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Dealing with Suffering

For the past few weeks we’ve been talking about living as aliens and if you’re just joining today for the first time – that might seem like a slightly odd sermon topic. But the reality is, as Christians, we ARE aliens. We are foreigners, strangers, short-term visitors on planet earth. We will spend maybe 60/80/100 years here and then woosh – we’re off to our eternal home – a place called Heaven. A place where there is no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears, and no more sorrow – Just life as God intended it.

But as you know, we’re not there yet. We are still in a place where there is pain, there is suffering, there are tears and there are sorrows. And as Christians we are not immune from all that.

There are no promises in the Bible that tell us that Christians will be free from pain and suffering. If anything, the Bible promises us the opposite – that there certainly will be pain and suffering for anyone who wishes to follow Christ. Jesus says in John 16:33…

 “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” John 16:33

So how do we deal with that? How do we deal with pain and suffering, not just in the world in general, but in our own lives? Does God have a purpose for our pain (for our trials and sorrows) or is it just part of living in a sin-filled world? I mean, everyone experiences pain and suffering, but as Christians, as aliens in this world, how are we supposed to respond when we go through those dark, difficult times in life?

As I mentioned last week, right about the time that 1 Peter was written, the Christians in Rome were experiencing a very severe persecution at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero. So they were very well acquainted with pain and suffering. And so Peter takes a large part of this letter he is writing to them to address this issue of suffering. So that’s what we want to look at today. What does God (though Peter) have to say about our suffering? How do we understand the trials and sorrows we go through in life? And while we may not come away with all the answers today, hopefully through our study this morning we can come away knowing that there are answers and that God allows these things in our lives for his good purposes.

Now the first passage that I want us to look at this morning is 1 Peter 4:12-16 & 19. And of course, we’ll jump around to some other verses as well, but that’s where we’re going to start.

12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 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.

14 So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. 15 If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. 16 But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! 

 19 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 4:12-16 &19

So from this passage we can presume that the Christians that Peter is writing to are going some very difficult times. Now we don’t know exactly what trials these are – perhaps they refer to Nero’s persecution – where Christians were being imprisoned and put to death in all kinds of horrific ways. Perhaps they refer to other difficult things that they were going through. We don’t really know. But Peter calls them “fiery trials”. So that makes me think that whatever it is, its some pretty tough stuff. And while we may not have ever been thrown into prison or thrown to the lions because of our faith, I think probably all of us can relate. All of us have gone through some sort of “fiery trials” in our own life. I can think of at least three of our church families right off the top of my head that have gone through massively difficult times in the last year alone. We’ve all been there.

And that’s why Peter says first of all “Don’t be surprised when you go through these fiery trials.” They are going to happen. Jesus promised it. History has proven it. You will go through fiery trials. It shouldn’t be a surprise. But what might be a surprise is what Peter tells us to do in our trials.

Verse 13 He tells us… Instead of being surprised, be very glad. Verse 14. So be Happy… What?

Think back to the last time you went through one of those fiery trials – when life threw you a curveball and your world came crashing down around you. When you went through that, were you thinking “Boy, I’m just so glad that God allowed this happen to me”? Probably not.

It was probably more like “God why are you doing this? Why are you putting me through such a painful thing?”

So is Peter off the deep end to tell us to be very glad? To be happy? I know that we said earlier, that as Christian, as aliens in this world, we are to be holy. That means we are to be different. We need to respect our authorities even when they don’t deserve that respect. We are to work hard for our bosses, even our lousy bosses. We are to love our wives – even when they are difficult. And wives are to honor our husbands, even when they’re undeserving – and all these things that are very different from what the world does – but to be glad when we hurt? To be happy in the midst of our suffering? Isn’t that beyond being different – isn’t that borderline crazy? Impossible even?

And you know, Peter isn’t the only one to tell us to be glad in our trials. James says the same thing – In James 1:2  it says…

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” James 1:2

Pure joy? Are these guys loopy or what? What is it that Peter & James can see in the sorrows and trials of life that cause them to tell us to be happy and to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kind?

Its almost like they see our suffering as something beneficial – something that is actually for our good. It’s like they see the pain and the trials of this life as blessings, rather than curses. Could that be true? Could our suffering actually serve a positive purpose?

There is a song on the radio these days called Blessings. And its written by a lady who was a successful Christian singer/song writer. She had a great ministry in a church of about 4000, she had recorded a #1 Worship Song in 2004. But in 2006, her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And though they prayed and prayed for healing, for some reason, God wasn’t answering their prayers like they hoped He would. And so in that very dark and difficult time they they went through, they began asking the very questions about suffering and pain that we’ve been talking about today. And so this song, Blessings, was written out of all those questions that they were asking during that time. And I think that some of the answers that they came up with can be very encouraging to us today, so I’d like us to listen to that song this morning. It’s called Blessings – by Laura Story.

