Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)
It is so easy to be happy and contented on a sunny spring day when everything has gone smoothly. It is quite a different story when the children have been naughty, you are feeling sick, the bills are pilling up, dinner has burnt and you have heard bad news.
Suffering is unavoidable.
Everyone experiences suffering at some point in their lives. Some more than others.
Suffering is universal across the globe and through history.
Being a Christian does not prevent suffering nor does it reduce or limit it.
Can you imagine a life with no suffering? No more headaches, no more rebellious children, no more crime, no more cancer, no more overdue bills, no more pain, no more broken relationships, no more wars. No more anger, stress, frustrations, depression, anxiety or panic. With no suffering would we ever asked God for help? What would we learn, would we grow in Christ? The truth is, we would only ever be superficial christians and would forget to give thank God for all His goodness and care. There are some lessons in life that can only be learnt through pain and therefore we need to look at pain and suffering as a gift rather than a curse.
No matter the magnitude of our suffering, God is ALWAYS at our side. He never leaves us even when we complain and grumble.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
God is very aware of our suffering and He understands it completely. We cannot hide our suffering, we might be able from friends and loved ones, but NEVER from God. No only does God understand our suffering, He knows why we are suffering and what we will learn from it. In the end, we learn that we may never know the specific reason for our suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign God. That is the real answer to suffering.
Through our suffering and pain, we must find contentment. This sounds extraordinary. How can someone with a terminal illness find contentment? How can someone who has just lost a child or a mother find contentment? God isn't asking us to decide if we want to be content, He is expecting us to find contentment in ANY situation we find ourselves in.
The bible provides a number of examples of suffering — Job suffered and suffered badly — he lost everything that was precious to him and then endure open sores and incredible discomfort and had no idea why he was suffering. Like us, Job did complain and said things he should not have and his confidences wavered but he never gave up and he learnt that when all is lost, God never leaves us and we can rest in His faithfulness. In the end God blessed him. We can learn a lot from those in the bible who suffered—Joseph, Paul, David to name just a few.
* Firstly, we need to share our suffering. Many people who are suffering are alone and scared, they isolate themselves from friends and family or simply keep quiet about their troubles. They suffer in silences and God doesn't want us to suffer in silences. We "must bear each others burdens" (Galatians 6:2) and to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15). We need to remember that a trouble shared is a trouble halved! Sharing our problems does help reduce our suffering and can make the load so much lighter. It can also lift our spirits, make us laugh and smile — these are all good for us which is why God wants us to share our troubles with others.
* Secondly, we need to thank the Lord for giving us this blessing, for getting to know Christ even more intimately. We need to "count it all joy when we fall into various trials" (James 1:2), even those trials that are difficult and painful. And “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Roman 5:3-5). We need to thank the Lord and be joyful as He is in the process of doing something amazing, even though it may not feel like it at the time. We must thank Him as what might feel like being torn down is in fact, building us up. By the end, we will be stronger, deeper and closer to Christ than ever before.
* Thirdly, don't waste the lessons learnt. Do not come out of your suffering having learnt nothing. God takes us through these journeys so we can learn and grow. We don't choose to suffer, but we can learn from it. Once the darkness clears, we will have more strength, sensitivity, patiences, understanding of others, maturity, depth, compassion, fortitude and thanks than before. No one says suffering isn't painful but if we all embrace the lessons learned, then our suffering is never in vain and finding contentment is so much easier.
Contentment during suffering doesn't mean you won't feel sad or in pain. Contentment doesn't stop the pain. Contentment doesn't mean you can't cry out out to God. Being content does bring you peace during a storm, it does give you strength and it does bring you joy.
Other links of interest:
Finding contentment 24/7, yes we can and yes we must