31 May Suffering: The Unavoidable Course in LEADiscipleship
The Reasons & Responses of the Suffering Christian in Life and Leadership
The world is groaning under the weight of suffering – diseases, hunger, wars, joblessness, natural disasters, crime, heartbreaks, bareness, failure and injustice, among others.
History, too, is packed with stories of people who suffered through the same things that bring suffering to millions today. Fortunately, we’re abit better off nowadays due to modern technology and discoveries in medicine and agriculture.
Have you ever suffered in your life?
I have. A little.
As a young single man, I experienced the pain of unreciprocated love twice. In primary school, I had a crush on a girl that lasted over ten years. When I completed campus, I moved on. Months later I ‘fell in love’ with another girl at church, and waited for her for over four years without success. No relationship ever started with them, but the pain of rejection was real and beneficial in many ways as you’ll see in this article.
One other suffering I experienced that changed my life happened at university.
In my final year, my parents failed to raise tuition. I packed my stuff and went back home. I wondered why God failed me yet I was serving and living for Him.
Unknown to me, that was a detour that led to discovering God’s call on my life and sharpening my writing skill. It was during that time I began training students in schools and began writing my first non-fiction book.
The objective of this article is to help a Christian appreciate and understand suffering from God’s perspective. You’ll be amazed to learn that suffering is not our enemy but a blessing from God as sojourners on earth.
A Simple Definition Of Suffering
Suffering is the state of experiencing physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual or social pain and hardship.
Other words that are often used in the Bible to describe suffering are trials, troubles, tests, hardships and tribulations, among others.
Suffering plays a fundamental role in our discipleship and leadership
Dr Yaw Perbi says, “My integration of both then has become: “Everything rises and falls on leadership’s discipleship!” Everything does rise and fall depending on the extent to which leaders are discipled. Hence the word LEADisciple/LEADiscipleship. Leadership and discipleship really are two sides of the same coin!”
The subtitle for the HuD Group’s ‘LEADischipleship’ theme for our 20th anniversary year is becoming a fuller fisher, friend and follower of Jesus Christ. Suffering plays a key role in this becoming.
6 Sources of Suffering in the World
- The State of a Fallen World
God formed man and placed him in a beautiful garden where He provided everything man needed to flourish and accomplish his mandate. But sin brought a curse on man and all creation.
“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned…For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 5:12, 8:22.
What would you say is the greatest cause of suffering in the world? I think sin or rebellion against God is.
SIN was and is the greatest problem of man and the world today.
It’s the main cause of the suffering we see everywhere. It’s the reason why Jesus came to earth to shed His blood on the cross.
- God Brings Suffering
God is holy and justice and will not leave sin unpunished. He brings diseases, wars, poverty and bareness among other sufferings as a punishment for disobedience. Read Gen 12:17, Exo 15:26, Deut 28:27, 58-60, 1 Sam 5:6, Lev 26:14-46.
He says, “I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things.” Isaiah 45:7
“The rich and poor have this in common: The Lord made them both.” Proverbs 22:2
- Satan Comes To Steal, Kill And Destroy
Satan instigates wars, torments people with diseases, brings poverty and incites persecution, among others.
But Satan has no power over Christians unless God permits him. He asked for permission to attack Job. Apostle Paul faced a tormenting situation and God didn’t take it away but provided His grace (2 Corinthians 2:7-10).
- The Law Of Sowing And Reaping
Sometimes people make wrong and sinful decisions that lead to suffering for themselves and their families. For instance, sexual immorality brings 18+ ugly and universal consequences like unwanted pregnancy, diseases, murder etc.
Our actions have consequences, whether good or bad.
“People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.” Proverbs 19:3
- The Actions Of Other People
Many people are suffering because of injustice, corruption and sinful actions of other people.
- Suffering For Doing Good
Christians who hate the world and refuse to conform to the standards of the world will experience pain. They discipline themselves to remain obedient to Christ. They deny themselves the pleasures of the world. Because of this, they’re hated and persecuted because they refuse to join their persecutors in sin. (1 Peter 4:4)
Therefore, obedience will cost us and be painful but the commands of the Lord are not burdensome because we obey out of love and what He has done for us. Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give is light.” Matthew 11:30. Also 1 John 5:3.
The yoke and burden of sin and eternal torment is heavier and unbearable compared to the temporary sufferings of this fading world.
God Is Ultimately In Control
The challenge a sufferer faces is discerning whether a particular suffering has come about because of God, sin, Satan, self or systems of the world.
