The realities of suffering are often approached with questions in the form of why. This is understandable, especially when you consider how alone and uncertain one can feel when they are in a place of hardship. While asking questions as to the why of suffering is not wrong, to stay in that place misses the opportunity to seek the face of the Lord as to the what. What are you trying to show me God? What are you trying to reveal in me God? What is it you have in store with this God? Questions like these align our hearts with God’s purposes in suffering. He is revealing our hearts and exposing where we have trusted creation above the Creator.
Consider several realities that are consistently revealed in suffering.
1. Suffering exposes the heart.
Deuteronomy 8 provides incredible description and insight into God’s purposes for the suffering of His children during the 40 years in the wilderness. Verse 2 says, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart.” It wasn’t as if God did not already know what was in their hearts. He used trial and suffering to expose their hearts so that they might see them the way He did. While walking them through trials he also specifically cares for their physical needs (verse 4). This is an incredible picture of God’s mercy and grace for His children.
2. Suffering exposes need.
When an unrealized need becomes realized it divulges misplaced dependency. Matthew 19:23-24 puts it this way, “And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.’” Where there is no lacking there is no recognized need. The rich person Jesus is speaking about has need, but due to their wealth they do not recognize their need therefore, keeping them from seeing a need for a savior. God has created us as dependent beings whose needs are perfectly met through him. Suffering brings hidden needs to the surface and places them next to our greatest need in Christ.
3. Suffering exposes where our treasure is.
Luke 12:34 says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Trials can bring about a sense of great loss and it is in this loss we see where we have placed our allegiances. Our heart is described as a well-spring. What Jesus describes here is the certainty that what we value most we give our heart to. Loss that comes through suffering and sorrow reveals what matters most to us. God uses this suffering to draw our hearts towards the reality and longing for the greatest treasure—Jesus Christ.
4. Suffering exposes where we are not humble.
Richard Sibbes, in his work The Bruised Reed, describes suffering as the bruising God uses to show us our deep need for Christ. He says, “This bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the Gospel becomes the Gospel indeed: then the fig leaves of morality will do us no good.” In its essence, the prideful heart always looks for salvation and deliverance outside of Jesus. Suffering often times turns our self-sovereign world upside down in such dramatic ways that we quickly see how small and unable we are to do much of anything. In 2 Corinthians 12 we see God use suffering to humble Paul so that in his weakness his strength would be in Christ alone. God uses suffering to bring about humility and dependency up Himself and reveal where are hearts are prideful in not looking to Him. He draws us in through brokenness and struggle so that our strength can be solely found through Him.
Followers of Christ have to get to the place in their pursuit of the Lord where suffering is not looked upon as wrath but rather as a redemptive pursuit of our hearts. God draws near to the brokenhearted. Suffering exposes the ways in which we drift from God and His unceasing pursuit of our hearts; suffering shows God’s desire to draw us to preserver with a strength that can only be found in Him.
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In your life and ministry, what has suffering exposed?