Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Perspective on Suffering

Episode Resources

Download the True Woman Manifesto.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says when you endure suffering for God’s glory, it can produce a lot of good things.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: It will give us a bigger view of God. It will give us a more humble view of ourselves. It will give us a more compassionate view of others. If we let it, God will use suffering to give us a right view of this life and a heightened view of eternity.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Brokenness: The Heart God Revives, for Monday, June 4, 2018.

A team of wise leaders worked hard to craft a document that is needed in our day. That document is the True Woman Manifesto. Nancy has been teaching through the Manifesto in several series this year, and our current series is "The True Woman Manifesto: Affirmations, Part 3."  Today’s installment deals with the subject each of us will deal with personally. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: Some of you may be familiar with the children’s book called We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. On the trip the family encounters hard times: long, wavy grass; a deep, cold river; thick, oozy mud; a big, dark forest, and a whirling, swirling snowstorm. Each time, they realize, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no, we have to go through it.”

I saw that, and I thought, “What a picture of life.” Encounter hard times: cancer diagnosis; discover that your mate is having an affair; lose your job; find out that the child you’re carrying has a life-threatening condition. There’s no control over those things. You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have no choice but to go through it.

I think that oftentimes people think that the Christian life is supposed to protect them from hard times. “If you walk with God, things will go better for you.” It gives you a pass from having to go through difficulty; kind of like a "get out of jail free" card—that that's what the Christian life is. So there’s this sense that, “I thought if I raised my kids right, they would turn out right. I thought if I was a good wife, my husband would get saved, he’d become a loving husband and a great spiritual leader.”

But it hasn’t happened. Life does not work—life in a fallen world doesn’t work. There are no formulas to make it work, and God doesn’t promise any formulas to make it work. So many people, having tried the Christian life, thinking that it was supposed to make life work, when it doesn’t work, they get disillusioned, discouraged, depressed, and many times just give up on the faith.

We come today to an affirmation in the True Woman Manifesto that is so important. Again, many of these affirmations do not relate to just women. They’re basic Christianity 101, and they’re things that we have to understand and live out if we’re to live out our manhood or our womanhood. Here’s an important one that we come to today, and that is this:

Suffering is an inevitable reality in a fallen world; at times we will be called to suffer for doing what is goodlooking to heavenly reward rather than earthly comfortfor the sake of the gospel and the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.

Suffering. Now, unless you’re suffering at the moment, you don’t usually find yourself walking into a Christian bookstore, going online looking for a book or a series of messages or radio program or DVD on suffering. You only want it when you’re going through it and you have a desperate need. In the course of things, suffering’s not a topic that we’re eager to become experts on.

Someone has said that “suffering is wanting what you don’t have or having what you don’t want.” That can be many different forms and degrees. It can look a whole lot of different ways. It ranges from traffic jams, as someone has said, to taxes, to tumors and everything in between.

In fact, in retrospect it's a little humerous, but at the moment it wasn't. Late last night as I was just getting to this session in my notes on suffering, my laptop, which had been acting strange for the previous hours, froze up totally. I had probably a dozen documents on there which, of course, I had not saved for hours. That's an IT departments nightmare. I couldn't get the thing to turn off. I couldn't get it to turn on. There was nothing.

I finally got it to turn off and on and still, nothing. Finally after it did get up and going, thank You Lord, and thank you IT department who I was able to place a call to late last night. No sooner did I get that fixed than, my printer . . . I had a two-page document that I needed to print out and it was in Excel. I push quick print, you know, where it is supposed to print automatically. You know how it flashes the number of pages that it is getting ready to print, it said: 19,346 pages! And my printer starts whirring and whirring and whirring—19,000 pages! I couldn't get it to stop. I mean, I didn't have 19,000 pieces of paper.  So I finished up one ream of paper that was in there and put it back in thinking it would stop, but it kept going and going and going. I had not printed off these notes yet, and I'm going, I have to wait for 19,000 pages to print before I can print my notes.

