How to Handle Sufferings Part III
2 Corinthians 5:7 We live by faith, not by sight.
What We can Do when People and Life Seem to Come Against Us!
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11
Are you being harassed, gossiped about, slandered, or mistreated? If not, it will come. We are called to prepare for it and even seek reconciliation if possible, lest it get worse. At the same time, we are called to remain firm in Christ, operating in His Fruit, and not let the misdeeds of others get the best of us. Yes, this is hard-very hard at times-but we can do it-and do it with excellence! When we operate in His love to others who are mean and hurt us, we are walking in Christ and His Fullness, and this is what deeply touches others. When we refuse to pay back those hurts with directed hurt toward others, we are being Christ-like. Then, we become showcases of good character, pointing to Christ, and our goodness will even prevent others from gaining more ammunition to fight us. But, we can often wonder (I know I do), why does this still happen? Why do we go through so much hurt, even from Christian brothers and sisters who are supposed to love and care for us? And then, we should not give it back? I believe the key is to learn how and why both we and others act the way we do, understand God's call and standards, and make the determination to lead a life of faith and character. In this way, we stop the cycles of hurt by refusing to continue in sufferings with destructive and irresponsible behaviors, and refusing to allow another's offenses captivate us. We can do this; we have His empowerment to do so, and we can, with God's help, stop most of the abuse and hurt.
Just as I write this article, one of my neighbors decided to save time and drive his car out of his driveway with a device that attached his steering wheel to his brake pedal. For some reason, he thought this would save time and be a good idea. Unfortunately, the laws of physics and mechanics disagreed as his steering wheel was unable to turn and his brakes would not respond, and he hit my only working car so hard it went up the sidewalk and was totaled. I had a decision to make about how to respond. I could have retorted from my will and hurt, since I knew this would put me without a car for some time and render me unable to go to meetings, take my new son to the doctor, respond to pastoral emergencies, or get groceries, etc. All these did happen, but instead of an angry reply, I could, alternatively, allow His Spirit and Fruit be exercised, knowing full well that no anger or discord coming from me could change the situation, fix my car, or put me in a better position or situation. No one was hurt, and I have been through so much worse that it is actually silly for me to use this as an illustration. But, this is life; I lived through it, but I had to make a choice of how to respond. I hoped it was the right one as I sought to be good in a bad and awkward situation.
Our bad experiences can be like a prison, keeping us within the bars we have built from our fear, anxiety, stress, and our hurt. Such a prison prevents our being stretched or experiencing any growth by learning from it; therefore we carry and bank it for our future, dysfunctional use. Our stored hurt prevents us from taking what we have been through and making it sweet and productive. Having persevered in the past helps us persevere in the future. The key is to hold on, even when we do not see any handles to grasp. When we hold on to Christ, and Him alone, He will reward and keep us, and we will be victorious!
Hurting People Hurt Other People
Our suffering affects others, and the suffering of others affects us in return. Our learning and life experiences in the Christian life and from living in a sinful world will have a relational impact upon us, upon others around us, and vice versa. This will affect our behavior as to how we treat others, and how others treat us. But in this, we have the choice and ability to either learn and grow and be better as Paul demonstrated, or become disheartened and bitter. Keep in mind, when Paul penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was not in his happy place. He was in a heinous prison, lying in his own dung, chained to Roman guards (who could have used some manners), eating what was thrown to him off the filthy and pestilent-ridden dirt. Paul had to learn to lean and overcome so he could be used for the welfare of others and for our Lord's glory.
We can be ones who either make the difference or let the difference make us. If we choose to be the change agents who make the difference, we gain; our sufferings have meaning, and we get through them for the better. Then, we can see God's wondrous promises, His mighty mercy, and experience His love and embrace so we can commit to leading a life trusting and remaining faithful in Him as He is with us. No matter what we have been through, if we choose to allow the differences of life to become "us," all we have is our stored up hurt, ready to hurt others. All this gives us is uncertainty and meaninglessness. After a month without a car in Southern California, which is no easy task, it was miraculously fixed and the money came in to do so. My relationship with the neighbors was improved and a bad situation was made good. It did cost; it cost me significant time and money that I did not have to spare, but what was gained, I think, is more important. I had to learn that if I banked my hurt and used it, I would still be without a car and, in addition, have bad relations with my neighbors, even though it was not my fault. From the small, such as this car, to the large, great loss, sickness, and death that I have been through, God has always gotten me through. I know He will with you, too (2 Cor. 13:5-10; Phil. 1:12-14).
