We Christians talk a lot about God’s good purposes in our suffering. And we do so necessarily. We need to be constantly reminded of his sovereign kindness toward us in all things because the brokenness of this world is constantly sinking its teeth into our lives! If our faith is to survive discomfort, sickness, loneliness, hunger, persecution, poverty, spiritual oppression, or any of the other difficulties that may assail us, we must know in the depths of our souls that God has purposed every bit of it to work for our ultimate good.
However, our talk tends to major on what God is doing in us as we endure trials of various kinds. But what about what he might be doing through us as we suffer? I have heard it said that God is accomplishing a million things in every thing that he does. And I believe this is true concerning the trials he allows to come upon us. While he is certainly working for our personal good in them, he is also working for the benefit of the people who are watching us suffer.
To paraphrase John Piper: God looks most treasurable and satisfying in our lives when we rejoice in him as we suffer. It makes sense to our spectators that we are “happy in Jesus” when life is going according to plan. What’s there to be upset about when our mortgage is paid, our health is intact, and our wallets are fat? Following Jesus is easy when life is easy! But when a diagnosis comes, a job is lost, a loved one dies, or a child goes astray and our joy in God endures (or even increases!), we demonstrate how sufficient and satisfying he really is for us.
I will be the first to admit that the suffering I experience is incomparably small when measured against the trials that other Christians are walking through. I am not being physically threatened because of my faith. I have never been imprisoned or had my house set on fire or my property plundered because of my allegiance to Jesus. However, my sinful nature has rendered me predominantly attracted to men and not women, and because of that, my loyalty to Christ requires me to embrace potentially lifelong singleness. And being a single person in a romance-obsessed culture can sometimes be very difficult. It is at times extremely discouraging to think that I might be a societal oddball for the rest of my days in this world.
But despite sometimes feeling like a misfit, I have abiding (and steadily increasing!) joy in my life. Why? Because I know and walk daily with the God of comfort (2 Cor. 1:3), peace (Phil. 4:7), and hope (Rom. 15:13)! He satisfies me in ways and to degrees that nothing else can. With Paul I am able to honestly say, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord!” (Phil. 3:8). And it is this disposition of heart that catches the attention of unbelievers and encourages the souls of fellow believers. The lost are astounded, and fellow believers are uplifted when they see us cry out in the midst of our suffering, “Jesus is enough for me!”
Having Christ-centered joy in the midst of trouble does not mean we do not also experience fear, pain, and sadness. And when these feelings overwhelm us, we don’t need to put on a pretend smile and give insincere praise to God in order to make sure we’re being an effective witness to those around us. It’s okay to let people see our grief. We just don’t want our grief to be all that they see. When we feel completely swallowed up by whatever it is we are going through, we must run to the throne of grace for help, preaching the gospel to ourselves along the way. This, for most of us, will probably be a daily task. But as we fight for Christ-centered joy, and as we truly experience it, the world around us will see and know that our all-sufficient God is always with us—comforting us in our pain, reviving joy in our hearts, and stilling our souls with his incomprehensible peace.