Sadly, because of too much suffering in the world, some ministers of the gospel preach that Christ came to eliminate all suffering and therefore no Christian should suffer harm, early death, diseases, failure or financial lack. They quote the blessings of obedience in the Old Testament and promises of the millennial kingdom and ignore scriptures that show the suffering of the righteous in the present world.
When we’re not sure of the source of our suffering, we must remember God is in control over every detail of our lives. And no matter what we go through, He knows, He sees, He cares and is always present with us, even through the valley of death.
Bible Characters Who Suffered
– Job suffered the death of his children, lost his animals, properties and his wife advised him to curse God and die.
– Abraham’s wife suffered bareness for many years and waited decades for their first child.
– Joseph was persecuted by his brothers and suffered as a slave and prisoner for over 13 years before he became the prime minister of Egypt.
– David suffered persecution from King Saul, betrayals, rebellion from his own and other family struggles.
– The Israelites suffered slavery in Egypt, and endured other kinds of suffering in the wilderness and even in the Promised Land.
– John the Baptist lived in the desert, ate locusts and honey and preached for a few months. He accomplished his purpose of preparing the way for Christ and was beheaded.
– All the 12 disciples of Jesus suffered ridicule and persecution. Apart from John, they all died violent, persecutory deaths. Even John is said to have survived being boiled in hot oil and was thereafter left in seclusion on the island of Patmos. The early Christians and many others through the generations lost their properties and businesses, went through imprisonment and torture for the sake of the gospel. Read Foxe’s Book Of Martyrs about these persecutions. Available for free at https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/22400.
– Apostle Paul suffered hunger, thirst, beatings, shipwrecks, false accusations, dangers on his travels, prison and a ‘thorn in the flesh’. 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Though God had destined him to suffer for His sake (Acts 9:16) he wasn’t ashamed to boast in his sufferings.
“…so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
The Suffering Messiah
The Jews expected a militaristic Messiah who would rescue them from the rule of the Romans, restore their kings and make them prosperous. He would be the offspring of David who would sit on the throne and reign forever.
But Jesus came as the suffering servant. And they missed Him.
In Isaiah 53, the prophet predicted that Jesus Christ would be despised and rejected, a man of sorrow and grief. He would be beaten, pierced, oppressed, die and be buried like a criminal.
“But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.”
How can suffering be a good plan? We’ll find out shortly.
Where is God When it Hurts?
Twelve years ago, I read the book Where is God When it Hurts, by Philip Yancy. I wanted to understand why there is so much suffering in the world.
One key point Yancy makes in his book is that pain is a blessing to mankind. If our bodies didn’t feel pain, we would be in constant danger. But the pain receptors on our bodies alert us to danger so we can avoid and withdraw from harm, something sufferers of leprosy can’t do. Pain is a blessing to our bodies, but how is pain in other areas of our lives a blessing?
I can understand if the wicked suffered but why does a loving, just and almighty God allow the righteous to suffer as He watches?
For instance, where was God when Cain killed Abel? He warned Cain of his evil intention to harm his brother but did nothing to save Abel’s life.
Why did God allow Job who had a great testimony to suffer under Satan’s grip? Why the suffering of so many Christians in the past and today?
It’s difficult to understand the cause or reason for every suffering Christians experience. God has reserved many things to himself. In fact, it’s futile to try to pinpoint why unless God in His mercy reveals it.
The truth of God’s care and concern for us is enough to give us confidence that whatever we go through is not in vain. After all, God is not a sadist who just enjoys the suffering of people. (Lamentations 3:21-33)
The greatest tragedy of life is not going through suffering but missing the essence and lessons of the suffering. God always has a purpose or reason for our suffering even when we don’t know it or see it.
10 Reasons Why Christians Suffer
#1: In A Fallen World, All Creation Suffers Because Sin Entered The World And Disrupted God’s Good Plan For Mankind And Creation
“For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:22
#2: Christians Are Destined To Share In Christ’s Suffering To Enter God’s Kingdom And Reign With Christ
“And to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles.” 1 Thessalonians 3:3. Also Acts 14:22.
Consider the words of Jesus Christ himself,
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ, we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” Romans 8:17. Also 2 Timothy 2:12.
#3: Suffering Forms & Tests Christ-Like Character In The Life Of A Christian
Going through the pain of unreciprocated love twice taught me patience and commitment.
