Suffering: God’s Channel of Grace to His Children

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Peter 4:19

Where does the Mississippi River, or any other river for that matter, really begin? Obviously, other rivers can tie themselves in along the way, but where does one go to find the genesis or birthplace for these amazing bodies of water? Some rivers may find their source of life at an alpine lake that overflows each Spring as the winter snows melt. Other rivers find their source at an ocean and may even find their ultimate destination at the same ocean hundreds of miles later in their journey. Some rivers may disappear at times hundreds of feet below the surface running silently through hollowed out caverns. They may then spring forth again into the light of day and catch the sun’s bright reflection as they reappear in a trickling stream down the smooth faces of a rocky ledge towards their next destination and transformation into a beautiful waterfall. Solomon was amazed at the futility of trying to determine water’s origin when he said, “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again” (Eccl. 1:7).

However, every river must have a source or spring, even if that birthplace may be thousands of miles away or hundreds of feet underneath the ground. This source is always a never-ending stream of water springing up out of the ground or trickling out of a lake, ocean, or even another river. While we may eventually discover the actual source for a river, interestingly, “There is no universally agreed upon definition for determining a stream’s source” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_source). We can trace where a river begins, but where does the river’s source, whether a natural spring or a stream, begin? This is a mystery that only God Himself knows–sometimes we can make pretty sure guesses or observations, but we cannot say dogmatically where certain springs or streams find their ultimate birthplace–whether it is the rain from the sky, or from the Earth’s original oceans, or from the “fountains of the deep” way underground the Earth.

When it comes to suffering in the life of God’s children, we many times wonder what is the source of such suffering.

We would like to say that since suffering is a byproduct of sin, then Satan must be the source or one ultimately responsible for our suffering. When we find ourselves in the context of suffering, we tend to second-guess our motives or actions. Perhaps we haven’t been living as a Christian should, or perhaps we haven’t been to church enough times in the last six months, or maybe we haven’t surrendered enough to God, and the list of unfounded explanations is endless. In other words, we naturally have a negative perspective of suffering. However, as Paul wrote to the Roman believers, “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” (Rom. 5:3-5).

God uses suffering in His children’s lives to give them a clearer perspective of His grace and power in their lives.

Does this sound like a God Who is sadistic or cruel? Perhaps to people who do not have a personal relationship with the sovereign Father of Mercies. However, for those Christians who have an intimate relationship with their Creator, and, even in the most painful of circumstances, maintain a resolute gaze on their Father face, divinely sent periods of suffering are some of the widest channels of God’s grace and power in their lives. God allows suffering to comes in many different forms and each God-allowed channel of suffering is uniquely tailored to fit the spiritual needs of each Christian. Suffering can come in the form of still life-changing persecution or even death. In our comfortable American air-conditioned surroundings we cannot fathom the reality of fatal persecution because we have never seen it face-to-face.

However, we do face genuine financial pressures and impossibilities at times, or health emergencies and unexpected campaigns with cancer. We feel the hate against us and our Savior at the workplace and we struggle to love our enemies when they abuse us both verbally and emotionally. We cry out in anguish of heart when we lose our sons and daughters in horrific car crashes and we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness when we don’t see any real purpose or immediate reason for His allowing periods of such suffering in our lives.

Suffering is rarely expected and welcomed in our minds because of our lack of faith in God’s goodness and character. God delights to allow times of suffering as a platform to glorify His goodness and power in our lives as His children. He desires to use our testimony of faith in the midst of suffering to encourage other believers.

James 1:17 states that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” If indeed suffering is good and beneficial for the spiritual welfare of a Christian, then suffering must be elevated in our minds to a much higher level than just a nuisance. In fact, suffering is elevated to the level of a necessity seeing as it comes from the Father of Mercies as a channel of His grace. We may bristle at the idea that suffering is necessary in the Christian life just like children (or adults) may bristle at the mention of going to the dentist. However, James writes later that Job was “blessed” with his sufferings! “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10-11). God never changes being compassionate or merciful when He allows suffering for His children.

In fact, because God is compassionate and merciful, He sends suffering to His children so that they might come to know His grace and power in real life situations.

The words “blessing” and “‘suffering”seem oxymoronic in the same sentence, and yet, they flow together  beautifully in the Scripture’s perspective. God tells us that in order to be truly blessed we must embrace the suffering that God elects to send our way. In reflecting on Jesus Christ, Paul declared, “That I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death” (Phil. 3:13). Can someone be going through a uniquely hard time of suffering and simultaneously have God’s blessing on their life? Yes! According to 2 Thess. 1:11-12, God’s grace and power are clearly felt and seen when we are designated to go through periods of suffering and persecution. Jesus Christ’s suffering was the prerequisite for the Church’s fellowship with God. Christians could not be in the family of God and enjoy the status as joint-heirs with Jesus Christ without their Savior’s vicarious suffering:

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:9-18)

God promises to continue to deepen His relationship with His Church through the gracious waters of suffering. Without God-ordained suffering in our lives, our perspective of God’s grace and power can become calloused or numb. However, God graciously allows us to savor the freshness of His grace and to be amazed at His awesome power when we see Him bring us through His mortar and pestle of suffering. Instead of avoiding suffering at all costs, we should embrace our Father and offer to him dependent prayers of thankfulness as He allows us to go through the waters of suffering. These waters serve as some of God’s clearest channels of grace to His children. God’s children can indeed “entrust their souls” to their “faithful Creator” (1 Pet. 4:19), especially in the context of suffering, because He is truly a good and loving Father.

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:19-25)

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