Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Purpose of Suffering

Episode Resources

Download "How to Endure Suffering."

Leslie Basham: Do you ever find that quick meals aren't as satisfying as the original; quick rice isn't as good as regular; instant oatmeal isn't as rich as the kind you cook on the stove, and instant coffee—well, do I need to go any further? Sometimes more time and more effort brings about greater results.

This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

Yesterday Nancy began a series called, "Enduring Life’s Hardships." If you missed it, you can hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com. She’s here today with part two.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We've all been impressed by examples of those who endure against incredible odds—athletes, explorers. One of my favorite illustrations comes from the animal kingdom, and perhaps you've seen the March of the Penguins. It's a National Geographic documentary about the Emperor penguins of Antarctica. If you haven't seen this, let me just rehearse it for you. It's just an amazing story.

Every winter thousands of those birds leave their secure home in the ocean. They climb up onto the ice, and they begin a journey of more than seventy miles across ice and snow. It's just a frozen desert, and they're going to their traditional breeding ground. They go to the same place every year, and they march, if you could call it that. It's actually kind of shuffling, just amazing to watch.

In single file, these penguins, thousands of them, for all those miles go through this huge struggle to survive against predators, blinding blizzards, fierce winds, the harshest weather conditions on the face of the earth, but they are determined. They've got a goal in mind.

They've got a purpose, and when they get to the breeding ground, they mate. The females lay a single egg, and then those females head back across this same desert they just came across, this ice field. They go back to the seas where they started, to bring back food for their new, little chicks who are, in the meantime, going to be watched over in the eggs by the males.

The females make this hazardous journey. They're exhausted. They have gone weeks without any nourishment. They're threatened by these deadly leopard seals, and while the females are going back to get food, the males stay behind to guard the eggs. They keep them on the top of their claws or feet, whatever you call those.

If you've seen this, it's just amazing how they hold the egg under a little flap, but they guard that egg. They don't want it to break. They balance it on their feet for two months in sub-zero temperatures and eat nothing the entire time. Imagine men going without a meal for two months, or women, for that matter.

Finally, those eggs hatch. The mothers, by this time, return from the ocean with food. If they haven't made it back in time, then those little chicks will actually die of starvation, so the mothers have to get back with food for their young. Then the roles reverse, and the mothers stay with the chicks while their mates, the males, exhausted and starving, head back to the sea to find more food. It is an amazing story. I just sat there watching this with my mouth open and in amazement.  

I'm thinking, Why did God even make penguins? Who's in Antartica to even see them!

Aren't we stirred by an example like that and the story of their endurance, their willingness to suffer hardship and affliction, not just one time, but year after year, again and again and again for a goal? They have a purpose, and God has equipped them and given them the courage and the fortitude and whatever it takes for them to fulfill their created purpose, which involves suffering and hardship, as it does for us.

We're looking in this series this week and next at the book of Second Timothy and gathering insights about this whole thing of endurance. The apostle Paul, as we saw in the last session, is incarcerated. That's a nice word. He is stuck in a hole under the ground, probably in the Mamertine Prison in Rome, awaiting execution in a filthy, crowded, cramped, miserable prison. And he is writing to encourage his young friend, Timothy, who was a pastor in Ephesus and who was often fearful and discouraged.

Paul says to Timothy, “Expect hardship,” and that's where we started yesterday. Expect hardship. Don't think that because you're a pastor, don't think because you're godly, don't think that because you love God, don't think that because you've lived a faithful life, that you will be immune from hardship and suffering. It's part of life in this fallen world. It's part of life as a child of God. Expect hardship and suffering.

I was reading some quotes last night from Joni Eareckson Tada. She has such a wealth of wisdom when it comes to endurance and faithfulness. But this one made me smile. She said, God asks His children in every nation and walk of life to suffer. Only two places on this planet are exempt: a few acres in Southern California and a few in Florida.

And you know where those are! If you've been to Disneyland or Disney World, you know that you suffer there too—when you pay the bill and when it's hot. My parents took us six little kids to whichever one is in Southern California. That's probably some kind of suffering too!

She says, everywhere on this planet, on every square foot on this planet, we are expected to suffer.

The question isn't, “Will I suffer? Will I have hard times?” The real question is, “How do I handle it? How do I respond? What to do when I'm suffering, when I'm experiencing hardship?" As we said yesterday, suffering comes in different packages and different sized packages. What you're suffering today may be as minor as a traffic jam, or it may be as major as the discovery of a terminal illness and everything in-between.

There are degrees, but, "Suffering," as Elisabeth Elliot has always said, "is having something you don't want or wanting something you don't have." Life is full of that, so what do you do? What does Paul tell Timothy all through this letter?

There's one bottom line—endure. Endure—put up with it. Suffer is what he says. Endure hardship. There's no escape. There are no shortcuts. There are no detours around it. There are no quick fixes. There are no magic formulas.

People write us at Revive Our Hearts—and I'm so thrilled that they do—and ask us to pray and share with us how we can pray. Often people come for counseling when I'm speaking at conferences and will pour out their hearts about huge, major issues and heartaches and struggles and problems and challenges they're facing.

