My church has gone through, and is still in, a very difficult season of suffering. Loved ones have died. Congregants have been diagnosed with cancer and other various illnesses. Marriages and families are struggling. Conflict has arisen between friends. I could fill this column with the problems.
As a pastor, this has caused me to step back, reflect and pray. “God, what are you doing in our church right now? Are you punishing us for our sin?” As I’ve prayed, I remembered a prayer that I lifted up to God last fall and even in recent weeks. “Lord, sanctify our church, make us holy, cleanse us from sin.” One of my primary jobs as a pastor is to pray for my church (Acts 6:4); and not just prayers for individual members but for the church as a whole. I am supposed to pray for the spiritual development of my church, and one of the ways I do this is by praying that we would become holy. And I believe God is answering this prayer through suffering.
God makes us more like Christ through suffering. Therefore, as hard as it may be, we should “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). We don’t usually grow in our faith through prosperity. In fact, when things are going well, we tend to neglect the spiritual disciplines that draw us near to God; things such as prayer, Bible reading, meditation, and worship. When all is well in life, we don’t feel a need for dependence upon God. Consequently, we distance ourselves from God in many ways and our spiritual lives suffer. But God has a way of bringing us back.
My daughter is now 3 ½ years old. She’s becoming very independent. In many cases, she doesn’t need to daddy to hold her or tend to her needs, because she can do it herself. But when she hurts herself or has a need, who do you think she runs to? That’s right, her mother! And sometimes her dad, too. The point is, she often doesn’t come to us unless she’s in pain or has a need. We’re the same with God. We too can become very independent people. We think we have it all together and we can manage our lives just fine. But when we do this, we don’t grow and we don’t spend much time with God.
So, God has ways of bringing us back to Himself. He throws a trial our way, because He knows that through the trial you will learn to depend upon Him more. And through suffering, God will make your faith shine. Peter says that God brings trials “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). God puts us to the fire to burn the dross and refine the gold.
Dear Christians, are you suffering right now? Have you stopped to consider that your Heavenly Father is in control of your circumstances and that He is using it for your good and His glory? Don’t waste your suffering! Draw near to God during this time. Experience the fullness of His sanctifying power and grace. Most importantly, stay focused on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Thanks for reading!
Brandon Sutton is the Senior Pastor at Blue Ridge Christian Union Church. You can email him at Pastor2334@gmail.com