How God uses suffering in our lives
Suffering is like the chemotherapy that destroys the cancer of sinfulness in our lives. We can emerge from the “treatment” free of a particular type of “cancer” such as pride, fear or rebellion, or we can fall back into the deathly sickness of sin when we don’t learn the lessons intended for us. In a sense, God uses suffering as an antidote to our fleshly nature.
(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > 接受苦难 | 繁體中文 > 接受苦難)
Suffering and affliction is God’s way to refine us and form our character.
Isaiah 48:10 ESV Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
No one welcomes suffering. But it would a mistake to think that God will miraculously remove all our suffering, once we accept Jesus as their Saviour. In a sense, He does. He removes the harmful effects of our suffering, but not necessarily the suffering itself.
We may experience illness, heartbreak, wrongful accusations, fraud, humiliation and financial ruin – but if we remain true to God, we will still experience hope, peace and joy. By allowing us to “walk through fire”, God tests and strengthens our dedication to Him. Perseverance and self-control help tremendously in the pursuit of godliness.
God’s higher purpose
God allows evil and suffering to persist for a period of time to accomplish His higher purposes. The Bible states that there is a purpose for everything, even the wicked. Let us look at a few real-life examples from the Bible of how God used suffering for His higher purpose.
Proverbs 16:4 ESV The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
1. Wickedness from others
When Moses first asked the Pharaoh of Egypt to let the Jewish slaves go to the wilderness to worship God, Pharaoh not only refused, he made the slaves work even harder. Moses was very discouraged and argued with the Lord, as recorded in Exodus 6:30 (NLT), saying, “I can’t do it! I’m such a clumsy speaker! Why should Pharaoh listen to me?”
God did not say sorry to Moses and promise to make things easier for him. In fact, He told him that things would only get much harder. In Exodus 7:3-4, God replied and said, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you...” God said in Exodus 9:16 that He is One who raised up the evil Pharaoh and hardened his heart so that eventually, God’s name may be “proclaimed in all the earth.”
All this is not because God despised Moses. In Exodus 33:11, we see that “LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” It is because God had a higher purpose to accomplish through the suffering of His own chosen people. Moses had to learn to trust and obey God because their freedom was at stake if he didn’t. Moses followed God’s instructions step by step, and the Egyptians eventually came to a point that they “urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible” (Exodus 12:33) and even gave them all their valuables. Moses was seen as “very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people” (Exodus 11:3).
2. Wickedness from Satan
The story of Job is a source of great comfort and encouragement for anyone who is enduring great suffering. God promises to protect those who love Him, but there may be times where He will allow spiritual attacks to come upon us, in order to achieve a higher purpose. Job initially enjoyed a “wall of protection around him and his home and his property” that God had put around him. When God momentarily removed that “wall” and Satan was allowed to oppress him, Job still chose to stay faithful to the Lord. Job passed the test with flying colours and became one of the greatest examples of faithfulness and wisdom amongst men.
Job 1:9-12 NLT Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!” “All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.
3. Wickedness from our inner circle
God did not spare Himself from this very same principle. From Luke 6, we see that Jesus chose Judas Iscariot to be one of His 12 disciples, fully aware that Judas would betray Him to a horrific death. During the Last Supper, John 13:27 says that “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”” Jesus willingly chose someone who would turn to Satan and betray Him, because He understood the importance of following God’s higher purpose, instead of our own self-interest.
Luke 6:13,16 ESV And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter… and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
The good that comes out of suffering
1. A chance to become living testimonies
When the Bible promises that God works everything for our good, we must understand that “everything” may include suffering and affliction and that “our good” often involves the good of others and not just us. We are to be living testimonies of God’s power and love. I can personally testify to this. From witnessing terrifying domestic violence to being the victim of vicious Christians and savage office politics, I have been able to use my experiences to testify how Jesus helps and heals us each time we seek Him.
Romans 8:28 ESV And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
The brutal truth is that there is no great testimony of God’s presence without great suffering.