Well, I don't want to call any of that suffering because some of you really are suffering in some very serious ways that make my little laptop and printer episodes seem as nothing. But at the moment, when I looked at my notes and realized what day I was on, on the suffering day, I thought, This is life! You can't go over it. You can't go under it. You can't go around it. You have to go through it.

As I said, there really are those whose lives are hurting in serious ways. I mentioned earlier in this series a woman I talked with this past week who is in hospice care—fifty-five years of age, dying of cancer. She's dying, basically, alone. There's no family. It's a woman who is a huge prayer partner and supporter of our ministry. Now she's in pain, and they can't manage the pain. She's struggling with fears and doubts. As we talked on the phone the other day, I had to think through, how do you encourage someone who is really suffering?

One of the problems today is we don’t have much of a theology of suffering, especially here in the West, and the theology we do have often is mistaken. It tells us that when we suffer, there’s something wrong, that we’re out of God’s will. That can be true, but it’s not necessarily true. We have all kinds of mixed-up thinking about suffering.

Let me just say here, you’re not necessarily less godly because you’re suffering, and you’re not necessarily less godly because you aren’t suffering. Sometimes you can feel guilty about the fact that you aren’t suffering.

Remember that there are seasons in life. Most people will not always be suffering, but it will come eventually in every person’s life. Suffering is an inevitable reality in a fallen world. We have to expect it. Part of the reason some people get caught off guard is because they don’t expect it. They expect things to always go well. It’s common to all.

There are different types of suffering:

  • Sometimes we suffer the consequences of our own sin. The Bible calls that chastisement—it’s discipline.
  • Sometimes it has nothing to do with our choices, but it’s just because we live in a fallen world, and we live with the ramifications and the implications in this world of colds and headaches and tumors and car accidents. It’s life in a fallen world.
  • At other times, we’re persecuted or suffer precisely because we do what is right. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to understand.

Now, by saying that suffering is inevitable—just a parenthesis here—we’re not saying that we should not try to alleviate suffering where it’s in our power to do so.

Also, we are not justifying abuse. Some people have read this portion of the Manifesto and they have said it could sound like somebody who’s in an abusive marriage or relationship could think that we’re saying, “Oh, this is a good thing that you’re suffering in this way.” We’re not saying that you become a punching bag in your marriage.

Again, there are biblical teachings and means of recourse and help. There are resources we have available here at Revive Our Hearts to help you if you are in that kind of situation, and we want to encourage you to get help and to realize that we are not saying to run into the face of danger or harms way or suffering.

I want us today to just take a look at two passages that have been on my heart as I’ve been meditating on this issue of suffering, especially suffering for doing what is good because that perhaps is the most inexplicable type of suffering.

The first is in Matthew chapter 10. This is not a passage I would have considered putting in this program, but I came across it in my quiet time over the last several days. As I was meditating on it, I thought, This relates to what we’re talking about here.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples to heal the sick and to preach the gospel of the kingdom. You would have thought that people would have been excited about this—the deaf can hear; the blind can see; the lepers are cured; the gospel has come; the kingdom has come; night has turned into day. You would have thought that people would have welcomed this ministry and this message.

But Jesus told them before they went out, in the instructions He gave them, that some people would resist them. Some people would reject them and their message, even as those same people rejected Christ.

So in verse 16 of Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Sheep in the midst of wolves—that just sounds dangerous to me. That does not sound like a story that’s going to have a happy ending. Those sheep in the midst of wolves are vulnerable, and, in fact, they have little chance of survival.

You would expect a shepherd to do everything in his power to protect his sheep from the wolves, to keep his sheep as far away from the wolves as possible. But here’s Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, saying that He’s deliberately sending out His followers into the midst of the wolves, and they’re going to get hurt. He’s not just going to put this little cocoon around them, wrap them up, and say, “Okay, you’re a good little Christian here. Because you’re serving Me, you’re not going to get hurt.”

