by Kay Carey
As Holy week and Easter are fast approaching, I have been reflecting on the meaning of suffering once again. According to a dictionary, to suffer means to feel or bear what is painful, disagreeable or distressing, either to the body or mind.
Jesus experienced incredible physical suffering and extreme mental and spiritual suffering so that those who believe in Him could have eternal life and become God’s children and co-heirs with Christ. We too on earth go thru some degree of suffering in our lives although it’s a tiny fraction of what Jesus went through. Although no one wants to sign up for the school of suffering, one may know and experience that suffering can be a powerful instrument of spiritual growth.
The Bible teaches us, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) If we fail to experience suffering and difficulties in life, our fallen hearts will become more affectionate toward the comforts and pleasures of this world. John Piper said: ‘‘Suffering is appointed to us in this life as a great mercy to keep us from loving this world more than we should and to make us rely on God who raises the dead.”
It took me a while to discover that there is a purpose for our afflictions. The following scripture reminds me of that point over and over. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ” (2 Cor. 1:3-4) I learned over the years that our personal suffering gets our attention. C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
I used to question God: “Why?” in times of suffering. But I learned from various trials in my life that those times have been the shaping classes of my soul in order to understand and let him break and mold me for His greater purpose. The correct response would be “What can I learn from this?”
Back in 1999, God taught me a great lesson through Elizabeth Elliott who happened to be the keynote speaker of an event I attended. She spoke about how God shapes us as our Sculptor. She stated that the sculptor’s necessary tools are the hammer/mallet for hard blows, the chisel for softer blows and the file for taking off rough spots. That’s how our Master shapes us through trials and sufferings in order to make us more like Him in order to fulfill His perfect purpose in each of our lives. I personally can testify to this truth in my life. That’s why I define “suffering” as “blessing in disguise”. Regardless of its cause – and despite its discomfort – suffering remains a gracious gift from the hand of God, who loves and disciplines us in order to purge us from our sin and sanctify our hearts.
Recently I ran across a note which I wrote a couple years ago around the Easter season. I wrote down a text message from a friend that morning. It goes like this:
“Good Morning Kay! I read this today and I thought of you –
‘My dear God, I have never thanked you for my thorns. I have thanked you a thousand times for my roses but not once for my thorns. I have always looked forward to the place where I will be rewarded for my cross as a present glory itself. Teach me, O Lord, to glory in my cross. Teach me the value of my thorns. Show me how I have climbed to you through the pain of pain. Show me it is through my tears I have seen my rainbows.’
As I told you I wanted to pray over you for physical healing some time ago. The Lord told me it was your thorn that kept you close to him... May we rejoice in what keeps us close to Him even when it is painful. Have a blessed week!”
This message blessed my heart and assured me that my suffering is being used for His purpose in shaping me daily. In spite of my journey with my physical challenge and its related issues, God has been my source of encouragement and strength because he gives me joy and hope through Jesus Christ who lives in me. My hope and prayer is that we can begin or continue to thank God for our thorns and suffering and realize they are the sculpting we need. We can learn from them because He is our Master Sculptor and we are just his masterpiece.
May you be encouraged as He is risen and alive! Happy Easter!