“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.” Isaiah 48:10. Also Ecclesiastes 7:3-4.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1:2-4. Also, Romans 5:3-4.
Therefore, let us imitate Christ in our conversations, conduct and character. Anytime, everywhere, let us ask ourselves, “What Would Jesus Do?”
“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.” Deuteronomy 8:2. Also, 1 Peter 1:6-7.
“If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small.” Proverbs 24:10.
#4: God Disciplines Those He Loves So They Can Repent And Share In His Holiness
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.” Psalms 119:67. Also read Psalms 32:3-5.
“And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,
“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”
….But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” Hebrews 12:5-11
#5: Suffering Helps Us Bear The Fruit Of The Spirit And Perfects Us For Eternity
“He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more…” John 15:2. Also Galatians 5:22.
Note that God allows His servants to suffer for prolonged periods before entrusting them with responsibilities or before they see His promises to them. Preparation is paramount for lasting success in life, leadership and ministry. Woe unto a leader who ascends to the throne before they’re ready!
Also, suffering is a reminder that this world is not our home. It’s not our promised land of milk and honey. It’s fading away. That’s why a Christian who loves the world has no love of our Heavenly Father in Him. 1 John 2:15-17.
#6: Suffering Pushes Us To Find Solutions To Problems
Most of the inventions in the world came as a result of solving problems. Perhaps your suffering is meant to push you out of your comfort zone so you can find a solution that will be a blessing to you and many others.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says an English proverb.
#7: Suffering Deals With Our Pride And Teaches Us Humility
In high school, I assured my friends that no girl can ever reject me because I was confident in my abilities to win any girl’s heart.
Year later during my second rejection, I remembered those words and repented. The Holy Spirit brought my pride to the surface as I learnt that it’s God who grants a wife not by my strength but by His vision and provision.
“ even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.” 2 Corinthians 12:7
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:6-7
#8: Through Suffering, We Experience The Personal Comfort Of The Holy Spirit So We Can Comfort Others
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Jesus’s suffering qualifies Him to be our high priest because He suffered as we do.
“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:15-16
#9: Suffering Is An Opportunity For God To Demonstrate His Power
“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness…” 2 Corinthians 12:9
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” John 9:3
#10: Suffering Causes Us To Encounter God In A Personal Way, Experience His Attributes And Hear His Voice
“I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes’. Job 42:5
Many Christians know God as a healer, provider and protector…because God revealed himself to them through their suffering.
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ― C.S. Lewis
The more we learn and experience the attributes of God in our lives, the more we love God and become more intimate with Him. Then obedience to His commands becomes easier because we know He loves us and we love Him.
Clearly, the main purpose of God’s trials is not to weaken but to strengthen, not to destroy but to build and not to bury but to bring to life. He weighs the trials and releases them into our lives not to stop us but to equip us for the journey ahead.
What seems like the greatest problem or trial of your life may be your greatest opportunity to turn your life around.
Hard times come to us dressed in different overalls. For some, it’s the lack of school fees, loss of a loved one, betrayal by friends, struggles in studies, failure, family issues, rejection, and unemployment, poor health among others. But none of this pain will be in vain if God is for you.
12 Biblical Responses Of A Christian To Suffering
When people suffer, the common unhealthy response is to;
– blame someone in their lives like parents, spouse, uncle etc
– blame the devil, demons, witcraft and ancestors or generational curses
– deny the reality and confess only positive things
– run and hide from God and people
– question and complain before God
– be indifferent to the suffering of others
The result of this unhealthy response is bitterness, unforgiveness, fear and lack of peace in their lives. Thanks to God for giving us a proper way to respond to suffering.
#1: Rather Than Seek Sinful Shortcuts, Allow The Hard Times To Work Perseverance In You, So You Can Become Mature And Complete
“Dear brothers and sisters when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1:2-4
#2: Rather Than Doubt God’s Love, Remember He Is With You And Entrust Yourself To Him
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world…
So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” 1 Peter 4:12-13,19
#3: Rather Than Complain And Pass Blame, Cast Your Cares Unto Jesus For He Cares For You
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7. Also Psalm 37:23-24
When people cause you suffering, Jesus says, “Forgive them. Pray for them.” Why? Because they don’t know what they’re doing.
#4: Rather Than Focus On The Pain, Focus On The Harvest Of Righteousness And Peace You Will Gain When It’s Over
“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.” Hebrews 12:10
#5: Rather Than Be Preoccupied With Your Suffering, Find Ways To Help Alleviate The Pain Of Others
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
Many times, we dwell on our problems and forget to ease the suffering of others. Remember the Sunday school song, “the way to be happy is to make someone happy and have a little heaven down here.”
