Table of Contents
As we are nearing the end of tHis study, I hope this has been beneficial and gives you peace that passes our human understanding (see Philippians 4:7). You can find a listing of previous chapters under the heading Bible Studies in the menu above. Unless otherwise noted, the Scriptures Alcorn uses are from the NIV Bible.
Positive Outcomes #1 – Joy
If Satan can’t dethrone God, we certainly can’t. What do we think our rebellion would accomplish? Whose interests does it serve? People who choose resentment, distrust, and bitterness against God, adopt a cause doomed to fail.
Christ will one day say to His children, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, ESV). Joy is in God alone. We can’t find any joy outside of Him, for all secondary joys flow from the primary joy of His presence.
God permits rebellion while guaranteeing its failure. Moreover, what will rebellion buy in the meantime? A loss of joy, and for those who do not surrender to Jesus, a permanent loss of joy in the world to come.
We harm no one through bitterness as much as we harm ourselves. Someone told Alcorn, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
In the face of evil and suffering, responding to God or others with bitterness, distrust, and accusations bears no good fruit. However, responding in honest brokenness and turning to God in submission, faith, and trust yields untold riches of peace and comfort.
Joy in Times of Adversity
Christian slaves in 19th century America sometimes were forbidden to sing. Therefore, when they went to the river for their chores, they would hang wet blankets around themselves then fill water pots and sing into them to absorb the sound.
They couldn’t hold inside their songs of praise. The slave songs reflected deep sorrow and deep joy at the same time.
One day you could face evil or suffering to such a degree that you may wonder if the God you love has turned His back on you. Your trial may last a day, a week, a year, or a decade or more. But I doubt your life will look worse than those Christian slaves stripped of liberty and dignity with families routinely torn apart, yet who couldn’t refrain from singing praises to God.
We would do well to spend our days preparing to worship God in hard times. Those who have long lived in those times testify of joy in their midst, as surely as slaves found joy in times of great adversity.
Positive Outcomes #2 – Perseverance
Scripture commands us to rejoice in suffering because of the perseverance it produces in us.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” – James 1:2-3
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.” – Romans 5:3
Persevering is holding steady to a belief or course of action. It’s steadfastness in completing a commitment.
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” – John 8:31
Adversity itself doesn’t cause our joy rather our joy comes in the expectation of adversities by-product, the development of godly character. God doesn’t ask us to cheer because we lose our job, or a loved one contracts cancer, or a child has an incurable birth defect. He tells us to rejoice because He will produce in us something money can’t buy, and ease will never produce. The precious quality of Christ’s exalting perseverance.
At the end of His life, Paul said,
“I have fought the good fight I have finished the race I have kept the faith now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness” – 2 Timothy 4:7-8
God gives each of us a race to run. To finish well we must develop perseverance. The Christian life is not a 100-meter dash, but a marathon. Moreover, those who lack patience, endurance, and discipline will drop out of the race.
Positive Outcomes #3 – Compassion
Suffering can make hearts tender and give us greater love and mercy for others. Many physicians and nurses testify to this phenomenon when they return to their vocations after long periods of personal suffering. When they’ve been the patient, they grow far more sensitive to patients’ needs.
Suffering gives us the ability to touch people’s lives in ways that healing might never afford. The comfort God gives us in our suffering prepares us to comfort others who suffer as we have.
One of God’s purposes in our suffering is to prepare us to serve others especially those who suffer as we have, for instance, from an addiction, miscarriage, abortion, infertility, divorce, or the loss of a spouse or child. Paul says:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
The common ground of suffering breaks down barriers of wealth, education, vocation, and age. Moreover, we see that verse 4 states “We can comfort those in any trouble.” We can comfort others in suffering even when our own suffering lies in a different area.
Therefore, you don’t have to see your child die, get an abortion, or endure a divorce to offer comfort to someone who suffered in any of those ways. However, you must have suffered. The resume of every encourager and every counselor will contain suffering.
Positive Outcomes #4 – A New Ministry
God uses suffering to call us into a new ministry.
Robertson McQuilkin, at the peak of his career, resigned as president of Columbia Bible College in 1990 to become the full-time caregiver for his wife. Robertson did this because his wife Muriel, who had Alzheimer’s, was much happier when he was with her.
Years later in a radio interview, he was asked if he had any regrets about the transition from college president to caregiver. McQuillan said,
“I never think about ‘what if’. I don’t think ‘what if’ is in God’s vocabulary. So, I don’t even think about what I might be doing instead of changing her diaper or what I might be doing instead of spending two hours feeding her. It’s the grace of God, I’m sure.”
