Arthur Gordon relates a story of a man who had been stricken with polio at age three, and his parents, probably Depression-poor and overwhelmed, had abandoned him at a New York City hospital. Taken in by a foster family, he was sent to stay with their relatives in Georgia when he was six, in hopes that the warmer climate would improve his condition. What improved his condition, though, was Maum Jean, an elderly, black woman who took that â€˜frail, lost, lonely little boyâ€™ into her heart. For six years, she daily massaged his weak legs; administering her own hydrotherapy in a nearby creek; and encouraged him spiritually with her stories, songs, and prayers. Gordon writes,
Night after night Maum Jean continued the messaging and praying. Then one morning, when I was about twelve, she told me she had a surprise for me.
She led me out into the yard, placed me with my back against an oak tree; I can feel the rough bark of it to this day. She took away my crutches and braces. She moved back a dozen paces and told me that the Lord had spoken to her in a dream. He had said that the time had come for me to walk. â€˜So now,â€™ said Maum Jean, â€˜I want you to walk over to me.â€™
My instant reaction was fear. I knew I couldnâ€™t walk unaided; I had tried. I shrank back against the solid support of the tree. Maum Jean continued to urge me.
I burst into tears. I begged. I pleaded. Her voice rose suddenly, no longer gentle and coaxing but full of power and command. â€˜You can walk, boy! The Lord has spoken! Now walk over here.â€™ She knelt down and held out her arms. And somehow, impelled by something stronger than fear, I took a faltering step, and another, and another, until I reached Maum Jean and fell into her arms, both of us weeping.
It was two more years before I could walk normally, but I never used the crutches again …â€ (Arthur Gordon, A Touch of Wonder.)1
Arthur Gordon experienced Significant pain in his life. I'm sure from time to time he wondered why or bemoaned his current situation. I have no way of telling you why he contracted Polio. And I'm not privy to the counsel of God regarding your sufferings either. I do not know why God permits layoffs, illness, cancer, family strife, accidents or irascible neighbors. I can't explain away the mocking you will receive from teachers, bosses, peers or neighbors if you speak the name of Jesus or simply live as a Christian. But I do know that suffering in all it's forms is a universal human experience. And I also know what God has to say about it. In the words of James 1:2-4
â€œ2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.â€ (James 1.2-4 NASB95)
â€œConsider it all joy…. when you encounter various trials…â€ You will seldom find a more obnoxious verse. I can't imagine a more counterintuitive response to pain than to consider it a joy; not because you're having a good time, at least, but because you know in the end that all of this pain has the capacity to make you holy.
This morning I want to give you
seven reasons why suffering is a cause for Joy
The First one I've already given you:
Because Suffering Trains you For Godliness
In James 1:2-4 he is talking about suffering for your faith not chronic illness. Suffering for Jesus will teach you perseverance which is a Christian skill desperately lacking in many of us. But if you let difficulty of whatever persuasion teach you to stay the course in front of you than you will gain the necessary â€œstick-to-it-ivenessâ€œ to walk faithfully and well with Christ â€“ the end result will be holiness.
Remember Acts 5:41, the Apostles had just been beaten and warned not to preach in Jesus' name anymore and they went on their way â€œrejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.â€ I find that amazingly instructive especially since we're mostly prone to shrink away from the faithful move whenever we're exposed to trouble.
Rejoice in your suffering because if you allow yourself to be trained for it â€“ godliness is the result.
Because Suffering Draws you Closer to Christ Jesus
James 5:13 declares, â€œIs anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.â€ In that single statement the purpose of much of our suffering even from sickness is placed in a context of hope. I'm not saying that every pain you suffer is God telling you to talk to him. But consider Job who suffered terribly and yet through the whole experience kept returning to his desire to simply talk to God about his sufferings.
How many of you have had the â€œSickbed promiseâ€ experience? We get sick or miserable and we start praying and talking to God but as soon as we get better your promises and oaths evaporate and God is forgotten. Don't let that happen! God holds you to your sickbed oaths. I want you to know that this morning. So if you've ever made a promise to God while you were laying on your sickbed â€“ it's time to pay up!
It's not a hard stretch to see that suffering drives you to prayer. That's because it's in the midst of suffering we finally manage to figure out that we're not big enough on our own. But we can at least find joy in the midst of the misery if we allow it to drive us to our knees.