#6: Rather Than Give Up, Find A Solution To Your Problem
“ Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24
#7: Rather Than Pull Away From People, Confide In Someone For Counsel, Encouragement & Prayer
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25. Also Ecclesiastes 4:9&10.
#8: Rather Than Be Sulky And Anxious, Give Thanks To God And Remain Joyful In Every Circumstance
“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!…Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:5-7. Also 1Thessalonians 5:18.
That was the response of Paul and Silas when they were stripped, severely flogged and incarcerated. Their midnight praise and worship caused an earthquake that set them and everyone else free. Even the jailer and his family were set free from their sins (Acts 16:16-34).
#9: Rather Than Deny The Reality Of Your Suffering, Acknowledge It And Allow The Holy Spirit To Comfort You Through The Pain
“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
#10: Rather Than Run From Suffering, Welcome Suffering As God’s Gift And Tool To Refine You Into His Vessel And Prepare You For Eternity
“Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.” Ecclesiastes 7:3
“3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5
#11: Rather Than Seek Deliverance Before Time, Wait For The Lord’s Deliverance
“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” Isaiah 64:4.
“Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:30-31
God can deliver you today. But if He chooses to allow your suffering to continue, trust Him and wait. If you knew what He knows and what He sees, you’d let yourself go through the same.
#12: Rather Than Ask God WHY You’re Suffering, Ask WHAT He Wants To Accomplish Through The Suffering
“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.” Romans 8:28
Please note that it’s impossible to respond to suffering in the ways above in our own strength. Unless someone heard and believed the true gospel of Jesus Christ to become born again, they can’t experience God’s comfort, grace and perseverance to endure suffering. Do you know the true gospel?
7 LEADiscipleship Lessons From Suffering
- Suffering forms a leader’s character. We imitate Christ’s character as His fuller followers. And character is the foundation of godly leadership.
- In times of peace, plenty and power, leaders who began well may fail to finish well. Through suffering, God reminds us that we’re mere human beings who can do nothing without Him. This should draw us to become fuller friends of Jesus Christ at every step of the journey.
- As leaders and disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be ready and willing to serve others as He served while on earth. We walk in His steps. This grants us the opportunity to become fuller fishers for Christ because we’re the light and salt of the earth. We must care for those who are suffering because God cares for them deeply –orphans, widows, prisoners, poor, hungry, thirsty and refugees, among others.
- The Trinity suffers with us. God does not enjoy making people suffer. In fact, He suffers with His people (Isaiah 63:9). He gives His presence and grace. Jesus suffered on earth and therefore understands our suffering (1 Peter 2:23). And the Holy Spirit comforts us and groans in intercession on our behalf during our suffering (Romans 8:26).
- As leaders, we should not be quick to rescue people from every suffering because God may be using it to shape them. It will be like cutting a caterpillar out of its cocoon; you’ll abort the process, thus weakening and killing the butterfly.
- Leaders should not refrain from disciplining their followers and children. If we love them, we should discipline them so that it may go well with them. Eli, Samuel and David failed to discipline their children and God disciplined them instead.
- Leaders should not make promises of God’s deliverance from suffering to their followers because they may not always know God’s plan concerning a person’s suffering. Rather let them point the sufferers to the Sovereign God.
in this fallen world, Christians and non-Christians experience suffering. The good news for Christians is that their suffering is not in vain. They understand the source of suffering in the world and the solution God provides.
Where Christian’s are going after this life, there will be no more suffering.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4
And no matter what we go through in this world, God is in control – not Satan and his demonic and human agents. God uses every suffering we experience as His children for our good.
My dear brother and sister in the Lord, be strong and courageous. God is in us, for us and with us.
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Thank you for reading this article. I welcome your comments and questions – as iron sharpens iron, let’s sharpen each another.
Note: Most of this article has been adapted from Hirwa G. Israel’s upcoming book RIPE Christian Discipleship.
Bible illustrations are from Sweet Publishing; http://sweetpublishing.com/freebibleimages.org
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Hirwa G. Israel is a child of God, married to Damalie and blessed with two girls. His life assignment is to teach and disciple Christians to maturity, and to equip and coach leaders to accomplish God’s purpose in their generation. He serves as the CEO of The Hud Group Uganda and team leader of Pass On Leadership Africa.