I don’t like suffering, I’m fairly sure this isn’t an uncommon view, indeed, pleasant suffering is an oxymoron. In fact, suffering sucks, whatever it might be whether physical, mental, emotional – there is nothing nice about being in pain, grief, sorrow or anguish. And there are those of you out there who are going through hard times and I’m not here to tell you that you should go around with a huge big happy smile on your face, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t cry (for as the shortest verse in the Bible says: Jesus wept) and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t come before God and pour out your grief, pain, loss and trouble to him for such complaints he cannot helped but be moved by for the compassion and love of God is steadfast. This world we live in carries on it the curse of sin and this is made known with every ache of pain, every grief, every sorrow, every heavy beat of the heart, all point to the fallen nature of this earth and the men and women on it. And let’s face facts: it might not be alright, in this life at least there’s no guarantee that everything will turn out fine. It is through ‘great tribulation’ that we’ll make it to heaven as Jesus said. And it might seem cruel of me to talk about the joy of suffering when you you know is pain.
How then can there be joy in suffering? How can we both accept suffering for the pain it is and yet have joy? The first thing to stress is that this is not natural; this is not a human thing for the only joy a man could naturally find in suffering would be a false comfort. Outside of Christianity, outside of Jesus Christ, there is little comfort for those suffering other than the ‘sweet oblivion’ of death which is a terrible lie.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1 v 2-4
James here insists that going through trials (i.e. suffering) should not just be a joy to us but ‘pure joy’. Until recently I did not understand what he meant, not experientially anyway and even now I only grasp a little of what James is getting at. The joy of suffering is not in the suffering itself but in the result of the suffering: perseverance. Well you may ask: perseverance in what? The Christian faith, our walk with God, our relationship with Jesus Christ. The joy of suffering is that it brings us closer to Jesus Christ, for though all else may fail the love of Christ cannot. The greater the trial the sweeter the name of Jesus is to a believer. For there is no comfort like the rich comfort of Christ, there is no peace like the supernatural peace of soul to be found in Christ and there is no rest like the rest offered to the weary and heavy-laden by Christ. When hard times come they test our faith and though it may often falter and sometimes even seem to fail we are carried through it by our good Shepherd and we emerge stronger in faith, more ready to trust God, more aware of our weakness and blissfully more aware of the grace and sustaining power of God.
I have been brought to the point where I wanted to walk away from Jesus, I have known the black pit of despair, I have lived under the silence of God and yet here I am, still plodding on in the Christian life, still holding onto Jesus as my only hope of salvation; still flawed and broken and weak, still saved and righteous before God. The joy of suffering is in finding that perseverance is worked in us by God, where we know that in our own strength we would have given up we see the strength of God being displayed in our weakness.
The bottom line is this: to be in dearer communion with Christ is worth any price. And when trials come and suffering afflicts us the test is this: do you love Christ above all things? Though you may lose your health, wealth, prosperity, family, friends, relationship, job, anything of this world, do you hold Christ as your first and greatest love? Often, we think beforehand that the answer would be no, we think that to lose whatever it is would be unbearable and then we lose it and discover, often to our surprise, that Jesus Christ is really all we need, he is our all in all.
Sometimes the joy will be slow to come and seem far away, our doubts and fears and sorrows can cloud our thinking, we despair and know only black thoughts. Know then that there is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us and he will see us safely through. This joy has to be fought for, prayed for, sought out, grappled with and yet it is a joy more rich than any other, an unassailable joy in God. Great is the joy of a Christian when in the darkest of times he can look to Christ and know that though he lose everything, in Christ he has lost nothing!
Our encouragement then is that such is the overflowing goodness and mercy of our God, such is the love of Christ: that even in suffering we might know joy. Having no joy in anything of this life we might still know the abounding joy of knowing and being known by Christ. The joy of suffering is to see God use it, to see that it produces perseverance and that through perseverance we might made more mature and complete. The Bible and church history records the trials and sufferings of many of God’s people and the great multitude in heaven testifies to the preserving power of God. Such is the love and comfort of Christ that in we might know joy in the darkest of times.
How Firm a Foundation
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said--
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”