The Joy Set Before Us
If we are in Christ, there will be a day when we will no longer suffer. That day will be when we are in heaven with our Lord.
The Lord may choose to heal us in this life, and He may not. He did not die to give us prosperity in this life, but a promise for the one to come.
The purpose of suffering is to draw us closer to God. In heaven, we will be in complete fellowship with God, and our relationship with Him will be consummated.
One principal source of pain in suffering is our desire for something we cannot have. We think that thing would bring us fulfillment. But such a thing (or person) can never bring us lasting fulfillment.
Sooner or later, the pleasures and gifts of this life turn sour with the distortions of sin, death, decay, and entropy. And then we crave something else. A prettier car. A nicer home. A more respectable job title. A more prestigious college degree. More makeup.
This is not to say that desires are ever wrong to have. But Christ must be first. And He deserves to be first. He gave everything for us, even though we didn’t deserve it in the least. We didn’t get what we deserved (eternal death), and we received what we did not deserve (eternal life).
But our tendency is to demand pleasures and gifts and healing of God, as if He owed us such things.
If we have financial troubles, we can’t afford a nicer car. If we have health issues, we tend to have fewer relationships. And we want more of those things because we think they’ll satisfy.
But they never do. We desire the infinite, and only One is infinite. We are seeking the infinite in the finite – the imperishable in the perishable.
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
Suffering is a gift.
Suffering (not getting what we want in this life – be that health, money, etc.) awakens us – leads us to find One who is all that we need.
If we will let it, suffering will mercifully show us we need to stop searching in the dump – the junk pile – and will lead us to know Jesus Christ, who is life itself.
The starvation of suffering will lead us to a feast in Christ.
I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.
If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.
It seems my health may be slowly improving. But it’s certainly not going at the pace I would like. I don’t know if I’ll ever be cured of Lyme. Some say curing is possible, others say it’s not.
Again, desires are not always wrong. But for what do I want good health?
Do I want it so that I can spend it on my pleasures? So that I can “be somebody” who’s “accomplishing something” (by other people’s standards or even my own standards)?
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
The truth is, in my weakened state (in which Christ’s power is displayed), I am somebody – even with little income, no “formal education”, a beat-up old van for my transportation, and little energy to accomplish my goals.
I am somebody, because the Giver of life and breath and identity lives within me and His strength works through me.
Interestingly, I have learned and accomplished more in my sickness, by the strength of God, than I was ever able to in my days of greater health and financial prosperity – my days of greater fleshly strength.
but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.
2 Corinthians 6:4-9
Often, the Lord chooses to make others rich through our poverty. We are decaying outwardly, but our souls live, and God even sustains our bodies and keeps us alive here for His work and His will. We are dying, yet behold, we live.
We are poor, yet many are made rich when our flesh gets out of the way. When we get out of the way. When our wealth, our status, our image, etc. are blasted to smithereens. When temporal wealth is replaced by an eternal and spiritual wealth, and the glory of the perishable body fades in the light of the glory to come – indeed, the glory which is already present.
But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:15-18
God says “You are My child.” That is my identity.
God says “In your weakness, My power will be displayed.” He is accomplishing something through my infirmity and nothingness.
My friends, if even one soul comes to know the love of God – comes to know Christ – through my suffering, I believe it is worth it.
And praise God, this has already happened!
By the loving pursuit of the Lord, a dear friend of mine came to know Him earlier this year, in part through my suffering and the suffering of another family member.
It’s not that I gave my friend some eloquent speech or argument for Christianity. It’s not that I “sold” the idea of Christianity to him. It’s not that I spoke as a gifted apologist. I can’t take credit for the work of God.
True Christianity does not need marketing. It speaks for itself. Christ Himself speaks through the lives and struggles of His people. Through the victories and hope and joy and peace He gives them. Through the love displayed in their lives – love in the face of hardship.
And the more withered and worn and weak our flesh is, the more we get out of the way while He’s speaking. The more evident His love and power become.
When people see someone walking through suffering – yet with hope and joy and care for others – it’s so unusual and weird, that they want to know why that person is hopeful and joyful and caring, when, by secular philosophy and understanding, they’d have little or no reason to be.
Christ’s cross – Christ’s suffering – brought life to many.
In the same way, our suffering – or our confidence in the face of it – testifies to the power of God in our weakness, and has an impact on others’ lives.
Why the Delay? How is This a Gift?
Sometimes I don’t understand God’s delay in answering or healing people. His slowness (from our view, within time) in revealing Himself to someone who doesn’t know Him. His choice not to physically restore the afflicted and infirm from their illnesses in this life.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:8-9
Peter is writing here in the context of the coming of Christ. He is saying that God is patient.
This is hard for believers. The closer you get to Jesus, and the more you suffer in this life, the more you just want to be home.
But just as God has purpose in delaying the return of the Lord Jesus, He also has purposes in delaying our healing – purposes for us and for those around us.
Our suffering, if borne with the strength and joy of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a powerful testimony to those who expect us, when faced with hardship, to just curl up in a ball and give up.
When we are given the strength to trust the will of God and live with joy (even if not happiness), other people see that.
When we have a hope – despite our pain and struggles – a hope which cannot be taken from us, other people see that.
Even if they say nothing, they notice.
Followers of Jesus, you are watched more than you know. Be encouraged. When you have been given hope and joy (not manufactured or fake, but from God) against all odds – in the midst of suffering – that is a testament to the power and reality of Jesus Christ.