Suffering. We all know what it is, but we can't always define it with words. Especially when the suffering isn't physical, but emotional and/or mental. It hurts, but isn't physical. It drives us to insanity, although we are still sane. We can be angry, but have no one to blame. It makes us feel hopeless, even though hope is still there. It wears us down, yet we can't sleep. Nothing makes sense, but logic is staring us in the face. We may be screaming in agony, but have no physical ailment.
Suffering is hard. There is no sugar coating it. The only way to end it, is to endure through it.
And this is where the hard gets even harder.
As Christians, we know the answer: "lean on Jesus," "give your burdens to him," and "pray your way through it." These answers are not wrong. In fact, as Christians, we probably are remembering these things while we suffer. However, these sentences are devoid of the help we need. You see, suffering doesn't take what you've learned away, it makes it hard to grasp.
How do we lean on Jesus? How do we give our burdens to him? What do we do when our prayers seem to be going nowhere?
As we wrestle with the struggle, these questions plague the mind. In an effort to do these things we know we should, we end up getting angry with God. Really angry. The doubts creep in and it seems like God may not even be real anymore. We beg God for a miracle or a sign, proof that this isn't all for naught. We become desperate in our prayers and in our actions. Suffering is eating at our very soul and there seems to be no way out.
Suffering is a true test of faith.
Often, when we speak of suffering, we look to the book of Job. Here is a man who truly suffered. We should emulate him and stay close to God during our suffering. We speak about Job as if he is some saint that did everything perfectly. When we don't measure up to our image of Job, we feel like a failure even more.
But let's take a closer look.
LESSON 1: JOB DID NOTHING TO WARRANT HIS SUFFERING
Our suffering is not necessarily our fault. Could it be? Sure. It could be consequences of our actions. But consequences aren't the same as punishment. If you're experiencing consequences, know that God will get you through them.
LESSON 2: SUFFERING IS HARD. GO TO GOD WITH EVERYTHING.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Suffering is hard and Job suffered, make no mistake. We gloss over his suffering in order to go to the "message" of Job. We skip over the uncomfortable in order to learn the "lesson." Job lost all his family, his possessions, his health, and his status in the community. All of that hit him in one day. There was no space for him to recover from each message:
"Job, your oxen and donkeys were taken away by the Sabeans, and your workers killed."
"Job, sorry for interrupting, your sheep and servants have all been killed by fire from the sky."
"Job! Let me speak! The Chaldeans took off with your camels and killed the workers."
"Everyone, quiet! I must tell Job! A huge wind came and knocked down the house where your children were celebrating. They are all dead."
Job was suffering. He was overwhelmed. His heart was broken and he lamented. Yet he did not say anything against God. Even when he was covered with sores from the head to the feet, he did not curse God. Not even when his own wife, the only person he had left, told him he should.
But just because he didn't curse God, it does not mean that he was not suffering. He was sitting in a heap of ashes, scraping his sores with pottery, wailing and lamenting for weeks. He was a tortured man. When his "friends" came to be with him, they did not even recognize him. That is how much suffering he was enduring. They sat with him for seven days in silence. Seven days. These friends didn't get there on day 1. They came after they heard what had happened. Job was enduring so much suffering that no one dared speak.
Finally, Job did speak. He argued, he screamed, he was angry. His ranting went on a long time. Every time his friends spoke, he countered. He yelled at God. He threw a fit. He wished he had never been born. He questioned God. His grief turned into despair, which turned into anger.
Looking at my own life, it looks like this: sobbing, wailing, praying, yelling at God, screaming at God, taking a baseball bat to a tree, not sleeping, throwing things at walls/floor in frustration, wondering where God is because I don't feel him, begging God to do something because only He can, wondering why he isn't doing anything because I can't see results, withdrawing from people because they don't understand, desperately wanting people because maybe they can help, torturing myself with "what if…," fear sets in and starts controlling thoughts and actions,… I think you understand and can remember your own times.
God can handle it. In his timing, he will break through to you. Just like Job, go to God. Don't abandon him. He can handle your anger, your questions, your doubts. Cling to him.