The fact is that we are living in a sinful world, in corporal bodies, with delicate minds subject to abuse and harm. This makes each of us, as human beings, capable of hurting people who, in turn, hurt other people. In reality, everything that we encounter in life can and will harm and hurt us. The actions of others and our experiences all converge and contribute to our feelings, implementing our emotional trauma that contributes to our personality and thus leads to our reactions to others in life. Our experiences will come face to face with our expectations, creating disappointments, resentments, even anger and bitterness. When we experience gossip, a relationship breakdown, a problem at work or church, a smashed car, a stubbed toe, or we encounter a tragic loss, we become hurt and that hurt is carried with us. We now have lives filled with the junk we will not let go of, that we will not forgive, and that we do not give to our Lord; thus, we "bank" the hurt within us. This hurt that is banked-saved up in us-can be used to form the ammunition we use to build weapons that lash out toward others. So, our hurt consecutively hurts others. The disparaging and reckless feelings we gain become the destructive and irresponsible behaviors we give off. Each of our collective hurts cycle upon another. Many of our sufferings come from our cycle of perpetual anger, damage that can become patterns of self-sabotaging and self-destructive behaviors, and/or become dysfunctional, interpersonal conduct. In contrast, they can become our virtue and character that are used to better ourselves and others around us, building His Church stronger and healthier. When we do not deal with our hurt, it will undermine us and others through our destructive and irresponsible actions. And as Christians, this will plays into how we lead and run our churches.
Even when we realize our mistakes, seek forgiveness and His empowerment to carry us through, the next round of hurts can be a time to either hurtle over it or a time we forget what we have learned and, in turn, reinstate our cycle of hurt. And thus, here we go again, as we will lose our composure, our tempers will become loosed, and we return our hurt to others as broken promises and indecisiveness that push others away. Yet, when we hurt people, all we end up doing is hurting ourselves in return, and pushing others away who could help us. If we allow this cycle to continue, our thinking and our Christian formation will be skewed, leaving us with a life of compounded relational disasters and/or becoming a "Christian" who is bitter, living life by being callous and insensitive because of the hurt we have been through.
You see, being hurt is hurtful; it stinks! It has a cost we may think we cannot afford to pay; yet, if we do, its benefit is immeasurable down the road. We can not always prevent the hurt from happening, but we can remember that when we are hurting, God does indeed care, and that we really do matter to Him even if we do not see it. The hurt we face, have faced, and will face has been covered; that's why He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for us. Our pain, self inflicted or inflicted by others, may cost us; it cost Him more, but He has already paid it. We have to learn to make the determination, by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, that He will lead us through it-not always out of it, but He will lead us. With Jesus in us, we can succeed and throw off our hurt so it is not stored up and does not cycle back to us and to others! We can even take the hurt from others and not let it settle on us as we give it over to the One who has already paid for it.
Christians Hurt Christians
Our suffering affects other Christians; the sufferings of other Christians affect us in return! And then, there is the aspect of being hurt from those who should not hurt us. The same people who hurt people are, themselves, hurling people. This also applies to us Christians because we are people, too. We who are Christians are called to love; yet, instead of loving, many will throw insults abounding in nothing except strife and hurt. Then, when we get to our work or school, it is worse; people say things that are not true, exclude us, gossip, or lie to get their irresponsible, misguided way while pushing and hurting us to achieve it.
Somehow, in this hurt we face, His love will abound. We may not see it when we are in the hurt, but it is there as He is there with us. Paul's words in Philippians are not some string of abstract thoughts or list of wishful thinking, but a call directly from God for all to behave as Christ would as He dwells in us. The problem is that many of us Christians view this as "theory," and really do not practice it when we should. And of course, people living in the ways of the world see this call to love and purity as silliness and dribble, unfit for their sophisticated or deviant desires. And, these "ideas" become the rationale that says, hey, it is OK to store our hurt and pay others back. Our hurt and misguided views become the loaded guns that are fired to hurt us, and in so doing, create more hurt people who, in turn, hurt other people.
