Don't Waste Your Suffering
I met a lady years ago and began inviting her church. She was not opposed to Christianity, she just had been out of church for years. One random Sunday she showed up and loved the service. She even filled out a connect card and asked for follow up. A close member of her family needed counseling. Our church reached out and met her need. She began to attend more regularly. She listened intently to the messages.
One day she asked to meet with me and said, “The most wonderful thing has happened. I feel like I’ve been saved and I want to become a member of the church.”
I was thrilled. But shortly after that conversation, she began to experience extreme adversity. Suffering and trouble vexed her. Trouble in her family. Trouble with her health. Trouble with her ex. Trouble with her kids. Trouble at work. One wave of suffering after another crashed into her life. Finally, she lost her job unexpectedly. And that was it.
She was gone. She would not respond to calls, texts, or emails. Months later, I saw her outside of church. She tried to lose me in the frozen foods aisle but couldn’t shake me. I gently asked her what was going on. Here’s what she said. “Why would God do this to me if He loves me.” I had an answer. But I soon discovered that she wasn’t asking the question. She was making a statement.
In her view of Christianity, suffering and God’s love are mutually exclusive realities. They were incompatible. She viewed adversity as a sign of God’s displeasure, which also meant she viewed prosperity as a sign of God’s favor. The Bible supports neither of those views. In fact, Scripture warns us against embracing them. Paul certainly casts them down in this passage. He says we should rejoice in our sufferings. Say what!
That lady missed an incredible opportunity to worship Jesus, grow closer to God and test her faith. Instead, she bailed. I have not seen her since. She missed Romans 5.
There’s gold in this chapter. There’s glory in this chapter. There’s help for sufferers in this chapter. Paul says something that, on the surface, sounds insane: “We rejoice in our sufferings.” Catch the force of that word rejoice. It means to boast with jubilation. To exult. To brag. To celebrate. But can we celebrate suffering? Yes we can. We must!
What does God accomplish through our suffering? Paul lists three benefits. Suffering GROWS us, PROVES us, and PREPARES us.
Suffering GROWS You: Suffering “produces endurance” (v. 3). That means “to remain under pressure.” We naturally want to escape trouble and abandon pressure—like the lady I met in frozen foods. But tribulation produces something beautiful and valuable: endurance. Suffering puts muscle on our souls. It’s the gymnasium and classroom of Christianity. It strengthens and grows us deep down inside, where it counts. We are supposed to know this. Paul says “knowing.” It’s a foregone conclusion, but easy to forget when the pressure comes. Paul’s argument is simple: “Suffering will produce in us what we cannot produce on my own. God will take us where we do not want to go in order to produce in us what we cannot achieve on our own.”
Paul uses the plural tense here. “We rejoice in our sufferings” This is not just a truth for apostles or elite Christians. This is for all of us! James says the same thing: 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. —James 1:2–4
The word for sufferings is a word that means pressure or affliction. It was used for squeezing olives to get the oil and squeezing grapes to get the wine. When we get in the real pressure, when we get squeezed, what oozes out of us?
Immersed in the waters of trouble and suffering, we soften. Those experiences draw us in closer to God—like a magnet. And we change. Paul says in another place:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. —2 Corinthians 1:8–9
So don’t let trouble drive you away from God in doubt and disappointment—like a wedge. Let it drive you toward God in dependency and need—like a magnet. Grow!
Suffering PROVES You: Suffering produces endurance; and endurance produces character (v. 4). An easy life doesn’t do that. Character is forged in the crucible of pain. We’re squeezed, we stay put, and God shapes us. He builds character in us.
The word means ‘examined’ or ‘tested.’ We test gold to get the impurities out, we test silver to make sure it's pure, we test a person to see what’s inside them.
We learn to trust God in the trials, we learn to experience His sustaining power in the middle of suffering. It increases our faith. It purges us. It sanctifies us. It proves to us that God is in us, for us, and with us. Our faith is genuine. The Gospel is true.
Suffering allows us to say, “Look what God is doing inside of me—because of Jesus. Look how powerful the Gospel is. Look how great Jesus is!” When suffering tests our faith, we receive a wonderful sense of authenticity.
People who have never suffered are likely to have naïve stories about life’s meaning. Suffering exposes the holes in our worldview. It shatters those shallow belief systems and philosophies that have not yet been tested by life. Suffering proves Christianity.
Suffering PREPARES You: Paul continues with his argument that suffering produces a hope that does not disappoint (some translations say, “make us ashamed”). Put your hope in anything but Christ and you will be disappointed, disillusioned, and ashamed.
Suffering has a way of exposing false hopes that are detached from Jesus. It reveals their fragility, vulnerability, and danger. They are unsafe and unpredictable. Money, power, beauty, health, and success—all unsafe nesting places for true hope.
Suffering helps true hope emerge like a light house so we can calibrate our latitude and longitude and chart a safe course. Also, if we Listen to our trouble and pain, they tell us something more glorious is coming: a new creation and new earth. Suffering shows us:
- Sin is horrible—look what it did!
- Freedom is coming—look what it will be like!
Jesus is our only hope that will not disappoint. When I was in high school, everyone in math class cheated off the class genius named Michael. He aced every test. He took copious notes. He finished every study guide. Mike was everyone’s great hope for passing a mid-term math test. I’m not sure if Mike had a cruel sense of revenge, or simply had a bad day, but he bombed the exam. And so did everyone who trusted in him for their hope. They were disappointed and ashamed. Why?
Because Mike had a bad day. Mike was an intelligent 10th grader. He was a math genius. But he was nobody’s hope. His bad day is a reminder of what awaits those who, in the midst of suffering, pin their hopes to dangerous saviors. Your doctor may have a bad day. Or your politician. Or the stock market. Or your body. Or your face. Or your bank account. Is that where you are pinning your hopes? If so, heed the warning: Heartache is coming.
But God has a better plan. Trust Jesus. And rejoice in your suffering. It has a divine purpose. But God’s purpose in your suffering cannot compare to his purpose in the suffering of His Son. 1 Peter 3:18 says: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God”
Through his suffering, Jesus brought us to God. Until we rejoice in the suffering of Jesus, we’ll never rejoice in our own sufferings. Don’t waste your sufferings. View them as gifts, not curses. Steward them well. Let them grow you, prove you, and prepare you.