The interviewer asked a follow-up question: “But do you ever think about what you might have given up to care for her?”
“I don’t feel like I’ve given anything up. Our life is not the way we plot it or plan it… All along I’ve just accepted whatever assignment the Lord gave me. This was His assignment. I know I’m not supposed to have that kind of reaction, but you asked me, and I have to be honest. I never went to a support group. I had enough of my own burdens without taking on everybody else’s.
Sometimes I have accepted an invitation to speak at one of these. A lot of angry people. They’re angry at God for letting this happen – ‘Why me?’ They’re angry at the one they care for, and then they feel guilty about it because they can’t explain why they’re angry at them… I say, in acceptance there’s peace.”[i]
Positive Outcomes #5 – Drawing Us Close to Others
Suffering draws us close to others, deepening friendships.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
We serve people best when we point them to their greatest source of help, Jesus.
“Since he himself [Jesus] has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” – Hebrews 2:18, NLT
A Dying Woman’s Question
A dying young woman exhibited genuine joy in Christ despite her suffering. One particularly difficult day she asked her pastor why God hadn’t let her die. He didn’t know what to say until a few days later when he met an unfamiliar young couple at church. They told him that they had visited this woman in the hospital earlier that week. They spoke of how she had touched them on the deepest level. The young man said, “We went home and decided that we want to become Christians.”[ii]
And so came an answer to This dying woman’s question: God had kept her alive to bring these people to Christ. Many other answers for God’s delay might exist, but if this were the only one, the suffering woman knew it would have been enough.
1 Corinthians 12:26 speaks of the body of Christ: “If one part suffers, every part suffers.” Sometimes God wraps His arms around us in the form of another person. Fixing a car, mowing the lawn, trimming a hedge, or cleaning someone’s gutters may touch a person at a far deeper level than saying the right words. A visit, meal, plate of cookies, book, or movie may be precisely what they need.
People will remember your phone call
or card less for the word said than the act done.
Suffering can help us move forward with a sense of focused devotion and service. Because Randy Alcorn has written books about Heaven, he stated that almost weekly he receives letters from those whose loved ones have died.
One man wrote, “We lost our three little girls in an airplane accident 10 months ago…. my wife and I decided to pursue God through this tragedy. We had to choose life or death and God has been faithful to comfort and change our lives from the inside out. After suffering this loss, we know that the only important things now are the ones that will last for eternity.”
One pastor and Bible teacher made this interesting observation:
“The most cheerful people I’ve met, with few exceptions, have been those who had the least sunshine and the most pain and suffering in their lives. The most grateful people I have met were not those who had traveled a pathway of roses all their lives through, but those who were confined, because of circumstances, to their homes, often to their beds, and had learned to depend upon God as only such Christians know how to do. The “gripers” are usually, I have observed, those who enjoy excellent health. The complainers are those who have the least to complain about.[iii]
Positive Outcomes #6 – Hope
Our suffering can be a source of hope to others. We are no substitute for God. But we do serve as His ambassadors. David Powlison a Christian counselor stated that although God alone is the blazing sun, we can be 3-watt night lights.
In the darkness,
even a tiny light can bring hope.
That we’ve come through suffering may comfort those who don’t know us; Indeed, it may help someone long after we’ve died.
After Alcorn posted a blog about the suffering Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther endured, he received a note:
“Wow. I was depressed because once again I was not feeling well. It’s amazing to realize these great leaders suffered so much. It gives me hope, as I suffer from near-constant pain. Thanks. This really encouraged me-I needed it!”
Would Luther or Spurgeon have guessed that centuries later their suffering would be a source of comfort to God’s people?
Who is being, and will be,
touched by your suffering
that you won’t know about until eternity?
Evil and suffering overwhelm us when we focus on the immediate, but our perspective improves when we focus on the eternal. Jesus calls His followers citizens of Heaven. When we think more about dinner out tomorrow than the banquet on the New Earth with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we lose sight of Heaven and surrender the present joy that comes in anticipating it.
Scripture tells us we should see our present sufferings in light of future glory.
“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 4:18
We must fix our eyes on things that, for the present, remain invisible.
