Despite the naive assumption of my twenty-something self – when I believed I could pray, work, or obey enough to avoid the hard paths – suffering is universal. There’s not one thing we can do to evade it. But I have certainly given it my best shot. 😉
During Lent, I took part in a study called In the Wild by Dan Wilt.1 Slowly, day by day, line by line, Dan walked us through the three temptations of Christ during His forty days in the wilderness (Luke 4:5-8). Simultaneously, I re-watched The Chosen and completed a months-long study of Exodus. Immersed and saturated in such a way, this Lent I felt Jesus’ suffering like never before – maybe because of my new awareness that His painful struggles began long before the cross (like the betrayal of friends, rejection of His hometown, or animosity from His own people).
Dan points out that during the second temptation of Christ, Satan takes Jesus up to the highest point in Jerusalem and shows Him the kingdoms of the world, offering to give Him all their authority and splendor (Luke 4:6). But beyond power and influence, a more appealing offer underlying this temptation is to skip the suffering that is to come.1
(Skip the suffering? Um, yes please.)
Yet in full knowledge of the cross and the suffering required of Him, Jesus quickly and adamantly declines, choosing to remain faithful to His Father in heaven (v.8) – and to the strategy they had laid out to redeem the world back to God.
Suffering was always part of God’s “Great Rescue Plan.”2 It always included torture and death on a cross. That’s why Isaiah called Messiah the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). In other words, Jesus knew. At some point in his human life, the Rescue Plan settled into His mind with clarity. Every word He spoke, every miracle He performed, and every challenge He posed led to the cross – intentionally.
I’ve sat in this truth for a few weeks now, and one of the outflows of such soaking is the humble acceptance that if Christ came to suffer, who am I to try to avoid it?
Even bigger is my realization that Jesus’ pain – of heart, mind, spirit, and body – had purpose.
Friend, I know you suffer. You might be tempted to deny it or compare it or despair in it, but there are truths, like lifelines, that each of us can grab hold of. Even though hardship is part of life in this broken world, God will always remain with us in our suffering, and our pain will always have purpose.
Promise of Presence
Years ago, dark days of betrayal and the grief of lost love tempted me toward despair. The lies of the enemy tortured me with ideas like: “this will never get better;” “you’ll never be loved again;” or “this is what you get.” I remember lying on my bed, giving in to the darkness. And for the first time in my life I realized how people could be tempted to take their own lives. Jolted back into reality, I reached for my dusty Bible.
And as I opened it, a scrap of paper with “Isaiah 41:10” penned on it fluttered to the floor, so I turned to that page and read that God strengthens, helps, and holds me in His victorious right hand. That day I’d been desperate, but the ache turned me back to the God of my younger days. That piece of paper with the perfect passage became my beacon of hope.
Isaiah’s words held promise. They didn’t fix the situation or even mend my heart in the moment. But, they gave me hope that my crappy circumstances would one day get better, and that I could get through it all because God would go with me.
Since the days of Moses and Joshua, God has been promising to never leave us, to never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Jesus reiterates the same pledge, “I am with you always, till the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
So, as we surrender to the anguish that comes with suffering, we can allow our faith in our Father’s presence to set aflame our hope. We are not alone! We are seen, and our Lord has compassion because, as the word means, He suffers with us.
Promise of Purpose
Jesus knows suffering. He chose it. And, the writer of Hebrews would say He endured it because of the joy that would come after it – the joy of defeating sin and death, the joy of redeeming us back to Himself (12:2). In other words, each time He was tempted to give in to the dread of dying the shameful, excruciating death of the cross or to call down those legions of angels to rescue Him (Matthew 26:53), He trusted the plan. He believed that the purpose would be worth it.
Jesus models for us what it looks like to allow hope for future good to sustain us through our suffering. Paul elaborates, saying that it’s God’s grace poured out on us that allows us to put full hope in a future we cannot see, which is why we can…
“…boast in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”Romans 5:2-5 CSB
Paul’s train of thought starts and ends with hope:3
Paul builds this incredible case that God’s grace gives us hope so that when the trials of life happen, we can endure. Because of Jesus’ suffering and death, we can confidently boast, even rejoice, in our trust of God in the midst of great pain. And as we patiently persevere, our character grows and deepens and strengthens which, in turn, only fuels more hope for better days.4
This “chain” serves as support for Paul’s assertion that “this hope will not disappoint us” (5:5).3 Our hope is unshakable because God’s grace grants it and His love sources it.
Hope keeps us afloat. When despair threatens to drown us, we can fix our eyes on our Savior who not only knows our pain but has promised we have a future with Him that will be worth it (Romans 8:18) – as He’s proven by His own choice to endure great affliction.
But hope also gives us staying power because we can trust the purpose that will result from it – like the shaping of our character. And the sharing of the hope we’ve found in Christ with others. It’s why Paul tells us to remember that God “comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others” (2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT).