My heart goes out to them, but sometimes I feel like what they really wish, and what I have really wished at times when my heart has been aching, is that somebody could just fix it—just give me a pill. Give me a potion. Give me a Scripture. Just fix it! Put a Band-Aid on it. Make it better. Make it go away.

Sometimes I have to look at those women, and my heart hurts with them, (not the way theirs is hurting). I sometimes just feel like what I need to say is, “You know, there's no way around this. You have to endure. There is no quick fix. There's no way out of this.”

Now, God may choose to alleviate the pressure at points. He may bring relief in different ways, but all I can promise you is that God will give you grace to endure. I can't promise God will change your circumstances. I can't promise God will fix your marriage, but I can promise you that God will give you grace to endure.

Paul says in chapter 2 of Second Timothy, verse 3, “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (NKJV). That's not a Band-Aid. That's not a fix. That's just a, “Here's what you do.”

"Endure hardship as a good soldier." Go through it. He says in 2:10, “I endure everything for the sake of the [gospel]."

That word "endure" is a word that means “to remain under.” To remain under what? To remain under whatever it is you're under, to remain under the hardship, under the affliction, under the pressure—to bear up courageously under suffering, under affliction.

Then in chapter 2, beginning in verse 4, Paul gives three real-life examples of people in different careers, different vocations, who endure hardship in various forms. Each of these people strives and serves and makes sacrifices, even suffers if necessary, in order to fulfill their mission.

The first one is a soldier, verse 4. He says, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him,” and so the soldier gives up a “normal life”—comforts, conveniences of home. He doesn't get distracted by civilian pursuits. He's focused on his responsibilities. He suffers.

Verse 5, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules,” so an athlete accepts restraints. He accepts disciplines of training. He keeps the rules that have been established for his sport—for example, no drugs, stay in the bounds. He can't make up his own rules. He accepts those restraints, those hardships.

Then verse 6, it's the hardworking farmer—first the soldier, then the athlete, now the farmer, “the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” That word "hard-working," in the original language means, “to labor to the point of exhaustion.” Hard-working—to labor to the point of exhaustion.

Some of you moms know what it means to be hard-working. The farmer has to do this in good weather, and he has to do it in bad weather. What does he do? He has hardship. He endures. He's hard-working.

The question is how to endure, and that's what has been such a blessing to me about my study of Second Timothy as I have discovered, and am still discovering, many helpful insights that Paul gives to Timothy in this book about how to endure suffering and hardship. I want to share some of those principles, some of those perspectives and insights.

Now, let me just say the immediate context of the book of Second Timothy is that Paul is talking to Timothy as a pastor. So a lot of his applications have to do with, “In the ministry, these are the kinds of hardships you may be expected to endure, and this is how you endure as a pastor.”

I'm not a pastor. You're not pastors, but God has applied to my own heart many of these principles from Second Timothy that can relate to whatever your role is in life—whether you're a farmer or an athlete or a soldier, or a wife, a mom, a homemaker, out in the workplace. Whatever it is that is your season of life, these are principles that can be applied to help you endure.

Let me encourage you, as I try to do often on Revive Our Hearts, not to let me do all your study for you. I want to encourage you to get in God's Word, to get into the book of Second Timothy yourself over these next several days. Look for yourself. Get a pencil and paper and begin to read through this book as I have read through it—over and over and over again. Jot down things that the Lord shows you that are insights, perspectives about how to endure suffering. 

There's a group of women and young people in my church who recently memorized the book of Second Timothy, and I told one of those women recently that if that book, Second Timothy, four chapters, was all that a believer had to help him face whatever pain and suffering lies ahead, it would be enough to get them through it.

I would say for whatever you will face between now and the time you get to the end of your race, if you will let God write in your heart the principles and perspectives of Second Timothy, you will have what you need, not only to survive, but to do what Paul did—better than surviving, he thrived—to thrive.

First insight or perspective here from Second Timothy—don't forget why you are suffering. Don't forget why you are suffering. Don't lose sight of your purpose. Don't lose sight of the goal.

We saw the soldier, the athlete, the farmer who endure hardship. Why? Because they each have an objective that they consider worth the effort, worth the sacrifice.

What's the soldier's objective? Paul says in verse 4, “To please his commanding officer” (NIV). His objective is to win the battle, to be victorious, and so he's willing to make sacrifices, to endure hardship.

What's the objective of the athlete? To win, to be crowned, to get a medal or a pennant or a title. He wants to be champion, so for that objective he endures hardship.

What's the objective of the farmer? He wants to earn a living. He wants to have something to eat. He wants to have a crop, and in order to reach his objective, he's willing to endure hardship.

Now what was Paul's objective and purpose in life that made him willing to endure hardship and suffering? Paul, why do you do it? Paul says, “I remember why I'm suffering, and here's why.” Let me give you three reasons that Paul was willing to endure suffering.

First of all, he said, “I suffer for the gospel.” I suffer for the gospel, and you see this over and over again in Second Timothy. Paul says, “My purpose is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I am willing to endure hardship in order to fulfill that purpose.”