Minnie Broas lay dying of cancer; Within weeks her decimated body would stop working and she would have to leave behind her husband and son. They gave much thought to eternity, speaking openly of God’s sovereign purposes. Minnie wrote online,
“We can’t forget that this is about His glory and we will see and have seen His glory. He is faithful! We are never without hope. We have a very big God. His plans and purposes are still perfect and will forever be perfect no matter the number of our days. To him be all glory, honor, and praise!”
Minnie’s husband, Daniel, signed off his wife’s blog update with Psalm 30:11-12.
“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
That I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!”
It’s precisely because they knew they will give thanks to God forever that they could give thanks to God during their suffering. Six weeks after Minnie posted her letter, she departed to a better world.
The Hope of Promised Resurrection
Present suffering paints boldly across our lives the hope of promised resurrection, encouraging us to wait patiently, knowing it will come at just the right time. In reference to the coming resurrection, Paul wrote,
“For in this hope [of the redemption of our bodies] we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.” – Romans 8:24-25
To many of us, “hope” sounds wishful and tentative, but biblical hope means to anticipate with trust. We expect a sure thing, purchased on the Cross, accomplished and promised by an all-knowing God.
God remains faithful, of course, even when circumstances seem to say otherwise. Hope endures because God’s promises remain true no matter what. King David wrote,
“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” – Psalm 30:5, NASB
The night may seem long, but the truth is this: once it comes, the morning will never end. Neither will the joy.
Positive Outcomes #7 – Our Suffering Makes Jesus Visible
We like to serve from the power position. We’d rather be healthy, wealthy, and wise as we minister to the sick, poor, and ignorant. When those preaching God’s word have little personal familiarity with suffering, the credibility gap makes it difficult for them to speak into others’ lives. However, our suffering levels the playing field. People hear the gospel best when it comes from those who have known difficulty. Paul says:
“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22
The Staines Murder
Our suffering makes Jesus visible to the world. Graham Staines left His home in Australia to minister to lepers in India for 34 years. He and His wife Gladys served Christ by serving the poorest of the poor.
At midnight on January 23rd, 1999, a mob of militant Hindus murdered Graham and his two sons, ages 11 and 6. The killers invaded a Christian camp in the jungle where Graham had ministered and set fire to the Jeep in which Graham and His son slept. When the fire finally cooled, believers found the charred body of Graham Staines with his arms around the bodies of his sons.
In the most appalling way, his wife Gladys and their daughter Esther found themselves alone. Their response to the tragedy appeared on the front page of every newspaper in India.
“I have only one message for the people of India,” Gladys said. “I’m not bitter. Neither am I angry. But I have one great desire: that each citizen of this country should establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who gave His life for their sins…. Let us burn hatred and spread the flame of Christ’s love.”
Gladys stunned the nation by saying that God had called her and Ester to stay in India for that reason. “My husband and our children have sacrificed their lives for this nation; India is my home. I hope to be here and continue to serve the needy.”
At the funeral, masses of people filled the streets, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. They came to show respect for the Staines family and demonstrate solidarity against the killers. Although persecution of Christians had recently increased, the president of India stated,
“That someone who spent years caring for patients of leprosy, instead of being thanked and appreciated as a role model should be done to death in This matter is… a crime that belongs to the world’s inventory of black deeds.”
At the conference where we met Gladys and Esther, an Indian national leader told us about the impact of their response to the murders. He said the people of India asked,
“Why would a man leave his wealthy country and serve lepers in India for 34 years? Why would his wife and daughter forgive the killers of their family? Why would they choose to stay and serve the poor? Who is this God they believe in? Could it be that all we’ve been told about Christians has been lies? Could it be that Jesus really is the truth?”
He stated that many Hindus had come to Christ through their witness.
Dispersion and Persecution Results in the Gospel Being Spread
Luke chooses an interesting word in Acts chapters 8 and 11 to describe the scattering of the church through persecution: the Greek word diaspro, which is used for scattering seeds. In Luke’s eyes, those early Christians didn’t leave as evacuees or refugees; They went as missionaries.
The death of Steven and the ensuing wave of persecution enabled the church to grow in new and exciting ways. What Satan intended for evil, God used for good.
Comfort, Affluence, Safety, and Freedom Often Hinder the Church
“The cares of the world and the delight in riches and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word and it proves unfruitful.” – Mark 4:19, RSV
Sometimes those who profess to preach the word choke it and make it unfruitful because of their obsession with this world and its riches. The very things that we imagined would help spread the gospel often produce apathy, self-centeredness, and preoccupation with security.