He goes on to give more details. Look at verse 17:

Beware of men for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and before kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

There’s even going to be a type of suffering that takes place in families, because families will be divided by those who follow Christ and those who reject Him. Verse 21:

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name sake.

Jesus knew this was coming. He was trying to prepare His disciples. He’s trying to prepare us to endure. That’s what He says. “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 22). That’s not to say that we are justified because we endure, but that because we are justified, the evidence of that is that we endure all the way to the end.

The disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house [Jesus] Beelzebul [which is a reference to Satan], how much more will they malign those of His household? (vv. 24–25).

The world hates Christ, and Jesus is saying, “They’re going to take their hatred out on My followers.” If Christ suffered for doing good, if He was rejected, should those who are like Him and follow Him expect to be treated differently?

Now, let me take you to another passage where I want to spend the rest of our time. Philippians chapter 1.

We’ve seen that suffering is unavoidable, even for those who do what is good, serving the Lord. As we come to Philippians 1, the apostle Paul gives us some wonderful insights about suffering, and these insights give us perspective that help us endure faithfully to the end.

You know the context here. Paul is imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel. He is guarded day and night, 24/7, by members of the Imperial Guard. He’s also dealing with critics, with opponents in the ministry.

As I was trying to meditate on this passage, I was thinking about the things that Paul might have been justified in feeling or thinking in those circumstances. Paul could have felt trapped. He could have felt resentful or bitter. He could have felt anxious, frustrated, angry, restless, impatient, discouraged, depressed, defeated.

He could have viewed those circumstances as a huge setback, an obstacle. “God called me to preach Christ, but here I am in this prison, and I have nobody to preach to, nobody to listen. I have no hope of getting out of here.” He could have viewed this as a huge setback to the gospel ministry.

But to the contrary, Paul has a perspective that challenges us in our prison cells, in our places of suffering. He says in verse 12 of chapter 1: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me . . .” What had happened to Paul? He’d been arrested; he’d be imprisoned; he was being held there against his will; he was being guarded by these Imperial Guards. “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”

Far from being an obstacle or a setback, this has resulted in the gospel going forward. “What has happened to me has helped to advance the gospel.”

Now you never would have written the script this way. If you wanted to say, “How do we get the gospel out?” you wouldn’t have said, “Put its chief spokesman in prison.” But in God’s economy, it was Paul in prison, among other things like writing letters like Philippians, that resulted in the gospel being advanced.

That word advance means "to go before an army, or to clean out debris." "What has happened to me—my circumstances—have gone before the army of Christ and His Truth and have cleaned out the debris, to make the passage smoother for the gospel to advance."

This says to me, to us, that our suffering is purposeful. It has value. It is not meaningless. It is not random.

Now, it’s purposeful in a lot of different ways. It’s purposeful in our own lives. Suffering sanctifies.

Psalm 119:71, the psalmist says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”

Often times we don’t see that when we’re in the middle of affliction, but afterwards, we can see, “Yes, that really was good for me. I needed what I learned through that experience.”

So it’s purposeful in our own lives, but there’s an ultimate purpose of suffering that makes it oh so worthwhile. If we could only get this, and that is for the sake of the gospel and the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.

That’s what we read in this part of the Manifesto: “At times we are called to suffer for doing what is good for the sake of the gospel and the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.”

Paul is saying, “This is all that really matters to me—the advancement of the gospel.” He says, “If I know the gospel is being advanced, I can endure anything. I can endure prison. I can endure these guards. I can even endure death if necessary if people are coming to know Christ and becoming a part of His Kingdom.”

So he says in verse 13:

It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

It’s for Christ! Boy, think about it. It gives you a whole different perspective on whatever you’re going through if you can say, “My imprisonment, this season of my life, this challenge, this painful circumstance, this pregnancy, this menopause, this child, this financial issue, this—fill in the blank—is for Christ. I’m going through this for Him so that His gospel can be advanced.”

