How Am I Supposed to Act During Suffering?
Ever since Adam fell by sinning in the Garden of Eden, suffering has been part of the human experience. Christians are not exempt from the sufferings that plague all of humanity. In fact Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So we need not be surprised when troubles, sorrows, and various kinds of afflictions come our way. The question, though, is how should I respond, how should I act? If we are to act rightly, we first must think rightly.
Although you may be familiar with the promises of God, in times of severe pain and trouble it may be difficult to bring them into focus. So we need to start with having our mind renewed. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1).
We are warned not to be conformed to the world; the counsel of the world is to be rejected. People will give frivolous advice like: “Keep a positive attitude,” or “Just hang in there.” Such empty phrases do not help and, in fact, may add to your frustration.
So where do we start with renewing our minds about God as revealed in the scriptures? “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3). How comforting to know our God is absolutely sovereign and we are not left to flounder with chance or fate. To know this God, Who is all-powerful and is working His will, gives us peace and hope.
In fact we are told, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, Knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:2-3). There are a variety of testings or trials in which we may find ourselves and someone may say, “There is no way I can rejoice, my pain is too severe, my hurt is too deep.”
It is not suggested that we ought to say, “I love being sick,” or “I love to hurt.” The reason for counting it joy when in tribulation is the outcome described in the next verses: “Knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh patience, but let patience have her perfect work , that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 2:3-4). God is at work and will teach you in your trial. How does He teach us? We are called to trust Him and rely on His strength, so don’t look for the escape hatch but “let patience have her perfect work.”
In order to get through the trial and bring honor to the Lord we need wisdom, and we are told to ask for it. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). We need wisdom that we may think rightly and wisdom to correctly apply the teaching of scripture. And God has promised to give it to us when we ask in faith.
The wisdom God gives us leads us to understand our own weakness and how desperately we need the Lord. In some of the dark seasons it might be assumed, “My trouble is so great probably no one else has ever had to endure what I am going through.” At this point it is easy for self-pity to set in, followed by a complaining spirit. But such a spirit dishonors the Lord.
We can find comfort when we review the experiences of the saints of old. First, we look at a Psalm of Asaph. “I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted” (Psalm 77:1-2). Vs. 8-9, “Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?”
The Psalmist is here in a time of deep trouble. The fact is, the mercies of the Lord endure forever, but Asaph thought God had cut them off. But he ultimately admits, “This is my infirmity,” and then concludes, “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.”
So, in our deepest troubles we need to remember the works of the Lord, and as we see what He has done for His people in the past, we are encouraged to claim His promises and trust Him now, whatever our situation may be.
Jeremiah is a classic example of one who had to change his thinking to find hope. “And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:18-24).
What a transformation! The prophet went all the way from misery and feeling hopeless to declaring, “the Lord is my portion and I will hope in Him.” This transformation can be yours as well. You may be in the pit of despair feeling miserable and hopeless, so you need to recall some things. Recall that it is because of the abundant mercies of the Lord that you have made it thus far. It is because of His mercy and grace that you can call Him Father and are invited to call on Him in prayer. Recall that His mercies are new every morning. After saving your soul His mercies have continued to be bestowed on you. So even in your deepest trial you are to maintain a thankful heart and give thanks always.
In your affliction it is vital that you remember and claim the promises of God. Some of them you know by heart, but go to your Bible and read them. You can look at those words on the page and say, “This what God has promised and I believe Him.” Here is a good place to start: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5-6). Wow! What a promise that the Lord will never leave you and the Lord is your helper!
Here is another wonderful promise: “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not” (Isaiah 35:3-4). You may be thinking, “Telling me not to fear doesn’t help, I want to overcome but just can’t.” Ah! But here is the good news, the rest of verse 4 says, “Behold your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.” So you see, there is reason not to fear; help is on the way. The Lord will come to rescue you.
Remember this wonderful promise. You feel very weak from a long-term illness, or feel faint and ready to give up because of a stressful problem that has made you feel like you can’t take anymore. But here is the help you need: “He giveth power to the faint: and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).
Can you imagine that, you who know your weakness? You who have been ready to give up,
now up and running because you have waited upon the Lord. You need spiritual strength and physical strength, and the Lord has promised to supply it.
There is one more thing we need to be sure we think about. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18).
It is hard to believe our affliction could be considered light and only for a moment, but compared to the glory to come, that is the fact. Our problem is we are consumed with the things which are seen. We are looking at and reviewing every detail of our trouble. We look at our frail body and are frustrated with its limitations. We think about our hurts and disappointments and drag ourselves down. We need to be thinking about those things not seen. We need to be thinking about the greatness of God, “The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad thereof” (Psalm 97:1). Think about His love, mercy and grace. Think about Jesus Christ, the Savior of fallen sinners. Think about the fact He is coming back some day.
Think about the fact that one day you will suffer the last pain and shed the last tear and go home to be with the Lord, to see and be with Him for ever. One day you will be part of that heavenly chorus lifting up songs of praise to the Lamb that was slain. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Lasserre Bradley, Jr. is the Director of the Baptist Bible Hour and one of the pastors of Cincinnati Primitive Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH