Strength to Strength Sisters welcomed Linda Miller to share on how God redemptively lightens the dark journeys of our lives.
In a world of brokenness, we experience pain and hardship. We shy away form suffering, longing for healing and relief from the pain. How can there be beauty in my difficult circumstances? Can any good come out of the hard situation I’m in? God is our Redeemer; He makes all things beautiful in His time. He walks with us in our suffering, to bring about His purpose.
An interactive question-and-answer period follows.
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All of us have suffered to some degree or other. Beauty, as we know it, is often shaped by hard times and suffering. Elisabeth Kubler Ross said, “the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of those depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” That really is God’s heart, to have His character be formed in us. True beauty comes through hardship.
Can beauty actually come from suffering? How can I keep going when it hurts so much? Sometimes the pain is overwhelming, and we feel like we can’t keep going. But God knows about that. While the dictionary defines beauty as something that especially pleases sight, beauty is not just appearance, but also what people can’t see—our character. That’s really what God is concerned about. As women, we like beautiful things,
2023 and we desire to be beautiful. Peter mentions that we should not be as focused on our outward appearance but to work on the inner beauty of a meek and quiet spirit.
God created the world in the beginning, and He created it beautiful and for us to enjoy. There He pronounced, “It is very good.” But when sin entered the world, that beauty was marred. Today we live in a world marred by sin and evil. We encounter the curse on the earth. We have to deal with thorns, thistles, pain, grief, sorrow, and loss. God desires to restore the beauty that was lost. This is why Jesus came to walk with us in our suffering; to redeem that brokenness, to break that power of sin and evil and to restore the beauty that was marred.
How does He accomplish that? Suffering is one of the main ways that He is working to restore that beauty. Suffering is defined as a state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. Words that describe suffering in Scripture are: trials, persecution, humiliation, tribulation, affliction, and temptations. We can think of people in Scripture who suffered greatly, specifically Job. It was a test of his faith and not for any sin that he had committed.
There are many kinds of suffering. There is physical suffering where we experience pain or disability, illness, and chronic conditions. There is also emotional and mental pain like trauma, abuse, grief, and loss. There’s fear and anxiety, and tension in relationships. There are degrees of suffering. It can range from stubbing your toe to something much more traumatic like an accident which causes injury, or chronic health issues, or the death of a loved one. But in any degree of suffering, God is there. He wants to bring healing and wholeness to whatever pain we suffer.
Everyone suffers. We can’t get away from it. But we look forward to a perfect world some day when there will be no suffering. Sometimes it feels like no one else knows how difficult my situation is, but we can be assured that others have suffered very similarly. We all deal with the effects of sin, but just because we live in a sinful world doesn’t mean that we are doomed to failure. There is hope because of Jesus. We remember Jesus is the one Who gained power over sin, death, and the devil. That’s where our hope lies.
Suffering for the Christian does not last forever. As a Christian, II Corinthians 4 is a reminder of that, “for our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding weight of glory.” Can you imagine that this suffering that sometimes feels like it lasts for years and years and years, in comparison to eternity will look like a moment? Keeping that in mind can give us courage to keep holding onto God’s hand when times are hard. I Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while.” Notice that time frame—a little while. The God of all grace will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and settle you. My painful circumstances will not last one moment longer than God deems necessary to achieve His eternal purposes in my life.
Suffering is real. At times we just want to deny that it’s there or wish it would go away. But there’s no point in minimizing the purpose of God’s suffering in whatever we face. It’s important that we don’t just think, “Well, if I don’t think about it, it will go away.” It’s not a mind thing except that our mind needs to be in conformity to Jesus Christ. Suffering is real; we can’t just wish it away. We can expect to suffer.
Why suffering? If God is good, why doesn’t He just fix it so that everything else is good too? We remember that because we live in a fallen world there will always be suffering, pain, and death. We also suffer as a consequence of our sin—the law of sowing and reaping. If we choose to sow to the flesh, we will reap of the flesh.
Suffering also results from others’ bad choices. Sometimes we experience the rippling effects from others who are not choosing well, and they cause pain for others due to their bad choices. We may be personally offended by misunderstandings, jealousy, or things done against us. Maybe there’s anger, slander, hatred, or even rejection. Those are hard times and can cause us much pain.
Another reason we suffer in this world is for the sake of righteousness, such as persecution for our faith, our belief in following Jesus, and standing for truth. Interestingly, Peter writes a lot about suffering, and it’s comforting to see what he has to say. “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” We shouldn’t think it weird that we need to suffer because we follow Jesus. We should be willing to do so. I Peter 4:16 ends that section with, “yet if any man suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf.” Matthew 5 says that we are blessed when we are persecuted because we follow Christ. We are to be exceeding glad for great is our reward in heaven. I Peter 2:21 mentions that suffering is our calling. “For even hereunto were ye called because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps.” So, suffering is going to be here.
What are good responses and what are wrong responses? We may ask what I can do to fix my problems? Sometimes there are things we can do, but other times we simply need to draw close to God and see how He wants to sanctify us through these times of suffering. As a teenager, the serenity prayer spoke to me: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. The latter was the part of the prayer that stood out to me. There are things I cannot change, but there are things I can change, and those I need to take responsibility for. So, possibly in my suffering there are some things I am not doing as God wants me to; I may not be following Him well. In those ways, I need to come to Him in repentance. However, often I need to just embrace the circumstances that God allows to come and those I can’t change. I need wisdom to know the difference. The prayer goes on to say… “living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as a pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right i f I surrender to His will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”
William Law says this about suffering: “Receive every inward and outward trouble, every disappointment, pain, uneasiness, temptation, darkness, and desolation with both your hands as a true opportunity and a blessed occasion of dying to self and entering into a fuller fellowship with your self-denying, suffering Savior.” God’s whole purpose is that we respond with open hands.
