God is sovereign. As such everything that happens in our lives is within His control. His control over the circumstances of our lives never slips even for a minute. The suffering that come into our lives never sneak up on Him and catch Him off guard. The sovereignty of God doesn’t mean that everything that happens is His will. However, it does mean that He is able to turn any circumstance, no matter how bad, into a win.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NKJV)
This passage is pretty important. It doesn’t say God causes all things. It also doesn’t say that all things that happen to us are good. It says God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are seeking to fulfill His purpose for their lives. What this means for us is that God is so great that He can work through the worst suffering and bring good out of it. What good can God bring out of suffering?
Suffering Strengthens My Faith. God wants us to have a strong faith in Him. The faith that God wants us to have is not just a faith that believes in Him. He wants us to have a faith that believes Him. There is a difference between believing in God and believing God. When we believe in God we believe that God is there. When we believe God we trust in Him and His Word and this trust is evidenced in our lives.
There are two things that strengthen our faith, hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:13) and suffering. Think of your faith like a muscle. You can read and understand all the books in the world on kinesiology, watch every world’s strongest man competition, talk to them about what they eat, write down how, when, and how long they workout, and yet still be physically weak. Your muscles do not grow just because you increase your knowledge. They only grow through resistance training. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge of how muscles grow is good because it will keep you from wasting your workout time, but the knowledge in and of itself will not grow your muscles. If you want your muscles to grow then at some point, you’re actually going to have to do resistance training.
Faith, like muscles, needs resistance to grow. Our faith grows big and strong through the resistance provided by trials.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles 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 (NLT)
Going in and coming out of suffering produces endurance. You never really know how strong your faith is until it is tested to the point that continuing becomes a gut check. When the gut check happens not only do we develop a greater understanding of how strong our faith is, pushing through the gut check and coming out on the other side strengthens our faith and causes our faith to grow. Enduring suffering strengthens our faith. It is in suffering that our faith is tested and proven. Nothing will ever demonstrate that you truly believe and trust God like going through suffering and coming out on the other side with a stronger faith.
Suffering Forges Christ-Like Character In Me. While endurance is good, it is not the ultimate purpose of suffering. Romans 5 tells us that endurance is simply one step in the process. Endurance enables us to develop the kind of character God wants us to have: Christ-like character. The word for character used in Romans 5:3-4 was used for metal that had been purified by fire and had the junk removed. One of the purposes of suffering is to purge our character of impurities that keep us from being like Jesus. Christ-like character is forged in the fires of suffering.
“He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness.” Malachi 3:3 (NKJV)
As I understand it, silver is purified through heat. The silver is heated until it melts and then the impurities rise to the top. When they rise to the top they are scooped out and thrown away. This purification process continues until the silver takes on a mirror like quality that allows the refiner to see himself in it. God often uses suffering to cause the impurities in our character to rise to the top so that He can scoop the junk out of our lives. He will do this until He can see Himself in us. It is so important here that we understand that the suffering that God allows into our lives are not meant to discourage us or defeat us. They are meant to purify us and produce something valuable in our lives, a Christ-like character.
Suffering Provides A Course Correction For Us. There is some suffering in life that come not as a result of God’s desire to strengthen our faith or refine our character, but His desire to correct the course of our lives. I want to be careful here because there are two equal and opposite mistakes we can make here. One is to say that all suffering in our lives is a result of our sin or mistakes and is God’s chastening of us. The other is to say that no suffering we experience in our lives are a result of our sin or mistakes and are not God’s chastening of us. We have to find the balance here because sometimes they aren’t BUT sometimes they are.
“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” Hebrews 12:7-9 (NKJV)
First we need to know that God disciplines His children and only His children. Being able to live in sin without the chastening of the Lord doesn’t mean that God is okay with our sin. Instead, it really reveals that we are not truly born again children of God.
“For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:10-11 (NKJV)
The ultimate end of God’s discipline for a believer is that they would be partakers of His holiness. God’s desire is that we would be holy just as He is holy (1 Pet 1:15-16). God is committed to our being holy and will do whatever it takes to produce this in our lives. To produce this in our lives He will continually discipline us when things in our lives aren’t as they should be. He does this to get us where He knows we need to be.