Ask yourself as you think about whatever trials you may be facing at this season of your life, big or small—if they’re small now, you’ll have some big ones later, so get in practice while they’re small—ask yourself, “How could this—fill in the blank—that I’m going through be used to make Christ known and to advance His Kingdom?”

I was on the phone last night with someone who is going through difficult circumstances in her life. I was just kind of full of this passage and I was sharing with her what I had been seeing in Philippians—that our suffering is valuable, that Paul says what has happened to me has served to advance the gospel.

This woman says to me, "I can see that Paul's imprisonment was used to advance the gospel, but it's really hard for me to see how what I'm going through can be used to advance the gospel.

That’s the perspective we need, that it can and it will advance the gospel if we’ll let it; that our imprisonment, our suffering, our circumstances are for Christ.

He says in verse 14:

And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

So now you have not just Paul preaching without fear, but you have others who’ve seen how he has suffered, and they’re emboldened to preach the gospel themselves. What made them bolder? What helped them to speak the gospel without fear? You’re talking about the Roman government where, to preach the gospel could be "off with your head." What made them bold?

They saw the way that Paul endured hardship, not giving in to anger, bitterness, fear, depression, discouragement. They looked at that, and they saw Christ magnified in his life, and they said, “This Savior is worth living for. He’s worth dying for. I can choose to represent Him without fear”—because of Paul’s imprisonment.

Verse 15, Paul said,

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (vv. 15–18).

Here’s the next principle about suffering: It is possible to rejoice even in the midst of suffering. I really is.

Paul says,

Yes, I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain (vv. 19–21).

As you read this paragraph, you realize that our suffering will be rewarded. Paul says, “This will turn out for my deliverance. This is not forever.”

Whatever you’re going through—imprisonment or anything else—Paul says, “I will be delivered in God’s time and in His way,” and so will you. There will be an end to it.

Paul saw that Christ was being glorified and honored, and that was enough for him. That was the reward, sufficient reward, that Christ would be honored and glorified.

Paul says, “Live or die—those are the only two choices. I’m either going to live, or I’m going to die—either way, I win. If I’m alive, I have Christ. He is my life. If I’m dead, I’m with Christ who is my life. So I can’t lose.” That’s how Paul saw these difficult circumstances.

So we need perspective. We have to take the long view, not the immediate view, and see that this is a journey that has rewards. It has struggles along the way, but there’s an end in sight. There’s a purpose, there’s a goal toward which we’re all moving. If we will receive the suffering—whatever it looks like, however big or small it may be at that moment—and let God use it in our lives, here some things suffering will give us, the reward:

  • It will give us a bigger view of God.
  • It will give us a more humble view of ourselves.
  • It will give us a more compassionate view of others.

Boy, there’s some things I never had empathy with people about until I went through some of those things myself. I tell you, before I hit my fifties, I could look at people in this season of life and think, “Get a grip!” Now I’m in this season of life, and the Lord has given me more compassion for women whose bodies are changing and doing different things. Their emotions are up and down—you know what I’m talking about. A more compassionate view of others.

  • If we let it, God will use suffering to give us a right view of this life, which we don’t have naturally.
  • It will give us a heightened view of eternity, which is what it’s all about.

In fact, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4: "This is a momentary light affliction, and it is working for us. It is going to produce in us a far more eternal weight of glory” (v. 17, paraphrased). 

Now what we’re going through right now does not seem momentary, and it does not seem light, but Paul says it is, and it will produce for us something that is not worthy to be compared with what we have ahead.

In order to endure the suffering now, we have to be willing to relinquish temporal, earthly comfort and to wait for eternal, heavenly reward.

We have to be willing to settle for not having it all now. Now, the fact is, you can't have it all now anyway, so stop fighting for it. Realize that yes, there is suffering now, but we can endure if we are willing to relinquish my "right" to have it right now, and say, "I'll take later what Christ has to offer. I'm willing to go through this to get to that."