Laura Story – Blessings

What a question: What if the trials of this life – the pain, the suffering, those difficult dark times that we all go through – are God’s mercies in disguise? What if those things are God’s reminders for us that we are aliens – and that this world is not our home? What if God uses our suffering to draw us closer to Himself?

Those are some pretty incredible questions, aren’t they? But you know, I think there’s a lot of truth in that song. And many of those truths come right out of 1 Peter. So what I’d like to to this morning, is to encourage you with three truths about suffering. I don’t know what fiery trials you’ve gone through in the past, what you’re going through right now, or what you will go through sometime in the future, but I hope that these three truths about suffering will give you some encouragement and hope so that you can actually be very glad and consider it great joy when you go through these difficult times.

Truth #1: Suffering is temporary.

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.” 1 Peter 1:6

For a little while. Now if you’re like me, you’re idea of “a little while” might just be different from Peter’s idea of “a little while” – especially when it comes to suffering. If I’ve had a cold for a couple of days, I think I’ve suffered for a little while. But when it drags out to a few weeks, then I’ve been suffering for a long time! We’re not very patient when it comes to suffering. But that’s why its so important to keep an eternal perspective.

Paul talks a little bit about keeping an eternal perspective in 2 Corinthians 4.

 8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 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! 18 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 4:8-10, 16-18

It goes right back to our whole alien theme. This world is not our home. There is an eternity waiting for us where all the hardships and and all the sorrows and all the trials that we are going through now, will all be quickly forgotten. So we have to fix our gaze on eternity and remember that no matter how difficult life on earth becomes – it is only temporary. When Christ returns, He will do away with sin and death and suffering forever – and everything will be right again. I find great encouragement in Revelation 21.

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 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.”

 5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Revelation 21:1-7

That’s the reality that we have to look forward to. Our suffering, as difficult and as long as it seems now, is temporary. Soon we will be home and suffering will be no more! What an encouragement that is! So that’s truth #1. Suffering is temporary

Truth #2. Suffering Causes Growth

Our physical muscles illustrate this very well. The only way our muscles grow stronger is if they are stressed to the point where they are actually injured on a small scale. The muscle fibers break down and then it’s the healing process and the rebuilding of those fibers that makes them stronger than before.

You’ve all experienced sore muscles after a strenuous day of work. They’re sore because they’ve been injured – they’ve been damaged. But that’s exactly what is going to cause them to grow and become stronger. The saying is true – no pain, no gain.

And that’s also what happens in our spiritual lives as well. No pain – no gain. We actually need difficult things in our life so that we grow.

And there are several passages that we could look at for this point, but perhaps the clearest is in that verse in James that we started looking at earlier.

 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4

It’s like that line in the Blessings song – “What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know God’s near.” I think it’s quite possible that there are some lessons that we can only learn through some of these painful experiences. There is a level of intimacy and closeness with God that we can only have by going through those difficult times where we have no options but to fully rely and trust in Him.

If we were to take the time today, I’ll bet that many of you could tell us stories of how, because of some difficult times in your life, you came to know God in a new and more intimate way. How you’ve discovered that the trials of this life really are God’s blessings in disguise.

And that leads us to our final Truth about Suffering.

#3. Suffering is part of God’s plan.

Now its important to note that God doesn’t cause all suffering. Suffering comes from a variety of sources – sometime we suffer because of someone else’s sin, sometimes we suffer the consequence of our own sin, sometimes we suffer because we take a stand and do what’s right, sometimes we suffer because simply because we follow Christ. There are many reasons why we suffer.

But while God does not cause all suffering, He does cause all suffering to work together for good. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:28.

“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

God causes everything to work together for our good – even our suffering. Sometimes that’s hard to believe – but it’s true. Peter assures us of this at the end of his letter in 1 Peter 5:12.

 12 I have written and sent this short letter to you with the help of Silas,whom I commend to you as a faithful brother. My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace. 

1 Peter 5:12

Believe it or not, what you are experiencing – those fiery trials that you’re going through – those difficult times, those painful experiences – are all part of God’s grace for you. He’s using it for your good and His glory. We can’t always see it. There are things we go through that we may never see any good come out of it, but we can be assured, that everything we experience is all part of God’s grace for you. So in the words of Peter…

6 Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1Peter 1:6-7

The trials of this life are difficult – and don’t want to gloss them over or make light of them – I know there are some very painful things in life we go through. But I want to encourage you this morning: Don’t forget – you are an alien. This world is not your home. You have a home that is waiting for you – where all the messy, painful stuff of life will be gone. And in the meantime, you have God who created you, who loves you like crazy, and will see you through anything this world throws at you.

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