Here’s another bonus chapter from Hope When It Hurts. You can download more from The Good Book Company.
In the strangest of strange moments, I find myself wishing for suffering.
Over the years, I’ve seen and known suffering’s ability to bring me near to God. A tool in his hands, chronic pain has taught me dependence on Christ’s strength, and dashed dreams, confidence in resurrection hope. It’s been the soil in which I’ve grown most, and it’s brought me closer to the only One who can give hope.
I’m not saying it’s right to wish for suffering. The opposite is true—we should never wish for something brought about by sin’s entrance into the world. We shouldn’t desire pain, loss, or grief. These are the sorrowful, unfortunate fruits of the fall.
But still, there’s something unique about what suffering does to us, as we walk with Jesus and seek to know and love him more: It accelerates us toward this goal. Author Rankin Wilbourne calls it “the necessary path of abiding,” saying, “Suffering is the extraordinary means God has provided for us to move toward communion with him.”
Abundance and Dependence
If this is true, then what do we make of seasons when we’re not suffering? Are the easier times, the more comfortable times, ineffective? Useless? Less valuable than the difficult ones? What if we forget what we discovered of God in the hurting times?
This has been my fear, and it’s why, when the chronic pain lessens and I seem to be getting stronger, healthier, I have those strange moments of wishing to suffer again.
But this isn’t the answer.
Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Whatever situation. Abundance. Plenty. Any and every circumstance. All things. Paul writes about the reality of a growth-producing, good season—yes, one that lacks suffering. He’s saying that seasons of abundance are also a means to knowing Christ’s strength and practicing contentment in him.
Dependence on Jesus can (and needs to) be learned in both suffering and abundance (though suffering may be the accelerated, extraordinary path). And a key word in this passage is this one: “learned.” Growing in faith, hope and contentment does not happen naturally or by accident, whether you are living with plenty or with nothing, in health or in hurt. Godly contentment is something that we learn in the classroom of abundance and the classroom of need.
Depending on God When It’s Fine
A friend recently wrote of an experience that resonated with me. After suffering a season of chronic pain, his wife enjoyed a time of relief, in the Lord’s kindness. But then her pains returned, and my friend realized how quickly he had forgotten all the lessons of joy in hardship, dependence rather than self-reliance, and leaning eagerly toward the new creation, he’d learned when she was in pain.
Paul says we must learn the secret of facing easier, even prosperous, seasons because we’re forgetful creatures. In whatever situation, whether suffering or abundance, we must learn to be content in the Lord Jesus. We must learn to depend on his strength. We must learn to remain grateful for all we are given.
But how? As we’ve seen, the answer isn’t to wish for suffering. But it is proactively to seek to learn from our suffering, and our lack of it, and to ask God to send us the circumstances that he knows will best teach us, So we seek every opportunity to learn dependence on Jesus, trusting that only he can ultimately supply this growth.
Here are four ways we can do this when things are going well:
How many times does God’s word speak of the forgetfulness of his people? Deuteronomy exhorts us to “take care” four times in four chapters: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (4:9). From the Israelites to you and me, it is a struggle to remember the character and works of God.
So, in times of abundance, we can learn dependence on Jesus by remembering who he is and what he’s done. Remember:
- Jesus’ sacrifice for your sin and fellowship with you in your suffering
- God’s plan to carry you through difficult, but growing, seasons
- The Spirit’s work to transform your heart through pain and increase your hope
- Every spiritual blessing and every good, earthly gift you’ve been given
We can also allow relative ease and comfort to fuel our praise and thanksgiving. We praise Jesus for taking on our eternal suffering—he rescued us from our gravest danger, a sin-laden soul—and we also praise him for relief from hard times now.
Praise keeps us dependent because it doesn’t come naturally to us. Deliverance from suffering may be sweet at first—until forgetfulness sets in, which is why remembering God’s character and works is so important. Remembrance produces thanksgiving, and both keep us mindful of our desperate need for Christ.
If we’re enjoying a season of relief or abundance, it can be easy to forget the sorrow of grief, the stress of confusion, the loneliness of betrayal, and the pain of physical weakness. But many others are in the trenches, and we can learn dependence on Jesus as we walk closely with the suffering and weep with them (Romans 12:15).
How does this happen? As we enter into the pain of suffering people, we freshly feel the weight of suffering, carry some of their burden, serve their needs, and speak God’s truth to them—and all of these require the help and strength of Jesus.
- We see more clearly how suffering pervades everything, not just our immediate sphere.
- We rely on the Holy Spirit to use our presence, words, and actions to encourage the hurting.
- We learn to depend on God as we realize we can’t fix it.
- We pray for our friend and entrust them ultimately into his hands.
Finally, if you want to learn dependence on Jesus in times of abundance, fight your sin. And fight hard. No, you may not be fighting chronic pain anymore, or you may not be struggling financially or relationally like you used to. But God’s word calls sin our most malignant disease and our gravest problem, and sin does not cease when an earthly struggle does. Do not forget that your greatest problem and biggest weakness was never the hurt—it was always your sin. The hurt may be passed, but the sin still needs fighting. “The desires of the flesh” are still “against the Spirit” within you, and you still need to fight to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-17). Comfort is often the seedbed of complacent sin. Fight it.
Ask God to make you more aware of sin through his Holy Spirit, and give you the strength and desire to fight it with his strength. I’ve never felt more dependent on God than when I’ve seen my sin clearly, and recognized my need for a great Savior to rescue me from it.
Friend, if you’re not suffering right now, and are yearning for closeness to God, tell him that. Ask him to use these means of dependence to draw you near and keep you clinging to him. And praise him for the relief! His goal for you is more of himself, so that’s one prayer he delights to answer—whether it be through suffering or abundance, only God knows.
- If you’re presently in a season of abundance, what are some truths you can remember about God’s character and works? You might want to write them down. Then praise God for them often.
- Who might you weep with? Is there a hurting person whose pain you can enter into?
- If you haven’t recently asked the Holy Spirit to show you your sin, will you ask him right now? Is there a particular sin he’s revealed to you that you need help to fight?
- How has suffering grown your faith and deepened your hope in Jesus Christ?
Heavenly Father, you are good and I can trust you, in both seasons of abundance and suffering. It’s been wonderful having some relief, and I praise you for this! But please don’t let me become complacent or forget all you’ve taught me. Please teach me to depend on you right now. Remind me often of what Jesus has done for my soul. Help me see my sin and fight it. And please, make me a servant to a suffering friend who is hurting. I want to know you more through the abundance. In Jesus’ name, amen.
For further meditation: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Psalm 103
Download more bonus chapters at The Good Book Company.