There was a single word burning in my heart. It was twirling in my soul. I tried to ignore it, but I seemed to keep hearing it. Even if I put my fingers in my ears, I could hear it in my spirit.
The word? SUFFERING
We don’t necessarily want to talk about suffering nor walk through that valley. But it is hard to avoid as it deviously moves throughout the world in one form or another. As the word was twirling in my mind and wouldn’t leave, I realized that the Lord desired to show me a different perspective.
There is suffering without the Lord and then there is suffering with the Lord. And there is a difference.
Think for a moment about training for a triathlon race. You would not be sitting around binge-watching TV while snacking on buttered popcorn. Instead, you would be working out and eating right so that you can sustain your body. You would be teaching your body, mind and will the art of endurance, perseverance, sacrifice and confidence. Though the training would be grueling, it would produce the strength needed to win, or at least complete the race.
Suffering is like training for that triathlon. It is the catalyst that will create great rewards and great results. It isn’t the natural avenue we would choose to travel, but it is the very avenue that will lead us to our victory. And though we need confidence in ourselves to win a competitive race, we will need to put our confidence in the Lord, during a season of suffering, to become victorious.
In fact, confidence in the Lord will be one of the defining aspects between suffering without the Lord and suffering WITH the Lord. Our confidence MUST come from resting in God. If we depend on our own strength our arms will get weak and our hearts will grow hopeless.
In Exodus lies the story of the war with the Amalekites. As long as Moses lifted his arms the children of Israel were winning the battle. But he could not keep them up alone. He needed someone to hold up his arms. The battle was won with the help of those who lifted Moses’ arms and with Joshua’s confidence in the Lord, as he and his men fought. (Exodus 17:8-5)
Suffering WITH the Lord is surrendering and trusting and still persevering with faith even when we see only darkness with our natural sight. it is walking with those who are going through hardships and lifting them up, as well as letting others walk with us.
It is ENDURING WITH CONFIDENCE IN CHRIST.
“My brothers and sisters be very happy when you are tested in different ways. You know that such testing of your faith produces ENDURANCE. Endure until your testing is over: Then you will be mature and complete, and you won’t need anything.” James 1:2
Like in that triathlon where the participant exercises to prepare for the race, we must exercise our faith to be able to endure. It is part of growing and becoming mature. As we learn to endure in the face of battle, wisdom increases and our confidence in the Lord becomes our strength.
But there is even more.
It is connecting with our Heavenly Father without any inhibition. It is trusting him so entirely that the world we live in begins to fade in comparison to his glory. It is being able to say, with Harotio Spafford, who authored a hymn after losing his children to the cold ocean waters: “It is Well with my Soul”.
How could he do that? He had built a relationship with the God of creation. He knew that the Lord was greater than his sorrow. He knew that God’s love for him and his family overshadowed his circumstances. He surrendered his heart and heartache completely to the Lord.
A similar circumstance, though not as grievous, happened to me when I lost my 6-year-old at a campground in Colorado. He was only gone for a few hours. We didn’t know if he got lost in the woods or was taken by a stranger. But what happened to me in those few haunting hours was this: I chose to totally surrender to my Lord. I could do nothing. I could only pray and trust.
It is walking so close to the Lord that in your darkest hours, you know that he is still Lord. It’s as if you can breathe his presence into your lungs. You know that you know he will not let you go. And you relax in his arms and trust in his all-powerful mercy and grace.
Joseph experienced this confidence in the Lord when he went to prison for years for a crime he never committed. Though it may have felt like he was forgotten, he still held on to his faith in his Lord. After he was tested for a little while, he became the 2nd in command over the nation. After his season of suffering the Lord revealed his plan for his life.
Jesus embraced suffering because he trusted his heavenly Father regardless of what he was about to suffer. He had said, “Not my will but yours be done.” His love was and still is so intense for us that despite the hate and torture and grueling death, he went to the cross and into the depths of hell to get the keys of sin and death from satan. There was a purpose for his suffering and a plan of victory.
Because He was victorious, we can walk in victory despite what we may be enduring.
The followers of Jesus walked in victory despite the suffering they endured because they had put their confidence in Jesus. Today many around the world are persecuted for their faith because the world hates believers as it hated our Savior, Jesus Christ. Even if you are in a free country you will still face opposition of many kinds. And it is a guarantee that you will face personal defeat, heartache and suffering sometime in your life. The word of God states that we should not be surprised by the fiery troubles that come to test our faith. Instead, we are to be happy to be found worthy. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
When I face opposition, I am learning to stop and consider that the Lord is preparing me for something greater. He loves each of us beyond the trials we face. It is those very trials and sufferings that we endure that will be our steppingstones to complete our purpose.
“We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the JOY ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross, and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.” Hebrews 12:2-3
Jesus endured with joy because he saw the joy ahead of him.
The suffering you endure does NOT, will NOT and can NOT compare to the hope of his glory. He promised that he will NEVER leave or forsake you.
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 out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (ESV)
So, what is the difference between suffering without the Lord and suffering with him?
With him, there is a purpose and a plan. God is equipping and preparing each of us for our destiny.
With him there is a peace that passes understanding, knowing he has us in his hands.
With him there is a strength built inside each of us as we place our confidence in him.
With him there can be a place of joy despite what we see because we are building a relationship with our Creator.
With him there is a hope for our future.
“For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
There is a word burning in my spirit today. It is HOPE. Yes, we will endure suffering. But it will produce so much more in our lives. Be of good cheer. The Lord has overcome this world.
Amen and God bless.