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February 1, 2008

How can suffering be considered a gift?

by Dave Malnes

Throughout the gospels we discover a God who is excessively patient, amazingly loving, and abundantly merciful. It is His utmost desire for us to draw closer to Him. One way he does this is by allowing difficult circumstances to come into our life. Because of the benefits of having a right relationship with God, the Bible describes suffering as a gift.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2).
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29)    

Our sinful nature tends to be so overflowing with pride that we sometimes need times of suffering to fully realize our utter dependence on God. The gift of suffering allows us to have a deeper relationship with Christ, thereby receiving a greater joy in knowing that our sins are forgiven, God cares for us, God declares us worthy in His sight, and our future is secure. A deeper relationship with Christ is the only true source to receiving joy. 

But to view suffering as a gift?   

Imagine yourself sitting around the Christmas tree surrounded by family on Christmas day. Under the tree is a beautifully wrapped gift with your name on it. With great anticipation the present is hastily opened and inside the box is a sheet of paper with the words, “My grace is sufficient for you.” 

Our Heavenly Father, who gives us far greater gifts than we can ever imagine, bestows upon you the gift of grace through the means of suffering.   

Was it not the gift of suffering that God ordained for Jesus on behalf of us? For our benefit, Christ suffered and died on the cross for our sins. It is God’s gift of grace which sent Jesus to the cross. Suffering gives us the unique opportunity to experience God’s grace as we place our trust and total dependence on Him. When the storm clouds pass, and they will, we will see the sun again and truly give God thanks. Like stepping outside after a hard rain parches a drought-stricken ground, peace and joy that goes beyond understanding wells up inside our heart. We can’t help but to respond with thanksgiving.

This is the encouragement Paul wanted to give to the Philippian church by reminding them that their struggle to share the Gospel is similar to his own struggles. The Greek word used for “struggle” is the same word used to describe an athletic contest. Even though they are apart, Paul is saying that he and the Philippian church are now playing in the same game. They are battling the same opponent. Even though we are assured of victory (“deliverance”) and will receive the prize of salvation, the struggle against the devil and the dark forces will be very difficult. The devil’s primary goal is to take us out of the game. 

Paul’s response is to rejoice in the struggle. The concept of rejoicing while struggling seems foreign. If we go back to the word “struggle” as it applies to an athletic contest, we may glean a better understanding. For those who have experienced competition, we can recall the sweat and toil of being involved in a close contest. There is a certain joy in the aspect of competition. We strive for victory and enjoy its pursuit. We prepare and train to be at our best when the day of competition arrives. In fact, we look forward to the competition with anticipation and eagerness. We “rejoice” in the struggle of the athletic contest, especially when we have prepared ourselves to give our best effort.   

Yet, as Christians, there is an assurance of the outcome. With Christ, we are going to win. Our victory (“deliverance”) is assured. There are times when we seem to be behind or the victory is in doubt due to the intense struggle at hand. We continue to compete hard, but the outcome of the match does not rest on our shoulders. We can rejoice in the promise that the Lord will provide us with what we need to overcome. We compete by standing firm in Christ. In the meantime, our hearts rejoice at the struggle!

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