Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.James 1:2-4 NLT
In our legal system, it’s commonplace for people to sue another person or corporation for pain and suffering that stems from an accident or action of a guilty party. But can you be thankful for pain? Can you be thankful for suffering? Or am I just talking crazy talk because your life is a series of decisions based around avoiding and minimizing pain and suffering?
Suffering isn’t something new. It isn’t something rare, and it isn’t just reserved for us sinners. Christ himself suffered, and in reading about his suffering you can learn another important lesson about pain. Hebrews 5:8 says, “Although Jesus was the Son of God, he learned to be obedient through his sufferings.” Obedience isn’t what saves you, but it is what proves you know Christ, and in suffering your obedience is proven in a major way. Suffering is the hardest place for obedience to happen. You might even say that obedience is not really obedience when you’re just doing what you want to do and it’s just your nature, but when it’s hard, that’s when you prove your faith—through doing what you should even when you don’t want to. Suffering brings out the obedience in us because it gives us a chance to choose not to be angry, bitter, resentful, vengeful, or hateful, even though we naturally want to be. And we aren’t because we see pain for what pain is—a lesson in the life of faith.
But sometimes pain is so bad that it threatens to be the death of us. But Jesus calls us to a new life in him. We are new creatures, and when that happens the old passes away or dies. And this is a good thing, because the old us is bad, stupid, and lazy. The old us got us into nothing but trouble, and so dying to that old self is of great spiritual value. Dying to self is another lesson of pain. When something threatens you with pain, you can say “bring it on” when your goal is not self-preservation but self-destruction—destruction of the old, sinful self. Pain isn’t meant to destroy you, but it can destroy the sin in you, so bring it on! Who doesn’t want the sin in them taken out?
Pain also teaches you about your need for other people. God planned for us not to be islands but to need each other. Remember what he said back in the Garden of Eden: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). We were meant to live in community with one another, and pain makes that a necessity. When you suffer, you need other people to comfort you and help you. While comforting them is part of your service to God, letting them comfort you is part of that same gift. If nobody needs anybody else, then how will we serve one another? So you can think about your pain as a chance to lean on someone else and to give them the ability to use their gift of service on you. Being needed feels good to people, so don’t feel bad when on occasion you desperately need God’s people to be by your side.
Trials and pain, suffering and hard times are really a gift from God you can be thankful for. After all, they lead to really good things—like endurance, being perfected, and leaning on faith. Think about the most amazing and interesting people in the world. Would you say that most of them were people who struggled, suffered, and overcame? Or people who never had a care in the world and had everything handed to them on a silver platter? History confirms it: suffering builds character, it builds story, and it builds a really amazing life. So don’t waste your pain, but find the purpose in it and thank God for the opportunity to point to him.
Questions to ponder
On a scale of 1-10, how high is your pain threshold; how well do you handle physical pain?
What was a time that you felt the effects of suffering? Where you in a caring community? How did being in community help?
Take a moment and thank God for a moment of pain or suffering in your life. Thank him for demonstrating that you could endure it and that you can help others through their pain because of it.