LESSON 3: GOD RESTORED JOB
Eventually, God answered Job and God restored Job's life. Job still had to live with the pain of what had happened. He still did not have his original family, but God gave him a new life. God didn't erase what had happened, he turned what had happened into good for Job. Job's faith was strengthened, he was confident in his relationship with God, he understood God better, he had more possessions and family than before, and he was wiser.
God will restore you too. It will be in his timing. He will answer your doubts, your anger, your questions… in his time. If he chooses not to answer some questions (remember, Job never got the answer to why this happened to him), he will still be with you and give you peace. Sometimes, God's answer is not for us to have, but he reassures us and answers what we need to know. He never keeps information that we need.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit
who has been given to us.
LESSON 4: SUFFERING IS A TEST OF FAITH. DON'T GIVE IN TO LIES.
Suffering causes us to see the weaknesses in our faith. Suffering is hard and it is even harder to keep pushing through. If you don't think your prayers are being heard, continue praying. If you don't feel like reading God's word, read it anyway (even if it is just a few verses). If you need to get your anger out, get it out in a healthy way (yes, baseball bats to trees can be healthy as long as no one else is within 10 feet). Feelings are not the truth. This is much more the case when suffering. Your feelings are valid, but they do not define truth. God's word is the truth. Cling to that. Your feelings are overwhelming and your fears are growing. Within all of that, the core of your beliefs are being challenged. Know this is happening and work to combat it.
When you are suffering, Satan will attack. He did it with Jesus while he was vulnerable in the wilderness, he will do it you. Because you are suffering, you are more inclined to believe the lies. These lies can come from friends, or maybe even your own mind. Because you are desperate to end the pain, you are more likely to give in to the deceit.
Job's friends fed him lies that seemed Godly. At the end of Job, we see that God puts these friends in their place. They had misrepresented him and God made sure they all knew it. We consider Job righteous because he did not give in to these lies. Neither should you.
Are you doubting God? Look to his promises in the Bible. Write them out if you need to. Carry them with you all day so you can remind yourself.
Are you angry with God? Give it to him. Yell, scream, cry… but don't walk away from him.
Are you afraid? Has your anxiety and/or anger turned into fear? Pray. Ask God to help you see his truth and ask him for his peace. Read your Bible. Then speak logic into your situation. Be honest with yourself. Take each fear and tell yourself (out loud) the truth about that fear. "I am afraid the sickness will be permanent. I know God walks with me through everything and he has promised me peace. I know the doctors have given me _______ treatment option. I am going to follow it and hope for results." And continue to pray.
Do you need to give him your burdens? Hand it over. Tell God you trust him and you will not walk away from him, even if you feel like doing so. You may have to do this many times. That is ok. Suffering can intensify, and you may need to continually hand your burdens to him. This does not make you less of a Christian.
Are you giving up? Tell God. Tell him that you are weak and you need his strength. Then take some action. Do little things that counter the feelings. Write statements affirming God's truth. Copy scripture. Listen to worship music. Put positive things in your life to help counter the negative. As time goes on, you will notice God giving you the strength. REMEMBER: it is the strength from God, not of your own doing. Suffering requires his strength.
Keep looking for the good. It may be hard, and sometimes you may feel silly, but write out the good things everyday. Thank God for something every day. It may start out simple: "Jesus, thank you for my bed." Write it down. The next day, write something else. You may think it is silly, but it is a weapon against suffering.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Suffering is not easy. Suffering tests our faith. Suffering is messy. On the other side of suffering, our faith is stronger, our steps are more sure, and our knowledge of God is greater.
Don't get discouraged when things do not appear to be getting better. We cannot always see what is happening, just like Job couldn't. However, just like Job, we need to go to God. Even if we are doubting/questioning him. He should be the source of our answers, all of them. The answers may not come right away. Keep pressing. Even if it seems like it is not working.
The only way to get through suffering, is to push through it. It is a battle. God has promised us victory. So dig in. Read your Bible. Pray your prayers. Follow God. Know that God cares.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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