When others come against Christians, they are coming in opposition to Christ, even if they are Christians themselves. He knows about this, and will respond in His time. We may not feel it is the right timing, but we do not see all the interwoven circumstances, His grace, or His persistence. He wants us to trust Him and have the determination to press on with our faith and obedience. Jews living during the time when Paul was writing these words in Philippians were giving the Church a hard time, and the early Christians were worn out from it. However, Jesus was saying Do not fret or worry; I will take care of it. He will take care of you, too! Christ will deliver, protect, and preserve those who are faithful and righteous, who claim Him as Lord. (John 17:15; Rom. 1:8-15; 5:1-11; 12:14-21; 1 Pet. 1:7; 4:1-11; Rev. 3:7-13; 7:3).
The ammunition from the experiences of life turned upon us as suffering, waiting, hardship, pain, loss, and brokenness (and the list goes on), tend to hang us up, to stop us cold in our tracks, and pull us away from His glory and call. I can earnestly say it has caused me to shutter and question God, and has even caused me to think about renouncing Him in years past, because the pain I was going through at times was too difficult and too distracting to my faith. I could not see over the fence of harsh reality to the glory to come, or that what I learned would be useful in helping others and get me through even more trials and tribulations. I could not reconcile why I was going through my hurt at the time, when others were not. I saw good people, ones who loved the Lord and who served Him wholeheartedly, suffer needlessly-or so I thought-until the Scriptures opened the door to me on the cause and the purpose: people who hurt are themselves people who have been hurt. And, this is all about sin in us and in others accumulating while Christ paid for it through His sufferings.
Remember in the first article in this series, the "Why of Suffering," we learned that we tend to hang our hat, seeking why, and spend no time learning and growing though it. Look at it this way; the universe itself is a creation of suffering. Everything in it suffers; it may not have been originally designed that way, but it is now. Perhaps, sin that corrupted everything altered the universe itself from a perfect creation without wear or anguish into one in the process of burning out. Our sun is slowly burning out; it has a finite supply of hydrogen and helium to furnish its fusion to energy, and eventually it will burn out. The light bulb that lights my office has a filament that is burning light on my behalf until it is burned out and gone. Even our span of life is limited; everything is limited and is suffering. It is nature; it is creation; it is the universe expanding and eventually collapsing upon itself into oblivion. Yet God is sovereign and He is in control, He will never burn out, collapse, or forsake us and Jesus will come back to rescue us before any such galactic calamity hits us. And, that realization gives me the hope to rekindle my relationship with Him, even through my losses and hardship. In addition, it is this same thought and His Spirit that I used to keep myself centered in His Fruit when my neighbor totaled my car that I had received from a mutual friend and supporter of Billy Graham. Cars are usually not special to me, but this one was because of how it came to me, and who it was from. Because there is a purpose for what we go through, it makes no sense for me to bank my hurt and pain when He is trying to clean it out. We may not fully understand it or even be able to articulate it, but we can live it, with our eyes upon Him.
Many, misguided Christians will say to another Christian who is ill or going through troubles, that he or she does not have enough faith or that he or she has un-confessed sin in his or her life and that is why the sickness has come. Then, they use the Bible as a weapon to back up their uncaring and insensitive claims. But, this is not what Scripture tells us! It is not about the hurting or the healing; it is about showing the love and care of our Lord to those who are hurting. Making statements such as these does otherwise, and misses the call of the Scriptures! If you are earnestly praying, and perhaps are frustrated that you have not received an answer or the answer you desire, remember: while you are waiting, God is working (Matt. 21:22; John 14:14; James 5: 13-18)!
Life at our Work
Let us apply this to our work. We all have people in our midst-or, perhaps you are such a person-who work hard and receive little recognition. Then, we can compare those to some who do not work hard and yet are able to get in the good graces of the boss. Does this negate our work effort? No. We go on because this is the virtuous thing to do. Do we succumb to the games of our coworkers? No. At the same time, we do not belittle or ignore them either. We remain salt and light without losing our flavor or illumination. But, what would you prefer if you were the boss-a worker who worked really hard and did his or her job with excellence, or one who fooled around and did the least amount, just to get by? How about the worker who works really hard, but not at the job that he or she is asked to do? Or, further, what about the workers who do their own thing, versus the ones who do what they are supposed to, but waste most of their time? Now, place yourself in one of these categories at your work. Then, place yourself in the category that represents your position as God sees you-not at work, but in your relationship with Him. (This also applies to running a church, too.) When we gain God's perspective on the world (as much as our limited intellect would allow), it gives us the picture of our call as it should be, free from our distorted endeavors.