It’s just so interesting how in the New Testament, faith and suffering and joy are so linked together. Joy is the reward. Joy is what you can have as you go through it, too, but it’s “for the joy that was set before Him that Christ endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). There’s a fruit; there is a reward.

So Paul says in verse 27:

Only let your manner of life [right now, in the midst of the suffering] be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. . . . For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have (vv. 27, 29–30).

Do you know what verse 29 says to me? It says that suffering for Christ’s sake is a gift. It is a privilege. “It has been granted.” It has been given to you; it has been gifted to you not only to believe in Him. We all say, “Yes, faith, that’s a gift from God. Yes, I want all the faith I can get. Thank You, Lord, for the gift of faith. Thank You for grace. Thank You for salvation.”

Paul says not only has it been given you to believe in Christ, but it has also been gifted or given to you to suffer for Christ. It really is a gift. It’s a privilege.

Now, that doesn’t mean you ask for it. It doesn’t mean you run into it. And it doesn’t mean, if there’s something you can do to alleviate the suffering or the pain, that you don’t take advantage of that.

It doesn’t mean that in a marital situation where there’s suffering going on, get some help. Get the elders of your church, get people to come around. You may even need to bring the law in. God has made provision for certain types of suffering. Don’t just say, “Oh, I’m supposed to suffer quietly.”

I’m telling you, when there’s nothing that you can do to change your circumstances, and when it looks like they’re going to go on forever, and they’re not, according to what you or I would have scripted, remember that this is a calling. This is a gift. It is preparing us for eternity.

At times we will be called—it’s a calling—we will be called to suffer for doing what is good, looking to heavenly reward rather than earthly comfort for the sake for the gospel and the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been quoting a line from the True Woman Manifesto. It provides an important truth about suffering, and Nancy’s been teaching through this part of the Manifesto. To read the whole manifesto, visit ReviveOurHearts.com. The text of the document, along with an animated video that will take you through the whole Manifesto.

Now Nancy today’s topic of suffering brings up a question that has been getting a lot of attention lately. If a woman is suffering in an abusive situation, should she just continue to stay in that situation and be abused? Does the call to suffering mean you never take action to address the suffering?

Nancy: My heart goes out to any woman in that situation. We’ve been talking about accepting suffering as a way to glorify God. In a situation like this, what is going to glorify God?

First, any woman in this situation should get to a safe place and reach out for help as soon as possible. God has given us governing authorities to whom we can turn when laws are being broken and when individuals are in danger. Second, as you take these steps to ensure your safety, it is essential that you also ensure that your heart is protected, stewarded, and that the abuse is addressed spiritually as well as legally. So in addition to bringing in any civic authorities or law enforcement as necessary, also get with the leaders of your church to get their help and their counsel. Ask them to walk with you through the hurt, the implications, and to be an additional means of God's protection and grace in your life.

Finally, there’s likely a need for the church to biblically confront this husband and help him see the results of what he’s doing. The goal here is to see him come to genuine repentance. Repentance that in time, if it is genuine, will result over time in a demonstrated pattern of new set of behaviors that are consistent with the biblical call of husbands to love and protect their wives and families.

I don’t pretend any of that is easy or that I can give advice on a national program that deals with specific needs of specific people. That’s why you need the body of Christ to help you get to safety and to find the wisdom and healing you need.

Father, I do lift up to You some woman who is listening right now who may be in a desperate or dire situation; she doesn't know what to do. Would You give her the wisdom? Would You help her to know who to call, what to do? Would you lead her to a godly, wise, mature person who can help her navigate what may seem so perplexing and difficult in this moment? Give her grace. Show her the way. Show her the path. Put a hedge of protection around her. Guard her heart, her body, her soul, her spirit in every way. I pray that You would be to her a shepherd, a provider, and a protector, and that You would be glorified and honored as she navigates this situation with Your help. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

God calls all kinds of mothers to invest in the next generation. That includes biological mothers, but it also includes women who just love to share the love of Christ and invest in others.

We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you walk in freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. It is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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