Most of my prayers about suffering sound something like this, “Lord, please don’t make me suffer, but if I have to, don’t make it last long.”
No one wants to suffer. But we really, really don’t want to have to suffer long-term. Our collective tendency is to barrel through seasons of suffering to get to the place of relief as quickly as possible. Yet, sometimes relief remains out of sight and suffering settles in to stay.
When terminal illness goes unhealed . . .
When loved ones stay estranged . . .
When financial hardship cannot quickly be resolved . . .
When grief settles deep into the crevices of our hearts . . .
When marriage and parenting challenges remain . . .
The promises of God can feel slippery, constantly sliding just out of reach. Where can we turn when the pain doesn’t pass?
Here are four promises to cling to when suffering settles in.
1. God never tires of your persistent prayers.
Did you pray for relief, and did you stop praying when it didn’t come? Do you take your continued suffering as a sign that God isn’t listening or that He has decided not to heal what is broken in you? Listen to Jesus’ words about how we are to pray.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1–8)
The unrighteous judge may have been “bothered” by the persistent widow, but Christ is not bothered by you. Keep coming. Keep asking. Cry day and night for relief.
There is no statute of limitations on prayer. As long as your suffering remains, keep asking the Lord to deliver you from it.
2. Redemption is a long game (and a short game).
God has used Revelation 21:1–4 to reorganize how I see the human experience.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
John’s vision puts everything into one of two buckets—former things and eternal things. There is no grey area, no third option.
What goes in the eternal things bucket?
What goes in the former things bucket?
It’s bound to pass away. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not this year, or even this lifetime. But eventually . . . all suffering will cease. All bad things must come to an end.
This longer view of redemption is our true hope, rather than the temporary relief of temporary troubles.
In many ways, redemption is also a short game. It’s already finished. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, your suffering is already redeemed.
The cross is sufficient for your cancer. It can carry the load of your broken heart. Christ has already beaten the death that continues to grieve you. His victory is secure over the long shadow sin casts over your lives.
We live in the in-between—between the cross and Christ’s second coming. Suffering is par for the course on this middle ground, but our redemption is secure. Soon enough, every ache and pain will shift to the former things bucket.
3. This is the worst hell you’ll ever be in.
Randy Alcorn says it this way, “The best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.”
You may be sick for the rest of your life.
You might not find relief for your chronic pain.
Your relationships might remain fractured.
But for Christ followers, we have great hope that none of our pain will follow us heavenward. When you’re tempted to believe that you will never find relief, or that your life will always be this way, remember that Jesus has already prepared a pain-free place for you with Him. Your suffering (and mine) has an expiration date.
4. He makes all things beautiful in His time.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Eccl. 3:11)
Nothing makes me long for heaven more than the pockets of suffering in my own life. It is the pain I cannot escape that makes my cry most desperately for Jesus and long most passionately for heaven. God has placed a longing for eternity in each of our hearts. Suffering is the tool He often uses to reveal it.
We have the sure promise that God makes everything beautiful in His time. We have no such promise that He will bring beauty from ashes in our time.
Relief from suffering may not come this week, this month, this year. It may not come in our lifetime, or even in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. But God is already at work to redeem what has been shattered.
Beauty is coming. It won’t be long now.
In my own life, God has used long-term suffering to expose areas of weak faith. Pain that stays forces me to wrestle with whether I really trust Him. Do I rest in His sovereign care when the aching stays?
Ultimately, this is grace, an opportunity to surrender myself once again to His plan, to trust Him to redeem all that remains broken in me.
If suffering has settled in to your life, allow me to invite you to do the same. Surrender your heartache, your pain, and your fear. Tell Him you trust His timeline. Lay your pain down as an offering and rejoice.
[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame. (Romans 5:3–5)
PS: Hear more about my family's current journey through Alzheimers on the Revive Our Hearts podcast. Listen here.