Suffering in the hands of God has a great purpose!

     I believe most of us can agree on; that we do not like suffering! Maybe we can even use the word "hate" when it comes to suffering. There have been many times that I have questioned the Biblical writers when they tell me to find joy within the trials and struggles of suffering. I have looked at Paul with curious doubt after reading statements like, "I rejoice in my suffering for you" (Colossians 1:24). I don't like to hurt and really don't enjoy watching others hurt. My sense of justice arises when I see Christians throughout the world being slaughtered for loving Jesus. I am guilty of wishing the wrath of God on those who are hostile to God's people. I really don't like suffering.

     However, in studying this subject last week, God has shown me He has a glorious purpose for suffering. God doesn't waste our suffering, but uses it for intentions that we rarely see while in the midst of our suffering. I see three main purposes for the Christian when God allows or brings suffering into our lives.

1. Suffering brings consequences to our sin, but shows us the loving hand of our Father. This one is probably the most obvious for those who grew up under Biblical teaching. God loves us so much that He will not sit by and ignore our love for sin. There are legal consequences for sin and most of the time it is revealed through our suffering. When we sin, we suffer consequences (both earthly and eternal). God has taken away the sting of death and poured His wrath on His Son through the cross, but He has not eliminated the effect of sin here on earth. Let's just say I lied to someone, when that person believes that lie, they will live that lie. This would send that person on a wrong path of thinking and might be passed on to others. This is a earthly consequence. The person I lied to will be affected by my lie. They might find me out and our relationship would be damaged. They might lead others to believe the lie and those people suffer because they accepted a lie. This might lead to eternal consequences if people do not hear or accept the Gospel because of the lie. Now, God loves us and loves us so much that His desire is that we live in perfect union with Him. He sees the affect of the lie and puts discipline (training for righteousness) in our lives to remove a lifestyle of lying. God might expose the lie or He might allow the lie to remain hidden for a time,  showing us the destructive nature of the lie in the people we have lied to. Suffering then becomes a piece of training used by God to bring us back to a right relationship with Him and help us live humbly toward those we have lied to. God directs us to repent to those we have lied to and own our sin. God can then use our brokenness to win the hearts of those we are connected to.

2. Suffering trains us to rely on God. There is a statement out there in the Christian world that tells people "God will never give you anything you cannot handle". I hear this and wonder if Christians really believe that when they read the Bible? Does the scriptures really say this? No, it says God will never give you anything HE can't handle. The life God directs us to live is a life of faith (total dependency on Him). James 1:2-4, tells us that various trials we face reveal what we are placing our faith in and this testing produces endurance in us. God will place suffering in our lives to reveal the limits of our flesh and the incredible power that He has to not only deliver us from evil, but also to finish the work of growing us up in Christ. God uses current suffering to prepare for bigger circumstances later. He also uses current suffering to remind us that this is not our home and that suffering doesn't exist in our eternal home (2 Corinthians 4:17). Suffering makes us not want to suffer and when we use the truth of God's Word, we will turn our attention to our future hope which is heaven. Suffering should make the Christian long to be in our eternal home. Suffering shows our inability to handle the mess of this world, but it also reveals the ability for God to overcome that same mess.

3. Suffering reveals the Gospel to a lost and broken world. I believe this is the greatest result for suffering. Christ suffering to "seek and save" people lost in sin. He suffered the most horrendous death so that we could be His forever. This is the Gospel, that God loved us so much that He had His One and Only Son slaughtered to satisfy the judgment against the world. When the world watches Christians suffer for their faith in God, they see Jesus! We are the most like God when we are persecuted for aligning ourselves with Jesus! Jesus tells His disciples (including us) that they will suffer because the world hates Jesus and they were aligned with Jesus. Today, thousands of Muslims and people that hate Christianity are turing to Jesus while they observe Christians losing all that they have for Jesus. ISIS thinks they are winning the war, but Christ is winning the hearts of thousands of Muslims because Christians know that Jesus is worth losing all. In Asia, thousands of people are turing to Jesus every day. Places where Christianity is illegal or limited are places where people are seeing the worth of Jesus and turning to Him. Where people are dying or being thrown in jail for Jesus, there are people repenting of their sin and placing their faith in Jesus Christ. Suffering produces the Gospel!

     Suffering is not fun, nor is it something I am telling you to run to. However, in the life of a Christian, it is a powerful tool in the hands of God. Hopefully you are encouraged to embrace suffering and allow God to accomplish what He desires through your struggles. Please do not suffer needlessly. What I mean by this is repent from your sin, avoid sin and therefore avoid suffering because of your personal sin. Remember this,  "Suffering in the hands of God has a great purpose"! I hope you will turn your attention and affection to God in the middle of your worst trials!

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