Suffering is Virtue
Whatever we do, it must be for His glory, even though we are in a world that does not recognize it. God does see what we do; He is our Lord and the ultimate One we are to please. Remember, God does not want our sacrifices, as the prophet Samuel told King Saul, but He does want obedience to His will (Heb. 10:5-10).
As with the workers in Matthew 20, we can fully do as we are told, we can do as required and skimp by, or we can ignore our call and do as we please. However, we have to ask ourselves-as a Christian, what is our main reason and purpose? Are we looking for His favor and perfection? Or, are we too busy chasing a plan that will not fulfill us or please Him? Which worker will please the Father, and which worker are you striving to be? Why should we even bother to be a Christian if we do not set out to please Him? What good would we be, what example would we set for others (remember this applies to how we are at church too!) (Matt. 20:1-19)?
What if our Lord had just skimped by? What if He had decided that the cup was too much to bear? Jesus fulfilled the Levitical system of sacrifice by becoming the ultimate sacrifice, in our place. He endured suffering on our behalf, and showed us that the world is full of hurt and suffering. He was not required to do this; He could have decided that to undergo such suffering was not worth it. But, His focus was not on suffering, nor did He bank His hurt. The suffering is not the focal point; it is the stuff that gets in the way of our understanding. We are hung up on the questions of why things happen. But, the hurt we have gone through is also meant to show us the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who He is and what He did.
Suffering is the pointer to the main show. Suffering is meant to focus us on the primary plans and purposes of life, which are faith, trust, relationships, and obedience. Christ was obedient even through suffering. We are to be the same. We are in a world filled with suffering and unanswered questions; we are in periods of waiting and hardship, and we need to seize the main purpose, the main attraction of obedience, and not get lost because of the coming attractions or the distractions of suffering!
I believe it is better to be a Christian who firmly engages in a behavior that pleases Christ than to be one who allows hurt to become an identity or a response to others. The realization of our "dry lands," our times of waiting, confusion, and suffering in life has a reason and a purpose. This does not mean we will not have setbacks and make mistakes; what it does mean is that our true passion must be for Him and not for ourselves. The Christian who tries to seek His will while doing as he or she pleases, will be disappointed and frustrated, and in the end, disillusioned and lost. He or she may even curse God, as might a Christian who has gone through a tragedy, and place trust in perceptions of what Christ should do, and not what He did do. Thus, when things go awry, that Christian's trust weakens to such a point that he or she can even curse God publicly. My heart goes out to such people, as I, too, was once such a disillusioned and angry person who stood shaking his fist at God. I think it is better to not even claim to be a Christian if you will not take the hurts of life and allow His work to filter them. What is the purpose of your Christian life and faith? We need to take this stuff seriously because of the negative fallout it has on so many people around such a person of hurt who, in turn, hurts others.
Following Christ, Not our Hurt
Following Christ wholeheartedly will sometimes lead us to those who hate us passionately for it, a passion as strong as we have for worshipping Him. These are the people who seem to run the world and even some of our churches, who fight against what is good and right, and sometimes pretend they are one of us. These are the people who refuse Christ, His empowerment, love, and grace, and fight against any challenge to their errant ways, even when they claim Christ as their Lord. They fervently seek their ways, and thus, superciliously disregard God's values, standards, and His Word, and hate those who do. That means they hate you, too! So, they seek to destroy the faithful. They ridicule and slander anyone who is upright. It is unfair, it is wrong, and it hurts us deeply, because we do not deserve it.
