How to Suffer Well

What are the secrets of handling suffering well?  The Biblical definition of suffering is to undergo mental or physical pain. Here are the Biblical secrets of how to endure and to grow during times of suffering.

Surviving the sudden onset of suffering  

Did you hear it?  Oh, I’m sure you did.  I heard it so loud that I thought that something popped like a barrage balloon from World War II.  It was my wrist.  I had crawled into the back of my work truck looking for a data cable.  After a fruitless search I started to back out.  I put my right hand down on the bed of the truck, leaned my weight over on it as I have done so many times…and POP!  We will not delve into what occurred in the immediate minutes following this accident because God has forgiven me for the words I thought…and said.

How about you?  What has happened to you today or yesterday or last week or…whenever it occurred…that has caused an immediate shift in your plans, and could be, in particular, devastating?  Was the car you were trying to sell side-swiped while sitting on the street?  That was my car.  Ready to sell, ready to get rid of and now I have to deal with the police for the hit and run aspect, and the insurance company for the claim aspect.  Maybe you were knocked down by a cow and had both arms broken, and one elbow and wrist shattered.  (Yeah, that one is real, also.  Did not happen to me.)

How bad can it get?!?

Bad.

The real question is: What will you do with the opportunity before you to glorify God?

The two different viewpoints on suffering

Mt. of Beatitudes in GalileeHow the world sees the bad stuff in your life and how God sees it are two very different points of view.  We know what the world says, but what does God say?  Let’s step back in time and hear the words of Jesus on the side of that mountain as He spoke to a huge crowd:

            “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me.  Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven.  For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5: 11-12, HCSB)

Consider what Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firmly in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.  This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God.  For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.”  (Philippians 1:27-29 NIV)

Wait…what?  Suffer?

An inspiring example of suffering well

I remember the announcement from The Village Church that Teaching Pastor Matt Chandler had suffered a seizure and was in the hospital.  As it turns out, Matt had suffered the seizure due to having a tumor on his brain.  It’s a long word that I’m not even going to try to spell, but the word meant that the doctors had to act fast and cut out the tumor and some of his frontal lobe.  I’m not going to get technical with where the tumor was precisely located, but it was in a bad spot.  Matt was given no guarantees that after he awoke from the surgery he would be able to speak.  Think about that.  Matt, as a communicator of the gospel of Christ, might not be able to talk.

In the subsequent months and years following his surgery Matt endured chemotherapy and other drugs I can’t spell, followed by visits to the doctor to monitor his progress.  Matt is doing fine today and is the vibrant Teaching Pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.  However, the one thing I remember from Matt’s sermons following his stay in the hospital and recovery was that he came to the following conclusion: Matt wanted to suffer well.

Wow.  Suffer well.

How to suffer well

Why would anyone want to suffer well?  Why go through the pain, humiliation, loss, and shame that may come with suffering?

Look folks, I have said before that the Christian life is not sunshine and roses.  Jesus said you will suffer and be persecuted for his name’s sake.  Paul said that people will oppose you for the sake of the gospel, and that you will suffer for Christ.

How do we suffer well?

Print this on a poster and hang it in your home.  Get it burned into a piece of wood and let it be a decoration in your living room.

Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 2:16-18, HCSB)

A severe sprain is not a barrier to my writing.  I may have to use the biblical method of typing (seek and ye shall find) with one finger on one hand, but my mind still works.  I can still write and compose.  Time off from work provides me with time to minister to others, even in my limited capacity.  I can minister to my family.  I can still be about the Father’s business.  I can even stand with Matt Chandler and ask God that I may suffer well in my present situation in life.

Life is going to go wrong, and sometimes horribly so.  What will you do in that moment and the moments following?  Will you take the advice of Job’s wife to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9, HCSB) or will you choose to follow the example of Paul who said: “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain”? (Philippians 1:21, HCSB)

Once again, this is so important that I must repeat this particular passage.  In your particular situation consider the words of Paul to the Philippians.  This time from the Holman Christian Standard Bible:

Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents.  This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your deliverance – and this is from God.  For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.”  (Philippians 1:27-29, HCSB)

A powerful Biblical prayer for sufferers

In your hurt, pain and suffering, pray this with me:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!  If you, O Lord, should mark iniquitites, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130, ESV)  “Lord, hear my cry, hear my plea as I call upon the One who is King eternally.  And as I raise my hands I lift my heart, to the risen Lord of all, you are.”  (“Hear My Cry” by David E. Shelton and Jonathan Mills, © 2009, ASCAP)

If you are suffering and need to know hope, this is my prayer for you:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26, NIV)

 David sheltonCopyright David Shelton 2013.  All rights reserved.