Instead of receiving it with open hands, we might resist and resent and seek to escape from this hard situation. Val and Krystal Yoder in How to Experience Purpose in Life, say this: “When we resort to anger, denial, rationalization, hardness, and bitterness, we are unable to receive comfort from the Father, God of all comfort.” It really is closing our hearts to grace and enablement to go through hard times. We can choose to have an inward focus on me or an outward focus on God and what He would like. An inward focus will say, “This is so hard; poor me. How can I ever get through this?” A God-focus is asking God, “What are you trying to teach me through this? How can my suffering be an opportunity to grow and to bless others? How can I become part of the gift You want to give to other people?”
God has a purpose in redeeming our situation; that’s why Jesus came. Because He is good, He comes near. Jesus’ name, Emmanuel, means “God with us.” He’s kind and compassionate. He weeps with us and wants to bear our pain. God can bring peace to our hearts in the midst of our suffering and as we trust Him we know that He can bring inexpressible goodness out of this terrible badness. Joseph in the Bible was treated so unjustly, and we wonder how he could keep his faith. But we get to see the end of the picture and how God turned it around and made it come out for good, and even his brothers were changed. It’s amazing and encouraging to see God’s overall purpose in Joseph’s suffering. Joseph never charged God as being unfaithful.
We cannot expect to attain holiness except through suffering, and God is more interested in our holiness than in our immediate happiness. Often, we would wish for Jesus to be that genie that zaps all our pain away and makes things right. But it wouldn’t take any faith and trust in Him if He would always just fix our problems when we ask. That’s not His goal. His goal is to form His image in us and to bring holiness to us.
Think about Jesus’ example. I especially like the passage in Hebrews 2 where he talks about Jesus needing to suffer. Verse 10 says, “in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” Jesus had to endure suffering so that He could bring us to a right relationship with Him, and through that suffering He was able to give His life to go through death but come out victorious through the resurrection. So now He has power over death, and we don’t need to fear death anymore. Because Jesus suffered, He can now come into our suffering and comfort us and give us the courage to keep holding onto His hand. We can know that once He has seen that our lives are perfected and sanctified, the suffering will cease, and we can thank Him for being that suffering High Priest.
Some of you may be thinking about the hardships that our family went through. I will share some personal lessons that I learned through our hard times. Our experience was that my husband Ken spent two years in prison in connection with the Lisa Miller child-custody case. He was charged with aiding and abetting international kidnapping for helping Lisa leave the country with her own daughter. (For more information see our website: millercase.org.) We are especially thankful even these four years later, when on a Sunday morning, we can go to church together. I remember those times when I needed to go by myself and it’s a blessing we never, never want to forget.
Something else I learned, and am still learning, was to humbly accept help. With Ken gone, there was no one to really support us. Our older boys helped, but our church pitched in and designated an amount every month for household expenses and support. That meant so much. There were many, many other close friends who supported us. One couple would send us a monthly check for $50; we could count on it. Prayer support was huge. We got so much mail and cards from close friends and people we didn’t know. Mail time was a highlight. Also, there was the physical presence of friends who came to pray with me specifically. There were meals, boxes of groceries, and men from church who would do “men things” with our sons.
We also learned about gratefulness in hardship. It would have been easy to say, “This is so hard. What are we going to do?” But if we practiced gratitude, it’s amazing how it affected our attitude. One was that although he was in prison two hours away, he was not dead and gone. We were privileged to be able to visit him weekly, a two-hour drive one way, and we could sit face-to-face for about three hours. It was a blessing to connect with others visiting their families and inmates at the same time, and we would get to minister in that way as well. A real blessing was to be free from any guilt that my husband might have carried. I knew he had stood for truth and that was why he was in prison instead of having done something that deserved a prison term. I felt so grateful that he had a clear conscience and that he was taking opportunities to minister to the men in prison with him. Gratefulness was a big thing, counting our blessings, and trying not to focus so much on things we didn’t have.
Also, I found a greater dependence on God. There were day-to-day decisions that I would have often asked Ken about. However, most days Ken would call and often he would email daily. But this time without Ken at home made me depend more on God. During lonely times I needed to turn to God, and I found that His grace poured into my life. Our family grew closer. We had young boys at home at the time, ages 13-24. It was a bonding time because they drew together and supported each other. Without a father figure we had to come up with some alternative ways of functioning as a family. The boys stepped up to the plate, and it was a growing experience for them too. We also found that we could be channels for God when we were willing to share with others instead of hoarding all that was poured out on us. There were various ladies I communicated with because they too had a husband in prison, and we encouraged each other.
The funeral of Ken’s mother and the weddings of our two oldest children took place during Ken’s imprisonment. No leaves were granted for him. But Ken celebrated the weddings in prison. They prepared special food, and he was able to talk about what a Christian wedding actually looks like. He was able to call during the wedding and reception and talk to the bride and groom and to some of the guests, so that made it feel like he was connected. He had one of his friends do bead work—making a nice plaque as a wedding gift. While it was a challenge to find joy in our situation, it was a blessing to experience the outpouring of His grace.
How does beauty come from suffering? It comes as we draw close to Christ, as we embrace what He gives, and allow His grace to flow through us. He gives us joy in pain; He gives us hope so we can persevere to the end. Andrew Murray said: “In times of trouble, say, first, God brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest. Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child. Then say, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow. And last, say, in His good time He can bring me out again, how and when, He knows. I am here by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.” God knows, and in His time He will bring me out.
A big thank you to Calvary Messenger for this abridged transcription.