We must regain a redemptive view of hardship in the West. There’s a subtle, pernicious lie in western Christianity that if you are pleasing to God, you will not suffer. In fact, God will give you wealth, health, and prosperity if you just follow Him. With this view, as soon as life doesn’t go our way, we do stupid, rebellious stuff because “God let us down,” or we think this is punishment for our past and miss the point. I want to share with you a few thoughts I have found myself contemplating when life gets hard, and if you’re not going through a hard time now, tuck this away in a safe place. You’re gonna need it!
Hardship Has a Purpose
I remember struggling with God during a difficult season. I kept asking, “Why? What was I doing wrong?” It’s usually a bad assumption—“I’m suffering because I’m doing something wrong.” If suffering is not a direct consequence of some willful disobedience, this is usually not the reason. Then what’s the point of hardship? “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:17-18). Suffering and hardship, done right, produces something eternal that far exceeds our earthly rewards.
As I was out weeding an overgrown part of my yard, asking God “Why?” My finger got poked by one of the many thorns growing up against my will—it bled. I sensed God asking me, “If my own Son suffered in this evil world, why do you think following Him means you will never suffer?” In fact, all throughout scripture we get reminded that suffering and hardship comes to all humanity, it’s part of living in a world gone astray. But in Christ, our suffering can be redeemed—traded in for something of great value—a share in His glory to come.
Maybe instead of punishment, it’s a privilege we should make the most of: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). When hardship, trials, suffering comes our way, we usually expend most of our energy trying to get out of it. This is not wrong to alleviate suffering or hardship, but sometimes we can’t get out of it. If you can’t get out of it, get into it. Make something of it. Here’s how:
I Can Be Faithful
You might not be able to change your circumstances, but you can be faithful to God through it—and that redeems what you’re enduring (makes something of value of it). Usually when we suffer, we also get tempted: “See, God doesn’t care about you—you deserve some relief” (ie. some sinful escape to temporarily feel better and do you more harm in the long run). Instead, realize that God is with you to help you through this, and as you seek Him and trust Him to do the next right thing, He sees and He will reward with a glory greater than anything you could aspire to in this life.
Jesus addressed a church of people about to suffer, and promised that their faithfulness counts: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Revelation 2:10, italics mine). You can be faithful in this hardship, you can seek Him, trust Him, stay faithful to Him and not turn away—that redeems suffering.
I Can Love Well
You might not be able to change the people around you (who might be causing the most pain), but you can love well—and that redeems your suffering. Jesus made this really clear: “I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven…If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much” (Matthew 5:44-46). Truth be told, it may be easier to love our enemies when suffering than it is to love those closest to us. When hardship hits, we take out our frustrations and disappointments on those closest to us. Don’t waste this opportunity—when you love when it’s hard—it counts. When you lean into God’s strength and ask Him to fill you with a supernatural ability to love those around you—it will be rewarded.
I Will Not Be Disappointed
“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:2-5). There hope when it’s hard—not that you can change the circumstance or the people—but you can be faithful, you can love well, and for this you will not be disappointed.