In the midst of intense suffering, it is nearly impossible to keep our eyes on Jesus. Our prayer life begins to feel robotic and weak. Even when we are gathered together with our church, we feel distant from both God and others. Some refer to these times as the dark night of the soul.
Nearly two thousand years ago, an early follower named Peter wrote about this experience. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he encourages us with the following words:
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory.” – 1 Peter 4:12-13
1. Expect Suffering.
Peter does not say IF the “fiery ordeal comes” but WHEN. If we do not properly prepare ourselves with a theology of suffering, we will be burned up and burned out by trials. There is a false teaching that has run rampant, especially in the western church. These so-called teachers twist Scripture and deceive believers by concluding that God will grant us lives free of suffering because He loves us. This teaching shows a complete disregard for the Word of God.
Friends, you and I suffer BECAUSE God loves us.
Intense times of trial and suffering are NOT unusual. It is something that comes upon every Christian. When you claim the name of Jesus, you receive a target on your back. There is an enemy of your soul who wants to see you destroyed. But take heart, the One who is in you is FAR GREATER than the enemy!
2. Suffering Will Test You.
Suffering rips away every illusion of control that we hold in our minds. It is easy for us to become dangerously comfortable with our lives. We check “religion” off our to-do list each morning as we read the Scriptures in a stale, lifeless fashion. We go to church once a week, sing a few songs, listen to someone teach, and believe we are growing in our faith.
Suffering will reveal to you whether or not your faith is genuine. I promise you that empty religion will not sustain your soul when darkness clouds your mind and emotions.
Yes, you will have doubts as you suffer. You may become angry at God. You will also feel as if God has abandoned you at times. Those are the godly reactions we read about in the Psalms – all of those are expected. Yet, if your faith is shaken to the core and you leave the experience concluding that God is neither good nor real, your belief in God is based on the quicksand of circumstances. As these circumstances change, your faith is either strengthened or demolished.
If this is where you are at, cry out to God for mercy, grace, and salvation. You CANNOT save yourself, regardless of how many religious duties you perform. Salvation is a supernatural work of God – He is the Author, Sustainer, and Perfecter.
3. Rejoice As You Suffer.
Easier said than done, right? Peter’s command for us to rejoice as we face the heart-wrenching effects of suffering makes absolutely no sense to our fleshly minds. Our rejoicing is deeply rooted with our sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. The greatest experience any human being can attain is fellowship with the Living God.
Suffering draws each one of us to the Garden of Gethsemane. Although there may be deep anguish, blood-soaked sweat, and loud cries, we are in the presence of a God who loves us.
Friends, we rejoice in the midst of suffering because there is NOTHING greater than experiencing God.
Paul, a leader of the early church, wrote a beautiful passage describing our pain. One look at Paul and you would see the visible scars where his flesh had been ripped out of his body repeatedly because of his faith. Paul had been ostracized by his community, rejected by the culture, and tortured by the government. Yet as Paul reflects on his life, he teaches us:
“Our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.” – 1 Cor. 4:17
Paul suffered far more than us. Yet, he describes his own anguish as momentary and light because he was viewing suffering through the lens of eternity. I can promise you that Paul does not regret even one trial he experienced because he knew that our trials cause us to await with eager expectation the coming of our Messiah.
Friends, expect to be tested by suffering. In the midst of the blinding pain, remember: It is not even worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory God has prepared for those He loves.