Comfort. We, as Americans, have it made. We have so many comforts to ease our difficult lives. We have heated seats in our cars. Shoot! We have heated steering wheels in our cars. We have koozies, so our precious hands don’t get cold while we hold our canned beverages. There is even a whole category of food dedicated to “comfort.” We buy sweaters for our pets, so heaven forbid they aren’t uncomfortable either! We exercise in an air-conditioned building so we won’t have to suffer while we burn calories.
Robbyn in this picture: the definition of comfort…milk coma
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that it’s terrible to be comfortable. (I sit in workout pants that may never see a workout and a hoodie in my lazy boy recliner as I write this blog). But sometimes I think that our personal “milk coma” gets in the way of what God has planned for us. I think we can place too much importance on comfort and ignore God’s plan because what he wants us to do might make us uncomfortable. So the topic of this post might not be a very popular idea, but I think our suffering is part of God’s plan.
One of my favorite teachers to listen to is Matt Chandler; a well-known pastor of The Village Church in Texas. He proclaimed this bold statement, “Comfort is the god of our generation, so suffering is seen as a problem to be solved, not as a providence from God.”
Did this statement slap you in the face?
It did me.
If you say no, I think you might be lying.
Is it possible that a good God would allow me to suffer?
Do I know why?
No. Not for sure. But I have some guesses.
I think most of the time he allows suffering in our lives for three reasons.
(There may be many more reasons than that, but I have never claimed to be a theologian. These reasons are based on my personal observations).
1. God wants to get our attention
I think that many times God speaks softly into our hearts and minds and to guide us in the direction he wants us to go. I also think in today’s world we are so ruled by comfort that we don’t want to believe that God could be leading us toward a less comfortable path. So we may choose to ignore his urging causing God to have to shout to get our attention. His shouting may come in the form of suffering. I don’t know about you, but I have a much stronger prayer life and spend more time in my bible when things aren’t going the way I had planned in my life. When things are going great, and I am comfortable I get complacent and take for granted the things God has done and need a wake-up call to push me in the right direction.
2. God wants to grow us
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
1 Peter 5:10
Take a second and think about elementary school children who don’t see the point in learning proper punctuation. (This analogy is ironic because I still haven’t managed the proper punctuation thing yet…) They don’t see the need to learn this skill. It seems pointless. It’s not fun. Why must they spend countless hours feeling like a prisoner in class, wishing they were playing outside? The children might feel this painful lesson will never end and may just try to go through the motions forgetting what they heard once recess rolls around.
You know as a parent that even though they don’t understand it now, later they will thank you for making them learn this vital skill.
This skill will make them more successful and a more employable person someday. This skill may equip them to follow their passion later on in life. You also know as their parent, that what the child wants all the time is not what’s best for them. You know that this seemingly trivial skill to the child, is the building block for all of their future learning.
I think if we look at it from that perspective it helps us understand why God would allow suffering in our lives. He can see past the “here and now” and knows what we need to learn to equip us for his plan for our life. If I didn’t have this cancer, I would never have had the gumption to start this blog. I might not have the intimacy with God that I do now. I would not have developed the ability to depend on God with my whole being when my world seemed to be crumbling around me. I would not feel the connection with David’s raw emotion in the psalms.
This diagnosis has moved me out of my comfort zone, and I have grown in so many different areas of my life. Even though, like a child in school, I did not want to sit through the lesson.
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
I hate to admit it, but if I had not been through this season of suffering, I probably would have never learned these skills. I believe all of this has served the purpose of molding me into the person that God wants. I have to remember to do what Paul says in 2nd Corinthians and fix my eyes on the eternal, not the temporary. This time of suffering is only temporary and I need to make the most of it so I can be ready to do whatever God has in store for me next.
3. God wants to use us
Another reason God may allow suffering is to use us as a tool for him. We need to be careful when we go through times of suffering, making sure we are not turning it into a pity party for ourselves. That can happen pretty quickly and serves no purpose. (I speak from experience). We need to move past the self-pity and the anger and see what purpose God has for this suffering. I do not think that is always easy to move past the anger and hurt and I also don’t think that God gets upset if we are angry with him. But at some point we have to move past these emotions and figure out how we can glorify God in the circumstances we have found ourselves in.
It is possible that you are so hurt, angry, and broken with your circumstances that you may not be able to see any possible way that God could use your situation for good. In that case, I would encourage you to ask the people around you for help.
- Ask how they see God working in the situation.
- Ask if they see a change in you.
- Ask how they think you can use this as a platform to glorify God.
- Ask if they see good things coming from the situation.
Those people around you may able to see the forest through the trees, and you may be so close that all you see is one giant tree blocking your way. I think it’s possible the only reason you may be going through a time of suffering is for the sake of bringing someone else to Christ.
(You know the plan for the salvation of the world really doesn’t revolve around our comfort. Ouch. I know, it hurts).
Here are some other questions I think you can ask yourself in times of suffering:
Can you use your experiences to help someone going through a similar situation?
Can you be an example of what it looks like to trust God when things aren’t sunshine and daisies?
Can you use this as a way to have sincere empathy for others who are struggling?
Can you show the light of God when things seem very dark?
Craig Groeschel, another one of my favorite teachers recently came out with a book called Hope in the Darkness. It’s a book about suffering and hope. As he says in the introduction of his book, it’s a book for people in a very particular season of their life. I’m not sure I would recommend it to everyone, but if you are struggling with suffering or your circumstances in life, I would encourage you to read it. I sat down and read it in two hours the day it came in the mail. This excerpt from his book that really hit home for me.
When we are suffering through hard times, we take God at his word and believe that He is still in control, with a specific purpose in mind. So we keep going. Relying on Him. As we keep going, hour to hour, day to day, week to week, we become stronger. Our faith grows, our maturity grows, our trust in God grows. When we’re stronger, then our hope is in God’s goodness, not our circumstances. We learn not to trust our senses but God’s promises.
I have definitely learned through my recent experiences that emotions are fickle and God’s goodness is not. We just have to keep trusting hour to hour even in our suffering that God is working in us or through us and He will strengthen us.
God is good, all the time.
All the time, God is good.