God uses the suffering we try to avoid, to spread the gospel and build His Kingdom. Jesus said,
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” – John 12:24
Suffering creates a sphere of influence for Christ that we couldn’t otherwise have. Paul said,
“It was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you,” – Galatians 4:13
Some think this means that he changed his itinerary to recuperate in Galatia. But whatever the case, God specifically used Paul’s illness to give him a new sphere of influence that brought the gospel to Galatia.
Positive Outcomes #8 – Suffering and Persecution Ministers to the Persecutors
Richard Wurmbrand’s Tortured For Christ influenced Alcorn profoundly as a young Christian. As one example shared, In Romania, guards tied prisoners to crosses and smeared them with human excrement. From a human standpoint, the perpetrator seemed beyond redemption; yet some of the guards who did these unspeakable acts saw the inexplicable love, devotion, and faith of the Christians they tortured.
Wurmbrand told of guards coming to Christ while beating Christian prisoners, then confessing their faith and being imprisoned and tortured themselves.
Jesus saw our suffering as an opportunity to bring the gospel:
“But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” – Luke 21:12-13, ESV
Larry Waters says,
“How the believer deals with undeserved suffering may be the primary witness of God’s goodness justice grace and love not only to the sufferer but to a nonbelieving world.”[iv]
Positive Outcomes #9 – Acts of service
Suffering leads us to fresh spiritual life and an expanded ministry to others. Joni Erickson Tada spoke of a woman pregnant with a disabled child who cried out in desperation to her husband, “Things will never be the same.” His response? “Maybe God doesn’t want them to be the same.”[v]
Our suffering gives family and friends who become caregivers an opportunity for character growth. In some cases, it’s not the sufferers but those around them who benefit most.
Alcorn and His mother had agreed together and prayed to that end, that they would gladly suffer any loss that could bring Alcorn’s father and her husband to faith in Christ. Nine years after Alcorn’s mother died, His father came to Christ. But the two events had an unmistakable connection. The day Alcorn’s father turned to Christ, he sensed his mother rejoicing with him in his spirit.
None of us wants to “burden” our families but we should have the humility to serve God even if it means serving him from disability, incontinence, and dementia. Hard as it is for us to embrace this as a calling, it may be what God wants to use in our families. And if our weakness can be used by God to bring them spiritual strength, it’s a price we should be willing to pay.
God Calls Us to Suffer for Service and Growth
God called Christ to suffer for our atonement; He calls us to suffer for service and growth. God doesn’t call us to repeat Christs’ atonement, but to accept it.
He does call us, however, to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him (see Luke 9:23). That involves saying no to present desires and plans to say yes to God and others.
The Good Samaritan cheerfully took up his cross by setting aside his schedule and commitments, giving his time and money to help the beaten man lying in the ditch (see Luke 10:25-3).
We want deliverance from suffering. We don’t want our loved ones to die. We don’t want economic crises, job losses, car accidents, or cancers. Our prayers and often our expectations boil down to this: Jesus should make our lives go smoothly.
That’s what we want in a Messiah. However, it is not what God wants.
Jesus is not our personal assistant charged with granting our wishes. While He sometimes does not give us what we want, He always gives us what we need.
Only when we regard suffering servanthood as our calling, as Jesus did, will we have the ability to face it as he did:
“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:3
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” – 1 Peter 2:21
God Often Uses People in Direct Proportion to Their Suffering
To put your sufferings in perspective read the biographies of missionaries and reformers of people such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Harriet Tubman, and countless others. You’ll find the pages riddled with suffering, all of which God used to build their characters and expand their ministries.
Rather than depressing us, these stories inspire and challenge us to say no to time-wasting trivia, seize the day and invest it in what matters. As Robert Moffett said,
“We have all eternity to celebrate our victories, but only one short hour before sunset in which to win them.”[vi]
Maranatha! Until next time, I am Passionately Loving Jesus, the Anchor of my Soul.
- [i] “A Promise Kept,” interview with Robertson McQuilkin, Family Life Today, August 14, 2008.
- [ii] John Tal Murphee, A Loving God and a Suffering World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 115.
- [iii] M. R. Dehaan, Broken Things (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1948), 21.
- [iv] Larry Waters, “Defining the Missio Dei,” March 3, 2009, www.dts.edu/media/play/?MediaitemID equals 80e938-f6-fc00-4c1b-bee2-2cbde5015202.
- [v] Joni Erickson Tada, True Women’s Conference, October 10, 2008.
- [vi] Robert Moffat, quoted in Eternities: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases (San Diego: ICON Group, 2008), 3.