In conjunction to this, one of the interesting aspects of the Christian faith is that our obedience may cause others to suffer, too. Our faith may have a cost that others will have to pay, such as befriending someone we would not naturally like, or leading where we fear to go. Perhaps, it is a letting go of our plans, such as the sacrifices a wife makes for her husband's ministry or a child's sacrifice to move to a foreign land because of his or her missionary parents. Perhaps, it would be the untimely death of a martyr or a series of circumstances that leads to a great loss. At the very least, other's plans will be disturbed. Because our lives may be used by God to convict and to convert others who are not wiling to comply, some will go through whatever it takes to lead others to either surrender their will to His or remain in their sins, suffering the consequences of their own decisions. A cost may be required, but we have to see that cost as glorious, as it is for the Lord. And, it could never compare it to the cost He paid for us!
When others, who are prideful, come against us, we are in good company, for they did this to our Lord, too. In fact, I have never met or read about a true, godly follower of Christ who has not been through the rigors of life, who has not suffered for His cause, such as Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, J. Edwards, and so many more. But, the wonder of it all is that they always became better for it. We are not necessarily called to suffer, or seek to get ourselves into it purposely. However, we can deal with it with excellence, learn from it, and even use it to better ourselves and help others, too. But, we still have to deal with the issue that seems the worst of all to me, and that is that the people who come against us appear not to suffer at all, even when we do. So, what is this all about?
How do You Deal with Your Hurt? How Should You?
How we deal with our hurt and the hurt of others will become our virtue. This virtue will be the evidence we can feel that Christ is indeed carrying us in times of hardship. He is carrying you! It will enable us to act with courage and dignity, without any hesitation, in whatever situation we may face. Consider this; the Christian who follows his or her own will, as a competition with God's, is guilty of idolatry. This is kicking the sand away from His foot steps. Instead of loving God and truly pursuing His will, he or she, in a certain sense, is worshipping self. In contrast, what we are supposed to be doing is giving God the glory, regardless of our circumstances, so that whatever we are doing, we do our best in virtue for His benefit, which in turn, benefits us for eternity.
Our prime example is Christ our Lord and how He completed the ultimate, humble act and made the ultimate sacrifice. Our Lord came as a baby, born in a feed trough in a cave, to save us. The greatest King who ever was and ever will be was born without any king-like splendor. He sacrificed Himself in our place. He did not deserve that; we did. Christ taught us the path of virtue. It is a path that ventures through the valleys of harshness and the hills of pain to the destination of glory. Virtue often requires sacrifice. Just as our Lord came to do the Father's will, we need to be ready to engage with His character to be able to be in His will. So, our greatest triumph is to be able to pursue virtue regardless of cost, just as our Lord did on our behalf. We need not be clouded by the things and the outlook of the world, or the peer pressure of those around us who are trying to lead us away from Him.
Do not allow your trepidations and past experiences determine how you will proceed in your life and call. We are not responsible for how others treat us. We are only responsible for being our best for His glory, producing Fruit, and being contagious with our faith. We are responsible not to store up our hurt, and we are responsible not to use our hurt against others, even when we feel they deserve it! We also cannot wallow in our self-pity. Yes, we need times to rest and lick our wounds, but we are not to make a prison out of it, cutting ourselves off from His call and His best!
God sees our ultimate perfection as love, and since He loves us, we should respond in like manner. That love is to seek Him; when we seek Him, we love Him; when we honor Him, we seek Him. Virtue does not just happen. We do not wake up one day with it, nor do we even receive it when we become Christians. It becomes available, it is within our grasp to open, it is there for us to use, but it does not come naturally. We have to seek it out and not allow our hurt and past experiences block its work-His work-in us (Philip. 4:6-7).
Our Lord comforts us with the assurance that when we go through tough stuff, even testing and trials, we will be better for it! Our setbacks and sufferings will produce greater character and maturity; we will gain patience, and our faith will grow and be strengthened. The key is to allow Him to work and to take our hurt and pain so we do not have to store it up for future use! When we see Christ, we have confidence that we will be complete.
The Serenity Prayer
GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living ONE DAY AT A TIME; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as the 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 if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen (Reinhold Neibuhr-1926)
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Founder and Director of Into Thy Word Ministries, a missions and discipling ministry. He is the author of several books including Into Thy Word, A Field Guide to Healthy Relationships and Net-Work. He is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (M.Div.) and holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Practical Theology from London (Ph.D). He has garnered over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a Church Growth Consultant.