In 2014, I had the opportunity to speak and teach to the Primetimers (60s+) ministry at Christ Community Church. This is a group of predominantly retired individuals almost all of whom have walked through some sort of suffering and pain over their 60, 70 or 80+ years of life. Below is an adapted post from my message to them. What I shared with them and what I write here is very personal, but significantly important as we consider our own suffering or the suffering and pain of those around us.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
What I want to talk about this morning is how we, as those that call Jesus Lord, are to walk through suffering. We have all gone through suffering, are suffering currently or will go through some sort of pain or suffering in the future. So how am I as a 29 year old able to talk to you about suffering? What could I tell you? Everything. Many of you have heard my story, but here is a recap of the past few years.
At 26 I had to walk through the experience of losing my father suddenly. He died of a heart attack at the age of 60. I will never forget receiving that phone call, and driving home just sobbing but praying out to God. I prayed, “Lord, guide me. I don’t know why but allow me to lead my home in the coming days in a God-honoring way.” At that time in my life, that was the hardest prayer I’ve ever prayed and was for the days following and even months. My dad was my best friend, and losing him unexpectedly shook me to my core. I had to walk through the experience of suffering at that time.
This past year in 2013, we found out that we were expecting twin daughters. My wife and I were beyond excited. After suffering a miscarriage earlier that year, we were through the roof. We prayed hard. We leaned on God hard those first weeks out of sheer terror of having to walk through a miscarriage again. Then, at 17 weeks in the pregnancy, we found out our daughters appeared to have what is called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Essentially, one twin is receiving more nutrients than the other and this has a potential doubly negative effect on one getting too little and one getting too much. By 18 weeks, it was evident they had TTTS and we were scheduled with 1 of only 4 surgeons in the country that performs the procedure to potentially fix this problem. We booked our flight and hotel in Kansas City and prepared for the unknown road ahead. By 20 weeks, we found out that we had lost our daughters. We didn’t even make it to Kansas City. To say we were devastated would be a severe understatement. This was the darkest moment of our lives.
I spent the next 6 months and all the way to today walking alongside of my wife as we struggled through this to understand why and go on after a tragic loss. I continually prayed to God for understanding and for healing. I prayed the same prayer after my dad died to honor God through this and to guide us. Even when I didn’t want to pray that prayer. I walked alongside my wife, held her, cried with her, yelled out with her. My goal was and has continued to be to honor and love my wife as a Godly husband should.
So in the past 2 years time I have walked through a great deal of suffering and like I said before, I want to share and consider what the Bible says in how we are to walk through suffering. I have this growing concern in me, which the Lord has really been growing in me this year which is, Do Christ followers know what it means to press into the Lord in moments of difficulty and moments of trial? Have you ever thought about what it means to lean into the Lord and how we are to do that? It is important that we consider how we as Christ followers are to react and live in the painful moments of our lives.
First thing I want to do is to consider a few responses to the fact that there is evil and suffering in the world. Why is there evil in the world? God is a loving God. God is a grace-filled God. Why then is there evil and suffering in the world? This is a one word answer: sin. Death exists because of it. Wars and crime persist because of it. Marriages break because of it. The pain and suffering in our lives is a result of the fall – Adam’s sin in the Garden broke the world and fractured every aspect of it. We have an enemy in Satan who controls the world we live in and wants us to rebel against the almighty God. This world is sick and broken. It still doesn’t make it any easier for us as humans though to understand the why of pain and suffering.
Here is what I do know and we see it all throughout Scripture. God is a sovereign, all knowing, all powerful, all loving God. Nothing happens outside the boundaries, knowledge and control of God. This is hard for us to fully comprehend as humans. The human mind cannot grasp why God allows evil; instead, we are called to have faith in God’s goodness and love. But this is very hard in the midsts of suffering. I’m not going to stand here and tell you that all my questions are answered about all that has happened over the past 3 years of my life. This side of heaven they won’t be answered.
But this is what I do know. God is sovereign and I am not. As much as I want to understand, and as much as I want to have authority and power and the ability to control my life, I can’t. In fact, it’s a sin if I want to. It goes back to the first sin in the garden to want to have the knowledge of God.
