A few weeks before last Easter, something snapped in me, and let me assure you, it wasn't pretty. I walked out of my son's room after a long, exhausting struggle with him, scared by the anger and impatience that his special needs had suddenly provoked in me. It’s impossible to explain all that brought me to this point, and even if I could, it wouldn't necessarily be beneficial—because the circumstances aren’t the point. This is one of the many crosses I’ve been given to carry, and no one can fully understand the weight of it but Christ.
However, what struck me recently is that the painful circumstances we face aren’t only painful because of the trials themselves but because suffering draws our sin to the surface and intensifies our internal battle as well.
As I’ve prayed about and considered what broke me that particular day, I’ve realized it was not as much the pain of my son’s struggle but the horror of seeing the ugliness of my sinful heart. I can now see how in that moment God was graciously allowing the pressure of my circumstances to break through my human resolve and natural tendency to use my pain as an excuse for my response. Though it’s been difficult, I can see His loving hand behind it.
The Magnifying Glass of Trials
The reality is we tend to feel pretty good about ourselves when nothing is pushing our buttons or threatening our comfort and control. But when trials start to press in on us, sinful responses are often not far behind. Though at first we might blame our circumstances, over time, we face the reality that our trials are not the cause of our sin but the magnifier of what was already there. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing the ugliness of our sinful thoughts, actions, and reactions can be incredibly discouraging and unsettling. Where is this anger coming from, we wonder. I've never been an angry person! Did I really just say that? Did I really just think that?How could I possibly have done that?!
We're shocked by the realization that something so sinful could come out of us. But then it happens again, and again, and again, and we’re left wondering what happened to the good person we once were.
And yet this is evidence of our Father's love for us—as He gently lifts the veil of false perception and opens our eyes to the depravity of our hearts apart from Christ. This season of intense suffering has led me to resonate increasingly with Paul's words in 1 Timothy 1:15–16:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Although to some this may sound as though I’m defeated and “being hard on myself,” the reality is that I am now freer to receive the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ because I see more clearly how desperately I need it. It’s not until we gain an accurate picture of our wretchedness that we’re able to grasp and be changed by the incredible gift of Christ's sacrifice for us.
Suffering, although hard to understand at times, can be the greatest path to understanding the undeserved and glorious treasure of the gospel. So, rather than viewing suffering as an inconvenient, senseless glitch in the plan, let’s look at it through the lens of gospel truth. From that vantage point we will be better able to trust that whatever cross God has asked us to carry, it will be used by Him to accomplish His good purposes.
5 Ways God Has Used the Pressure of Suffering
I’d like to encourage you with five ways God has used the pressure of suffering to reveal who I am apart from Christ and what I have gained in Him. I pray these will encourage you to see how God is doing a redeeming work within your own trials.
1. The pressure of suffering has revealed pride and the expectation of earthly blessing and comfort.
But Christ sacrificed His comfort, health, earthly reputation, and life so that you and I could have far more than these temporal desires, which we never deserved in the first place—including a secure identity in Him, forgiveness of sins, growing character to reflect Him, joy that isn’t dependent on circumstances, purpose for every moment of our life, and promised eternity with Him. As He helps us see more clearly how little we deserve, it should humble us and lead us to worship God for all we have gained in Christ (Phil. 3:8–10).
In fact, the very trials that have caused me, for a time, to question God’s goodness have been the means by which He has shown me just how good of a Father He is.
2. The pressure of suffering has revealed how conditional and temporal my love is.
But Christ willingly and knowingly entered into horrific suffering to offer the ultimate sacrifice—His very life—even while we rejected Him and were oblivious of our need for Him.
When I react in anger, self-protection, and self-pity to the hurtful words and actions of my child (even though they are out of his control), I am freshly reminded of how Jesus' response was the opposite of mine when He was mocked, beaten, and rejected by the very people He was giving His life for. The only way I will be able to offer unconditional love to those who may hurt me, test my patience, or fail to appreciate the sacrifices I've made for them (such as my children) is through the sanctifying work of Christ expanding my heart to love others out of His love for me.
We cannot do this in our own strength, but we can do all things through Him who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).
3. The pressure of suffering has revealed that my sin is a greater problem than my trials.
But Christ knew the true state of my heart—selfish, prideful, self-exalting, irritable, impatient, entitled, and rebellious—even before my life began; and He still chose to love me, die for me, forgive me, and offer me new life in Him at His expense.
Sometimes God allows uncomfortable (or downright devastating) circumstances in order to expose the true state of our hearts and magnify the holiness of His. Until we are willing to face the gravity of our sin, we will never fully grasp the freedom and treasure we've been given through the redeeming blood of Christ.
4. The pressure of suffering has revealed how much I desire to be in control.
But Christ has allowed my suffering to help free me from the prison of trying to be my own god and to teach me to trust Him, lean on Him, and find rest in Him as the One and only true God who is in control and working out His good and loving purposes in my life.
Trying to control our lives is exhausting and, eventually, we will crash and burn. In God's grace, He sometimes allows circumstances that strip away our ability to control our surroundings in order to free us from the vicious cycle of self-reliance and teach us to rest in His loving purposes and faithful promises.
5. The pressure of suffering has revealed how far I fall short of God's holiness.
But Christ came to earth to live the perfect life that I fall short of every day. He died in my place to pay the penalty of my sin so that His holiness and perfection would cover my failures, sins, and attempts at self-glorifying morality. Ever so slowly, He is faithfully changing my sinful heart to reflect the holiness of His.
As the psalmist said, “He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday" (Ps. 37:6). We may not see it in the moment, just as it's hard to see the sunlight gradually increasing as it comes over the horizon, but when we look back, we will see how the light and character of Christ has grown within us.
If you are feeling discouraged by your sin, take heart, and be comforted by the fact that if you see your sin and are grieved by it, it means the Spirit is at work in you. He will be faithful to His promise and will bring your righteousness to completion. And even now, we have the confident hope that as we travel the road of sanctification, we are redeemed and hidden in the righteousness of Christ.
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus
At first glance, pain and suffering seem to do nothing more than rob us of joy and happiness. But in time, God often uses it to increase and deepen our joy and freedom in Him as it drives us to Christ and lifts our eyes heavenward. As He removes the illusion of happiness and exposes the brokenness of our soul apart from Christ, He gradually opens our eyes to the treasure, joy, and hope of being forgiven, loved, and restored by the blood of Jesus.
Christian, Jesus gave His own life in place of ours so that we could once again experience the immeasurable blessings of being in a relationship with our heavenly Father. Knowing this, we need to remind ourselves when life gets hard that “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all . . . [will] also with him graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:32). If you are hurting today, may that pain lead you to know your Savior more deeply than ever before. For if we are in Christ, we can trust that just as His suffering had a holy and glorious purpose, ours does as well.
Today, let’s press on in hope, trusting that the cross we carry on the road of following Christ is immeasurable worth it and eternally valuable.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
PS: Discover more True Hope through Sarah’s and Kristen Wetherell’s book, Hope When It Hurts, and their breakout session from True Woman ’18 by the same title. The depth of truth, married with personal experience, in these resources will encourage and strengthen your heart.