all of our brokenness, sin, and struggle placed on? Who understands us and what we’re going through better than God himself?
But how miserable is it that we forget this so easily? When struggles and strife come our way, we blame God. In fear, we run away from the very One who can give us strength. And when we do run to God, we cry out for grace and mercy, only to feel like God has abandoned us. We pray for God to stop this momentary affliction, and when we see that we still suffer, we conclude that God isn’t real, that He isn’t all He said He was. That He isn’t God. But in His letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us that:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).
In the midst of suffering, it’s easy to lose sight of where God is and how he is working in our lives. It’s easy to forget that our peace with God isn’t founded on our own actions, but on the actions of Christ. It’s through faith that we’re able to remember the grace given to us, and it’s through that faith that we’re able to remember the purpose of our suffering. It’s through the lack of this very faith that we forget who we are as His children.
God has a greater plan for everything in our lives, even for something as seemingly purposeless as suffering. Suffering and trials aren’t an unforeseen interruption of God’s plan for our lives, but an instrument planned before the beginning of time for our sake and His glory. When we suffer, it is not God abandoning us or forgetting his promises, but a reminder of His enduring presence and fulfillment of His promises. When we cry out for grace and mercy, maybe suffering is God’s grace and mercy. This is grace that can only come from the heart of a Father who knows what’s best for us, the kind of grace that comes from an all-knowing Creator of the universe who knows the beginning and the end. Because of this, God’s grace often doesn’t come in ways that we expect. Who would have thought that He would send his one and only son to suffer and die so that we could be redeemed, even if He could saved us in an instant?
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).
There will come a time in which we may come to understand why we struggled with the brokenness of this world, but that time may also never come. But in the end, and even in the present, we know the result of our suffering: that God is glorified. As His sons and daughters, what more could we delight in? This is what gave the apostles the strength to defend the Gospel until the end. It’s the future glory that Christ saw as He hung on the cross. It’s through that wonderful cross that Christ overcame the world.
So as we support each other in what Tripp calls “uncomfortable grace,” we’re able to grow and mature, not only as individuals, but also as the body of Christ. That, as we see the suffering that is plaguing both our brothers and sisters in close proximity and the global Church, we know that Christ himself will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish [us]” (1 Peter 5:9-10).
To those who are struggling, I pray that you would be reminded of the hope of the glory to come. That whatever struggle or pain you’re going through now would be light and momentary when you compare it to the glory of eternity. Be encouraged that there are brothers and sisters all over the world interceding on your behalf, and, best of all, Christ Himself intercedes for you.
So when the fight calls, we’ll be ready. When suffering and affliction come our way, we will not lean on not our own understanding and strength, but on Christ’s. Christ is the Mighty Warrior who calms the storms of our lives, bringing hope with each morning, filling us with an unquenchable flame. It’s with this trust and hope that we can sing this with unshakable confidence: I won’t let the storm weather my heart, won’t let the darkness beat me down. Sing in the night my hope alive in You. I’ll walk through the fire and not be burned. Pray in the fight and watch it turn, Jesus tonight I give it all to You.