We’ve talked about the bad news. Here is something to consider. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news. For news to be good, it has to invade bad spaces. Think about that. Jesus alone defeated sin and death and promised to bring restoration to all the brokenness of this world, all the suffering and pain of the this world, in eternity. This is what Paul is talking about here in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Through Jesus, we know our suffering is not in vain. If God is fully sovereign and fully loving, no suffering is senseless. No pain is pointless. Here is something that we must remember: We must realize that we live in an already, not yet world. Jesus has come and redemption is found in Him, but we are still here on earth and not in paradise.
Through all this, we must remember that we have a God that is not some abstract, distant god. We have a loving Father who is with us. The sovereign God came in Jesus Christ to suffer with us and to suffer for us. God came all the way to us and lived among us. The God I know has experienced pain and therefore understands my pain. We are to show Christ through all circumstances. We are to glorify God through every hardship and bit of suffering that we go through. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus for understanding and strength instead of what we are able to see in this world.
Here are four ways that I believe all Christians should walk through suffering that we can find right out of this passage:
1. Lean into God Fully
Allow yourself to suffer and grieve all while focusing on Christ. Paul is not telling to Corinthian church to not suffer and grieve. However, he is saying that in our grief we are to look to God and lean on Him. We see this time and time again in the Psalms. Most Psalms of lament follow the same structure: a complaint , a call to God for help, and a confession of trust in God’s love.
It’s ok to cry out to God. It is ok to be upset with God. It is ok to even question God in times of pain and suffering. God is a loving God that allows His people the ability to do this in ways that are still honoring of Him. The Psalms of lament show this pattern really well. However, it’s in our nature to want to go it alone without God often in times of suffering.
I fell into this trap myself that I had to take care of those around me that I didn’t properly grieve. I didn’t want sympathy, I didn’t want care because I wanted that to go to people that really needed it. Can you relate to that? A friend of mine said to me weeks after we lost our daughters and I was back to work, “Sometimes it’s the hardest for those that serve to be served.” Lean into God. Focus on the cross in times of suffering.
2. Fix our eyes on the Lord. Look to what is Eternal.
Paul says in this passage that we must look to what is unseen instead of what is seen. So often we want to focus on what we can see and what we can control around us when we are suffering. As Christ followers we are set aside to look different than the world. To the world it is usual to be angry, common to focus on myself only and even have hate for people around us if they have caused us pain and suffering. Again, look to Jesus and the cross of our example of how to walk through suffering. How did Jesus react? How did Jesus respond to those angry and hurting him?
Jesus instructs us to love one another as he loved us. I cannot love and hate someone, this includes God. I can lovingly be upset and angry, but I cannot harness hatred and anger in my heart towards someone or towards God and be able to love that person. When we walk through pain and suffering in a way that honors God, even when we do not fully understand the world notices. Eternity looks different than this world and we must live our lives in anticipation of the Kingdom.
3. Suffering is Meant to Happen in Community
We tend to quantify and compare suffering and loss. This is wrong. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. I don’t care if it is the loss of a parent or child, an illness or the loss of a job, pain and suffering has meaning in our lives. We need to go through suffering with other people instead of isolated. We were created for relationships. While we lean into God we must lean into others and allow them the opportunity to serve us and walk alongside of us.
I couldn’t imagine going through the past 2 years without my wife and my Community Group. Having people we could call when we just need a night to play board games to simply take our minds off to things or having people bring us meals for an entire month so we could just come home after work and be together was incredible. People did this for us because they loved and cared about us, and wanted to show God’s love to us. Also, be the one who leans into those suffering and serves them. Don’t wait for people to come to you, go to people as this will make all the difference.
Our suffering allows us the opportunity to glorify God and share the gospel in a way that we couldn’t before. The circumstances that we have gone through, are going through and will go through allow us a better opportunity to love God and share His love, grace and mercy with others. Our suffering has total meaning. Look to what is unseen in the eternal Kingdom and not to what is seen in this world.