2. A test of who is genuine
If you were a king who had to choose those who will live with you and share all your wealth and glory forever, how would you pick them? Would you consciously choose people who sincerely appreciate you or be indiscriminate and reckless in your selection? Obviously, we would choose people who have shown themselves to be genuine in their attitudes!
1 Peter 1:6 ESV In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
God is no different. He is not so insecure that He craves attention from many insincere believers who only pay Him lip service. After all, empty talk is the most worthless commodity on earth. God is only interested in the few who will stay true to Him “for better or for worse”.
Matthew 22:14 ESV For many are called, but few are chosen.”
It is easy to love and praise God when the times are good. Will we still praise Him even when things don’t go our way? It saddens me deeply to hear of believers who once actively served God but eventually left when they felt ill with cancer or when God chose not to answer their prayers in exactly the way they wanted. Such people treat God like a supermarket. We must respect God’s higher purpose for our lives and not be self-centred “shoppers”.
3. Valuable training
Have you ever noticed how top athletes train the hardest? God allows us to go through hardship in order to train us in perseverance, resolve and strength. This “hardship training” is especially helpful when it comes to resisting temptation and standing firm in our faith. Those who crumble at the slightest threat from our enemy will never see victory. Withstanding strong push-backs or attacks from Satan takes perseverance and resolve.
James 1:2-4 ESV Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
4. Turn the hearts of the rebellious back to God
Remember the story of the prodigal son who rebelled against his father and took his dad’s money to squander it all away on a life of debauchery? Once the money ran out, the son was reduced to humiliating conditions. Where he was once treated like a prince, he now suffered great indignity, poverty and hunger. So the young man humbly returned to his father’s house, prepared for the worst reception. Instead, he only received a joyous welcome feast. (See Luke 15:11-32)
This is a picture of how God allows those who rebel against Him to go through suffering, in the hope that they will wake up to their senses and realise what they have been missing out on in His house. Our good God will not bless those who rebel against Him, because that would only push us further into debauchery and ultimately, deeper into the arms of Satan and hell. He will not do anything so irresponsible nor stupid.
Revelation 3:19 ESV Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Pray, endure, rejoice and be blessed
Some believers say they want to “personally experience God”. The truth is, many of us experience God through suffering. It is when we are brought to our lowest points that we can experience Him lift us to higher grounds – based on His strength and not our own.
1 Peter 5:10 ESV And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
The big question for us all is, “Are we willing to trust God and thank Him for our sufferings and embrace His higher purposes through what we have to endure?” When we are willing to endure hardship and suffering, we will be more equipped for God’s kingdom work. Trials and suffering are real and it is those who have the strength and resolve to continue to stand who will prevail.
Romans 5:3-5 ESV 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 into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The next time we encounter some hardship, this is how we can consider praying.
“Dear Heavenly Father,
I seek to honour You in every area of my life and offer myself as a living sacrifice to You.
Romans 12:1 ESV I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Thank you that all who seek You will find You, and that nothing we endure will ever be in vain if we dedicate it to You.
1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
I confess that the challenges I face (name the hardships) are painful and daunting – and I desperately need your love and strength in order to have the wisdom, grace and endurance to behave in a way that glorifies You.
I submit to You first and foremost and choose not to yield to my emotions, thoughts and fleshly reactions. I choose self-control over my tongue and my body language. I choose to die to myself and listen to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and guidance.
James 4:7 ESV Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
If there is any area of unconfessed sin that has given Satan a foothold to oppress me, Holy Spirit, please reveal it to me! I am ready to confess anything that has removed God’s hand and favour upon my life. Please show me what lesson I have to learn.
However, if my circumstances are meant to bring about God’s higher purpose for myself or other people, I will obediently walk on this journey. I invite Jesus to walk this journey with me. He has promised to share my burden with me and give me rest for my weary soul. Thank you, Jesus.
Matthew 11:28-30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Father God, I praise You for my circumstances, knowing that You are always fully in control. Use my life to testify of Your truth, power and love. Thank you for the privilege to be Your ambassador on earth. There is no greater joy and fulfilment than to invest in Your eternal Kingdom.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
In Jesus’ name, amen!”
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