“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 [NASB]
I have been very reluctant to write what the Lord has been teaching me this week because He is still teaching me about pain and suffering. I am fearful of wearying those not currently afflicted by continuing to discuss suffering, but the hope of potentially encouraging someone walking through a similar valley compels me to share now. Prompted by ongoing staggering waves of pain, the past several weeks I have spent a lot of time meditating on scripture regarding suffering. It has been such a blessing to go back to well worn scripture and understand many passages much more deeply through the lens of affliction.
Through His Word we know that suffering is to be expected (2 Tim. 3:12), Satan is roaming around desiring to steal, kill and destroy, and a faithful follower of Christ will not go unnoticed by him (John 10:10; 1 Thess. 2:18). We are not guaranteed deliverance from what afflicts us this side of heaven, but we are guaranteed abundant comfort in our affliction through Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 1:5). He also promises to use what afflicts us and our resulting pain for good, to redeem both (Rom. 8:28). I have touched on these points in other writings since the accident, but what has come into much clearer focus this week is the fruit of suffering. While there is a variety of fruit produced, the fruit most prominent in my mind this morning is that suffering stimulates the eternal focus in believers. Our affliction creates a deep and passionate hunger and longing for the return of Christ and our home-going. Scripture tells us if we persevere through our suffering, rejoicing in Him and His provision, when He comes we will “rejoice with exultation,” we will rejoice exceedingly. The bitterness of suffering makes the sweetness of Christ sweeter. Though we suffer now, we will be filled with joy, exceeding joy, rejoicing with exultation in “a little while” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). As our eyes are fixed expectantly on Him, longing for His return, that which is temporal fades away and a greater urgency for that which is eternal emerges. Through suffering the priority of knowing Christ and making Him known is heightened. In this manner God is glorified through our suffering.
It is okay to mourn. Mourning, grieving, pain, agony and sorrow are acceptable and appropriate reactions to death. They in and of themselves are in no way indicative of hopelessness or a lack of faith or joy. Scott and I regularly weep together. For almost twenty-four years I was blessed to not know the feeling of my hair wet with my husband’s tears, but now I know it well. We have been deeply afflicted by the enemy, and yet we have Hope. We cling to the sure and certain Hope promised in His Word. We have certain Hope we will see Sarah again, Hope that God will redeem the taking of her physical life, Hope that God will redeem our suffering, Hope that God will comfort and sustain us, Hope that because of our suffering we will “rejoice with exultation” at the return of Christ. Because we have this Hope we have joy intermingled with our suffering.
We went on our annual beach trip last week, the first time for the rest of our lives without Sarah. The very night Sarah left us we promised Katelyn, Kristen, and Sophie that we would strive to find joy as a family again and we would make every effort to continue to live life fully with them. As a result we have already tearfully walked through many painful firsts. Just a few being our first family walk, our first meal at the kitchen table, our first Sunday at church, our first time getting a table for five at a restaurant, our first 4th of July, and now our first beach trip, all without sweet Sarah. Sarah, Sophie and Kristen sing together all the time, but especially when we travel. For years it has delighted my soul to hear their voices melded together singing everything under the sun, anything from The Jackson Five to Veggie Tales, to hymns of old, to classic eighties, to modern pop, and always the Alabama Fight Song, of course. We all knew the first long drive would be hard in the absence of her sweet voice, indeed it was extremely so, but Kristen and Sophie sang. We shared precious memories of Sarah, we cried, but we sang, too. Joy and suffering intermingled.
I confess, we are that family that memes are made about. Every single beach trip requires a family beach portrait. Our first family photo without Sarah was at Chick-Fil-A on #servelikesarah day. The sting of that one slipped by me because of all of the activity, but I was painfully aware that the beach picture was coming. At the same time we as a family have never been more aware of our not knowing what tomorrow will bring (Prov. 26:1), so we strive to celebrate life daily with one another, while at the same time deeply aching for Sarah. As I took the pictures of the girls, for the first time three instead of four, my mom snapped the picture below. My heart aches every time I see it, but I also rejoice because through Christ’s sustaining power Scott and I are keeping our promise to Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie. We are confronting and pressing through painful moments, hours, days and weeks compelled by our desire to model for them and the world the Hope we possess. Certain Hope that we will see Sarah again, Hope that God will redeem the taking of her physical life, Hope that God will redeem our suffering, Hope that God will comfort and sustain us, Hope that because of our suffering we will “rejoice with exultation” at the return of Christ, and Hope that provides joy intermingled with our suffering.
Suffering & Endurance
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 [NASB]
“For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:5 [NASB]
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 [NASB]
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 [NASB]
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though 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 [NASB]
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” 2 Timothy 2:8-13 [NASB]
“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents–which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Philippians 1:27-30 [NASB]
“For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.” 1 Thessalonians 3:4 [NASB]
“Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4 [NASB]
“therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.” 2 Thessalonians 1:4 [NASB]
“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,” 1 Peter 2:20-21 [NASB]