We all have many plans of what we will do in this world. Plans to get an education, to work hard, to amass wealth, to be fit, to get married, to have children, to have friends, to travel the world, to climb Mt Everest.
But something often disrupts such plans: suffering.
Bodily pain can disrupt a career. Enemies can ruin your relationships. Mental anguish can prevent travel, even to the kitchen refrigerator.
So why would God allow such suffering? Surely his job is to fulfil our dreams and aspirations?
There are many reasons that God disrupts our plans with suffering. But one reason is to teach us patience.
Humanity is not a very patient race. We run from one thing to another. Rarely satisfied. Often discontented.
But the Christian is supposed to be patient. Paul lists what a Christian spirit-filled life looks like in Galatians, and he includes patience: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’ (Galatians 5:22-23).
Paul also says in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Now sometimes the Spirit graciously grants patience to people as they travel peacefully through life. But for others, he uses the rod of suffering to teach us.
The Bible often links suffering and patience together. For example, the Apostle Paul commands Christians in Romans to: ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12). And when the Apostle John describes some of the awful sufferings that will occur in the end times, he says that such suffering requires patience: ‘If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints’ (Revelation 13:10).
And it is easy to see the connection between pain and patience. If we’re honest, we know severe suffering is actually quite good at teaching us endurance. When suffering first begins, we may fight and push back, trying to accomplish our plans in spite of the affliction. But if the suffering intensifies, there is little we can do besides give up altogether or learn some patience.
Thus, some of the most patient people in this world are those who have endured great distress. They have learnt to bend their will to the will of God and patiently wait on him.
So next time you suffer, it might be worth asking yourself, ‘Is God graciously teaching me patience?’
Then put into practice his command to be patient in affliction, while looking forward to displaying the fruit of the Spirit in your life more fully than ever before.