Once again, here are the three questions we ask about suffering:
Why am I suffering?
Where is God as I suffer?
What am I to do about my suffering?
Yesterday we looked at how to think about the first question. Today I will cover the second and third questions.
Question Two: Where is God as I suffer?
Answer: Three places God is at work when you suffer
Where is God as I suffer? I believe Jesus was asking this in the Garden of Gethsemane, as well as on the cross.
In the Garden, he prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-42).
On the cross, he said more plainly: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46).
I believe Paul was asking this question about his thorn in the flesh. Three times Paul prayed for relief. The third time God said, “No, you will keep the thorn, but you will find sufficient grace and substantial power to endure.”
First, and most important, God is with you. His name is always Immanuel, God with us. He never leaves you or forsakes you. Like the children in the Narnia stories, they do not always see Aslan in their trials, but Aslan is with them. And at the right time their eyes are opened and they see. Psalm 139 covers the great truth of God’s omnipresence with us.
Second, God is at work in and through you. In John 5:17, Jesus tells us that both the Father and the Son are always at work. What is God doing? According to Romans 8:28-39, God is at work causing all things to work for the good of your being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, being transformed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:15).
Third, God is guiding you by the Holy Spirit. You are learning to keep in step with the Spirit, moving through the seasons of life. Galatians 5:16, 18, 22, and 25 all describe how we live by the Spirit, following the Spirit of God to the places where we are meant to be.
Question Three: What am I to do about my suffering?
Answer: Six responses to suffering
The full answer depends on why you are suffering.
ONE: If you suffer because you do dumb stuff – STOP IT. The biblical language for this is: confess, repent, ask forgiveness, and recommit yourself to God. I know it is hard to stop, but you have to STOP doing dumb things that hurt you. Get whatever support and help you need to stop it.
TWO: If you suffer because others are doing dumb stuff – tell them to STOP IT. If they don’t stop, then draw boundaries and take appropriate steps to limit the impact of their bad choices. Sometimes you must take more radical steps to limit the harm others do to you.
THREE: If you suffer just because you are in the wrong place as some of the tough stuff of life is manifesting – then pray, trust, be wise in next steps, persevere, be patient, get help, get counsel, pray (a lot), and allow your heart to be encouraged and strengthened by Christ.
FOUR: If you suffer because you are experiencing the discipline of the Lord due to sinfulness, be sure to read Hebrews 12:1-12 for guidance and what to expect. Generally, receive the discipline, repent from the disobedience, and discover the grace and fresh start God has for you.
FIVE: If you think you are suffering because God has a specific lesson he is trying to teach you, be slow to come to that conclusion. Make an appointment to talk to one of our staff or get a session or two with someone from our Counseling Center. We will try to help you sort through your experiences.
SIX: In all suffering, the most important need is to draw near to God in worship, prayer, and Scripture. Know that Christ loves you. Know that he will complete the good work he has started in you (Philippians 1:6). Know that he has good plans for your future (Jeremiah 29:10-12).
Obviously, I have just covered a few things in a preliminary way about what God is doing and how you can respond to suffering.
You can flourish while you suffer, in spite of your suffering, and even because of your suffering. You can also flourish by putting an end to unnecessary suffering that comes from dumb stuff.
Having the ability to empower and resource leaders to bear much fruit that lasts. Being a part of a team of friends and missional servants committed to changing the world.