Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)
If you’re like me, you live in the realm of the obvious, the tangible. Sometimes without warning, your everyday world changes—maybe dramatically—and that’s what you focus on: your child suddenly vomits; a deer leaps into your headlights; the boss lets you go. Whether for five minutes, five hours, or five months… the familiar vanishes, and you suffer.
At a retreat I once attended, the speaker reminded us that a season of suffering might be a result of any of three things: without apparent reason, by doing something wrong, by doing something right.
Without apparent reason
Think about it: in the events mentioned above, the doc says your kid vomited because he caught a bug; that particular stretch of road rarely has deer; you were one of a hundred cut due to the loss of several major contracts. The events just happen.
Doing something wrong
Or maybe your two-year-old had an allergic reaction because you weren’t paying attention to what she was eating; maybe you were driving too fast at night on that well-known deer-traversed highway; maybe you were not performing “as unto the Lord” at work.
Doing something right
Or maybe Satan is mad at you for allowing godliness to pervade your heart and home; maybe your boss doesn’t like you because you are a Christian.
God is the One Ultimately in Control
Right after I was laid off one year, a co-worker said, “This doesn’t make any sense. You were just getting this project rolling… I thought they wanted this one!”
I replied, “You’re right, it doesn’t make sense, and I’m not happy about it, but ultimately I do believe that God holds all of life in His control.”
Nothing happens to us by human will apart from God’s will. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV) So, I can be assured that the Lord’s presence will be with me and He will give me rest (Exodus 33:14) throughout the suffering, and always.
As the retreat speaker stressed, we have to focus not on the why, but on the “who”. The only “Who” that matters in these times is the Lord. What can the Lord teach us about Himself and His purpose? How can He grow us toward maturity in Christ during this season?
If you and I can recall how God worked through a past season of suffering… or if we can move beyond the blur of bitterness and see how He’s working through the current season… the “why” roadblock drops off the radar. After all, as the speaker at my retreat said, “Suffering is one of the best producers of godly men.”
So, though it certainly feels as though it matters a great deal when you’re in the storm, the “why” to suffering doesn’t matter. While we do not relish suffering, there is a purpose ‒ and that is why we can give thanks in all things.
For godly men—for you and me—the reality of, and the focus on, the eternal must replace the dominance of the physical. It’s not just what we see happening; it is what is behind the scene that is important. After all, whether life stinks or we’re “riding a wave,” it’s all temporary. The good, the bad, or the ugly will all blow away like chaff.
In suffering—really anytime—it isn’t the why; it’s the Who. Therefore, give thanks.
And it should arrive as no surprise
That tears are gonna come
If you’re called by His name
You’re sure to suffer some
(from “No Surprise” by Steve Green)