Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Strange Gift

I hope you’re doing well and enjoying the summer! I’m having a wonderful visit in Scotland and this week in Northern Ireland! I’m so thankful for God’s many gifts to me in this new season. =)

However, I still remember what it was like living in the season of suffering. This week I want to share something I wrote almost ten years ago. While I am so very thankful to no longer be in a season of suffering, I am also thankful for God’s wisdom in taking me through that season. He gives us gifts in every season of our lives. It’s just that some of them seem more strange than others.

Jesus is the greatest gift of all! And whatever brings us closer to Him can be considered one of His gifts to us.

I hope this post will encourage you today.


The Gift Of Suffering

Have you seen the movie The Ultimate Gift? It’s about a wealthy man who dies and leaves his grandson a series of strange gifts. The grandson just wants to know how much money he inherits, but he can’t find out until he receives all the unusual gifts - such as work, problems, giving, etc. Too often I’m like the grandson, waiting for God to give me the “good stuff” while being frustrated with His “strange” gifts. Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.” It’s taken a long time, but I’m finally learning to see suffering as one of God’s gifts.

God’s Word says a lot about suffering. Once I started paying attention, I found it in almost every book of the Bible. Suffering isn’t just part of living on earth; it’s also part of God’s plan. He uses it for our good.

I know it doesn’t feel that way. Suffering feels painful, depressing, hopeless, devastating…. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to live with broken health, waiting for years for answers and healing. I’ve felt the agony of losing people I love. I’ve been misunderstood and mistreated by others. I’ve experienced all these things and more. Suffering hurts. Yet, Jesus promised His followers they would suffer. He knew that ultimately it would be for our good, and He filled His Word with encouragement for those who are suffering.

Suffering produces character, maturity, and hope (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-4).
Those who suffer for what is right are blessed (1 Peter 3:14a).
Suffering allows us to receive God’s comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
God uses hardship and suffering to train us for holiness (Hebrews 12:7-11).

Even with these verses, sometimes it’s still hard to accept suffering as a gift. There are three specific benefits of suffering I’ve experienced that have enabled me to receive this strange gift with gratitude.

1) Suffering has given me a desperate dependence on God’s Word.

When my life was mostly problem free, it was easy to think I was pretty spiritual and had all the answers. Once suffering hit, nothing made sense, and I realized how desperately I needed truth. Psalm 119:92 says, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” Only God’s Word can give me the understanding about God and life that I need to endure trials and hardship.

There were days when, desperate for answers, I opened my Bible and read, and read, and read…until finally I found the answers or encouragement I needed. The Psalmist wrote, “My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life” (Psalm 119:50). God’s Word holds precious promises that bring great comfort. Through suffering I’ve discovered the riches of God’s Word, sufficient for every day and every need.

2) Suffering has produced deeper fellowship with Jesus.

In Philippians 3:10, Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings….” Through suffering I’ve learned more about who Jesus is, what He’s like, and how He works. I’ve wrestled with questions, doubts, and fears. Before I went through painful trials, I believed God was good, loving, faithful, sovereign, etc. Now, I know He is.  I’ve experienced God’s grace in every situation and found that He is enough. Beyond that, when every source of happiness this world offers was stripped away, I discovered the “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8) that comes from simply knowing my Lord. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s only through pain that Jesus can open our eyes to the pleasure He alone offers.

3) Suffering has taught me to keep an eternal perspective.

It’s easy to be comfortable and at home in this world, until we experience suffering. Then everything changes. For me suffering has been a needed reality check. It’s made me ask questions like: Why am I here? What is my purpose? What am I living for? I understand now that God created me and put me on this earth for Himself and His glory, not for my comfort or happiness. 1 Peter 4:1-2 says that the one who has suffered doesn’t live for himself or herself anymore, “but rather for the will of God.”

I only get one life. I’m thankful for the gift of suffering that changes my perspective and keeps me from wasting my life on selfish pursuits, when eternity is what really matters. Paul said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Life now contains suffering and sacrifice; eternity contains rewards and glory. Understanding this has changed the way I think, what I desire, and how I live. Suffering helps keep my eyes on heaven, my true home.

I don’t like it, I often complain about it, but I don’t doubt that suffering is a gift from our loving heavenly Father.

In the end of the movie, The Ultimate Gift, we see the purpose of all the gifts that were so hard for the grandson to accept. They prepared him to receive his inheritance. God has a purpose too. He knows what we need. Sometimes suffering is the most precious gift we could receive. In the end, we too will understand how God used it to prepare us for our inheritance.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

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