One of the reasons we suffer is so that we may grow as Christians.
The apostle Paul says: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’ (Romans 5:1-5).
Notice the progression of thought. Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character. Character produces hope. And our hope is not disappointed. Thus Paul rejoices in his sufferings.
Similarly, James says: ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything’ (James 1:2-4).
So the Bible is clear. When we suffer, we can become stronger.
We know this principle from the natural world. An old song performed by Jonny Cash says ‘…steel is strong because it knew the hammer and white heat’. Or consider the way a bicep muscle suffers through exercise, but is tougher because of the pain.
And as we look at others around us, we can see many examples of people growing as a result of pain. Some of my favourite stories are those that have a lot of character development. It is satisfying to see rough edges smoothed away through the person’s consistent perseverance in trouble.
And there are many such examples in the Bible. Jacob goes through many trials in Genesis and learns to hope in God more. Hannah prayed most fervently because of the difficult test of infertility in 1 Samuel chapter 1. David’s character develops through his struggles with King Saul.
The Apostle Paul also lived out this truth himself. He wrote to the church in Corinth: ‘To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
So next time you suffer, try and consider it ‘pure joy’ and ‘rejoice’. The gym junkie rejoices in his aching muscles because he knows he’s going to be stronger and look better as a result. So you too can rejoice that your suffering will lead you to hope more in God and you’ll be stronger as a result. You’ll even look better, at least to God.