On a recent Instagram reel, Jennie Allen challenged listeners to consider Romans 8:28 in a similar way, suggesting “the good” that God is working out isn’t just for our personal good but also for the good of others.5 After all, we’ve been “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28b, emphasis mine).
During Advent, I listened to Annie F. Downs’ podcast as she led her listeners through each week’s focus. Knowing that “hope” was to be my Word of the Year, I listened intently that first week as she unpacked the Romans 5:3-5 passage. Reading in the CSB translation, she kept emphasizing “this hope,” explaining this hope doesn’t disappoint because it’s anchored in Christ.
And like Paul, Annie exhorts us to believe with faith that this hope won’t disappoint because our suffering matters!6 It shapes us. It strengthens us. It equips us to go into the world and share the love and healing Christ has given us.
So as we absorb all these truths, we can choose to allow them to do a holy work in us so that the moment suffering starts, we can pick up the tools we’ve been given:
- First, we look to God and tell Him how we hurt, getting honest with all our thoughts and feelings.
- Then, we look to the promise of Isaiah 41:10 and ask God to be our help.
- And to help us persevere, we ask, “What does it look like not to quit here, Lord?”6 & 7
These practical steps equip us to name what hurts so that we can move through the pain, leaning on God’s wisdom and power. We can do this because we believe our suffering has significance – to God because He cares, to us because of what it can work out, and to the people we’ll meet who struggle and need our witness, our story, our comfort.
And in all of it – at every stage, in every season, and through every storm – this hope will be what sustains us. This hope will build in us a faith that will carry us into better days and into a future of promise where pain will no longer exist. Let’s grab the lifelines handed to us by the One who knows what it is to agonize. Let’s trust His promises and believe that our suffering matters.
Father God, it’s incredible to imagine that You have been at work for all these millennia pulling off the Great Rescue Plan, redeeming the lost and the sinful back into your presence. It’s also humbling to realize the great pain You caused yourself and your Son by implementing such a rescue. Thank You for your grace that has been poured into us with power and for your love that has been given to us for purpose. Lord Jesus, knowing that You chose to suffer for us shows us what it is to endure and to trust. Knowing that You suffer with us encourages us to keep persevering with a hope that won’t disappoint. Knowing that You will work out all things for the good of those who love you, for those who are called to your purpose builds our faith. Knowing that this suffering matters increases our hope for better days. Holy Spirit, how grateful we are that You are with us always – that we never have to struggle in our own strength. We come to You now to speak aloud the suffering that threatens to strangle us. We confess our fear and our fury, our despair and our discouragement. We ask that You would help us endure all that weighs us down and causes such pain. We ask that You would help us to keep our eyes on Jesus so that we live in the hope that He will never leave us and that in Him our suffering will have purpose. In His name, amen.
(inspired by Epic of Eden; Galatians 3:13-14; Ephesians 1:7-8; John 3:16; Titus 2:11-14; Romans 5:3-5,8; 1 Peter 4:1-13 NLT; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:2; Isaiah 41:10)
Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- 1 – Dan Wilt, Into the Wild, as read/heard on Seedbed’s Wake Up Call, March 31, 2023
- 2 – “Great Rescue Plan” is coined by Dr. Sandra Richter in Epic of Eden,^ see p.130
- 3 – The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, p.1240
- 4 – Harper’s Bible Commentary, p.1144
- 5 – Jennie Allen’s Instagram reel
- 6 – Annie F. Downs’ “Hope” podcast
- 7 – more on this idea of “not giving up” next week!
- In our new “This Hope” playlist, the song “Weep With Me” by Rend Collective can be a great prayer as we call out to God with our pain…and hope.
Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
- In our journey to become more Christ-like, to deepen our knowing of Him and strengthen our faith in Him, we incorporate rhythms in our lives — not to box us into legalistic have-to’s but to develop within ourselves a delight in being with Him. This spring, I’d love for us to lean into the rhythm of meditation. Unlike eastern meditation that seeks to empty the mind and self of everything, Christian meditation desires to fill our minds and beings with Christ. SO — each day, to the best of our abilities, let’s meditate on God’s Word. Each week I’ll suggest a chapter or passage of Scripture that we can settle into, or as my friend JD Walt says, “ruminate on the Word just as a cow ruminates on his cud.” In other words, don’t rush. Read. Pause. Listen. Reread. Pause. Receive. Give space for the Spirit to reveal and enlighten.
- This week, we can meditate (or ruminate) on Romans 5:1-11 CSB. Take your time, giving the Spirit space to speak, prompt, and lead. Read less for information and more for inspiration — to the point of looking for what you can discover about who God is (rather than what He can do for you). And if the Spirit leads you to pause on one verse, stay there! Freedom in the Spirit!!
- Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light into the world!
Featured Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash. Bits and Pieces photo by Aleksandra Sapozhnikova on Unsplash.
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