3 Ways to Suffer Well as a Christian

Thabiti Anyabwile
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No one looks forward to pain. We’d rather avoid it. And with good reason: pain and suffering are unpleasant, discomforting, and wounding. Instinctively, we look for ways around it. So how do we prepare for and endure suffering when it comes?

The Scripture doesn’t just call us to times of suffering. Nor does it stop with limiting our responses in those times. Rather, the Scripture goes on to teach us how to endure when suffering comes. Remembering three things helps us in our affliction.

Remember Jesus

Our Savior is the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 42 and 53. Jesus is acquainted with much sorrow and “has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb. 4:15). So, in our struggles, we are to remember that our Lord never reviled or rebuked when His tormenters attacked. Peter reminds his readers of how Jesus endured insult and threat to give them a pattern for their own endurance: “‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22–23).

We should keep in mind our suffering Lord who faced trial with holiness and self-control. He is our pattern and example. As Ajith Fernando, director of a mission in then war-torn Sri Lanka, put it, “The sight of our Savior loving us enough to die for us takes away the sting of unkind acts.”[1] So, “we must glance at our problems and gaze at Jesus.”[2]

Remember God’s Promises

When Christians in the New Testament suffered for Christ, they recalled the promises of God to be a resource for both endurance and courage. The writer of Hebrews tells us of one such group of Christians who “endured in a great conflict full of suffering.” Though at times they “were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times [they] stood side by side with those who were so treated,” they “joyfully accepted the confiscation of [their] property,” because they knew that they “had better and lasting possessions” (Heb. 10:32–34). In the midst of their “great conflict full of suffering” (v. 32), they made radical stands for Christ and His people because they knew they “had better and lasting possessions.”

What has God promised those who suffer?

Through our hardship, God promises to make us more like Himself.

First, He promises that our hardship will result in righteousness and holiness. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children” (Heb. 12:7a). God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (vv. 10b–11). Through our hardship, God promises to make us more like Himself. 

Second, God promises to be with us in our trials. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Do not be afraid, for I am with you” (Isa. 43:1–2, 5a). God remains with us when we suffer for His Son. He does not abandon us in our time of need. He promises, and we should trust His promise.

Third, God promises deliverance. This was the apostle Paul’s confidence when he considered his most severe afflictions. At one point he felt as though a death sentence had been written in his heart and despaired of living any longer. Then he remembered: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” (2 Cor. 1:9–10). Elsewhere the apostle wrote, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). The Father limits our suffering and grants deliverance.

And to these promises of God’s sanctification, presence, and deliverance, we may add all the promises of the gospel—forgiveness of sin, reconciliation and peace with  God, eternal life, resurrection, grace, and hope. Suffering is the crucible where the promises of God are melted deeply into our souls. As a result, we’re made more like Him and we endure with joy. 

Remember Your Reward

For many, the prospect of suffering for Christ seems like a thankless job. It’s all drudgery and despair. But the New Testament makes staggering promises about a coming reward for those who suffer in Christ’s name.

Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). He also told His followers to “rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” when men mistreat you because of Him (v. 12). We are to remember that our mistreatment by men is accompanied by reward from God. Though the suffering of this life be great, it is not worthy to be compared to the glory to come. Our present sufferings are light and momentary in comparison (see Rom. 8:17–18; 1 Peter 4:13). Our reward will be to share in Christ’s glory with Him when He comes. Remembering that helps us to experience joy in the midst of our pains.

[1] Ajith Fernando, The Call to Joy and Pain (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2007), 79.

[2] Ibid, 80

For Further Reading:

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