Because Suffering Can Make You Holy
Suffering can be the flame which drives out sin in our lives. Listen to 1 Peter 1:6-7
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
The trials that Peter was talking about were those of persecution. But suffering in general might be the Lord trying to purge your sin. Hebrews 12:6 reminds us that, â€œThose whom the Lord loves he disciplines…â€
If you've got a sin that you just like to have near you because it's fun or it makes you feel good. At some point in time, God's going to stop warning and start punishing you for it. If sin is the source of your suffering you'll be able to point very clearly to the reason for it. You won't need people to play the role of accuser â€“ God himself will make it clear to you that you're suffering for this sin and I want you to repent.
My friends, if sin is the source of your suffering today, I have only one word for you: Repentance. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, turn from your sin and in due time God will lift you up.
Because Suffering Today Brings Future Reward
Look over at Romans 8:17-18. When it comes to enduring hardship because of our faith it is suffering with Christ. The rewards that God has prepared for faithful Christians is nothing in comparison to whatever we might suffer for being a Christian. Our worst concern in America right now is that we might be mocked for Jesus. But for many Christians around the world, torture, imprisonment or death is a real possibility.
But even losing your job because you've chosen to be obedient to Christ rather than do something immoral at work is nothing in comparison for the rewards which God will give those who suffer for doing good.
Because Suffering frustrates Satan
Quite frankly Satan would love to destroy you however he can. Remember that it was Satan who instigated all of Job's suffering. Remember that it was Satan who afflicted Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. Remember that Peter warns us that Satan is prowling about the way a lion does just looking for a Christian to destroy. The problem is that as we respond to suffering with humility towards God, with prayer and with faith â€“ Satan's plans are just frustrated. If there's anything which Romans 8:28 reminds us it is that God is able to take pain, suffering, injustice, and all manner of junk and use it to bring about good in the lives of Christians who love Him.
Because Suffering can result in Salvation for others
Church history is full of the stories of people who came to Christ after watching Christians suffer. In Acts 9:15-16 â€“ the call of Paul to be the Apostle to the Gentiles was irrevocably tied to his suffering and that suffering would be part of the salvation of many. This is what Paul means in Col 1:24 by his own sufferings â€œfilling up what was lacking in Christ's afflictionsâ€.
He certainly didn't mean that Jesus hadn't suffered enough. God makes it clear that the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross is sufficient to save anyone who will trust in Him. But when Paul suffered it was directly in line with preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. And when he suffered to bring the gospel to others, he suffered so that others wouldn't have to.
Your suffering when placed in the context of tying it to the gospel provides an opportunity for others to be redeemed in Jesus.
Consider Tyler Laymon who has taken the intense suffering he endured with Leukemia and has made a definitive statement that for as long as this is fresh in people's minds he wants to use his suffering as a means to point to the power of God to save people not merely from a disease but from the hell which sin requires.
And finally Let me give you one more reason, the seventh reason why suffering is actually a cause for joy.
Because Your Suffering Gives Others the Opportunity to be Faithful.
Turn to Matthew 4:24 and read that. Look what happened. Jesus was getting pretty famous. But there were sick and suffering people all over the place and they were too weak to go to Jesus on their own. So do you see what happened next? Those who were well brought the suffering ones to Jesus.
I don't believe it's any kind of a stretch to make that a broad application to you and to I. When other people are suffering it is faithfulness on our part to bring them to God both in prayer and in person. And when we are suffering â€“ we can yet give glory to God as others lift us up in prayer or simply come along side to offer encouragement.
If the Christian life isn't a life free of suffering neither is it a life devoid of Joy. Suffering serves as a tool to train us for godliness, it draws us closer to God as we seek Him as the source of our relief. Suffering serves as discipline to bring us to the point of turning away from sin, and when we suffer because of our faith in Christ it guarantees a reward in heaven. Though Satan demands to destroy us with suffering God takes the pain and turns it into blessing. When we suffer, others may observe our testimony and find faith in Jesus Christ. And suffering provides others with a ready made opportunity to faithfully serve with prayer and encouragement.
Suffering is a cause for joy, not because you enjoy it, but because of what God can do with it in your life.