Look at chapter 1, verse 10—very end of verse 10 going into verse 11. He talks about the “gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.” It's a privilege for me to proclaim Christ. It's a calling. It's my life mission, and so I'm willing to suffer for that purpose.

Chapter 2, verse 8, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead . . . as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.” Chapter 4, verse 17, “So that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

Paul says, “It's worth it in order to proclaim the gospel—for the sake of the gospel.” I've been reading recently (re-reading) a message by John Piper on Adoniram Judson, who was America's first, foreign missionary. John Piper says as he talks about this hero of the faith—one of the conclusions that he draws, is that, “Suffering is one of Christ’s strategies for the success of His mission.”

And Christ's mission is the proclamation of the gospel, the lifting up of Christ throughout the world. Piper says that, “Suffering is one of Christ’s strategies for the success of His mission,” the gospel going out into the world, and that was Paul's perspective all through life.

He says in Acts chapter 20, verse 23, “The Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” So the question you might wonder is, So Paul, why do you go? If you know in advance that you're stepping into trouble, why don't you knock that city off your itinerary?

Paul says in verse 24, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Paul says, “For the sake of the gospel, it's worth it to endure hardship.”

There's another purpose Paul had in suffering, and that is for the sake of the elect. Paul says—look at it in chapter 2, verse 10, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Paul says, “I am willing to endure any form of suffering, any degree of hardship, for the sake of those who will come to believe in Christ as a result of the preaching of the gospel.”

As you and I are willing to endure whatever heartache and hardships and sufferings we find ourself going through, big or little, we find our lives being a witness to the world of the all-sufficiency, the grace, the greatness, and the power of Christ. Our lives become a witness. The world doesn't have the capacity to endure hardship with joy, but we do. Let me say, not only do we have an impact on unbelievers, but our lives, the way we endure hardship, also has an impact on all those around us.

Moms, you are training and discipling your children as they see how you respond to heartache and hardship and suffering. I saw a powerful example of that in the life and the family of a friend whose husband has been unfaithful and put the family through incredible grief and heartache and pain just as their two children were going into their teenage years.

This mom has just endured, endured hardship. She has kept her eyes on Christ. It's been hard! It's been excruciating. There's been no pain-free way to get through it, but she has followed the principles of Second Timothy, has kept her eyes on Christ and has endured and has led her children in a process of keeping God's perspective on suffering.

You don't know how your young ones are processing all this and what they're thinking. But one day we were talking on the phone and she told me of some precious things that her children had said that had just made her weep as she realized they were getting it. God was working in their lives as a result of what they had seen in the way she had endured. I said to her, “Can you write that down for me? I want to be able to share that someday with others,” and so she did.

Here's the way she wrote it as she recalled. Her twelve-year-old son said to her,

Mom, since all of this happened with Dad, I have been afraid to get married some day because I'm so afraid I will hurt my family the way Dad has hurt us. But Mom, you have been the most incredible example to me these past few months.

Dad has hurt you over and over and over and you have shown me such an example by not breaking your marriage vow to him. You have shown him forgiveness and unconditional love over and over. Your example to me has made me want to get married and show that kind of love and commitment to my family someday. Your example to me has made me want to be a good testimony to other kids and even to other adults.

My friend said at the end of that email,

I hope these words will encourage other women to keep loving and not to give up!

She has endured for the sake of the elect, for the sake of that twelve-year-old boy and his future family, for your sake, for my sake.

I read that, and I think, God can give her grace to endure; God can give me grace to endure, enduring for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the elect, and for the glory of God.

The final line of Second Timothy, just before the closing P.S., the words of personal greeting at the end—Paul says, “To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (4:18). That's the bottom line. That's the purpose. That's the goal.

Oswald Chambers says, “Our circumstances are the means of manifesting how wonderfully perfect and extraordinarily pure the Son of God is. The thing that ought to make the heart beat is a new way of manifesting the Son of God.”

Remember, it's not about you. It's not about me. It's all about Christ. It's about the glory of God. It's all for Him. It's all for His glory.

If you want to endure, number one, don't forget why you're suffering. Remember that your suffering is not meaningless. It's not purposeless. It's purposeful. It's for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the elect, and for the glory of God.

Let's pray. Thank You, Lord, that our suffering is not meaningless, that it's not empty, that it's not in vain. Thank You that because the apostle Paul was willing to suffer, to endure hardship there in that Mamertine prison, today, 2000 years later, our hearts are being strengthened and encouraged and helped to endure. And Lord, I wonder down the road who might be strengthened and helped to endure in their race because we're willing to endure today.

We stand in a long line, Lord, of people who have endured, people who have been faithful, faithful all the way to the finish line for Your sake, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the elect, for the sake of Your glory. May You find us this day faithful and enduring. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Leslie: Nancy has been showing why suffering isn't in vain. There are some important reasons to endure. When I get hit with some crisis, I don't usually think, Good, a chance to glorify God. I just want the crisis to pass as soon as possible. Maybe you're the same way. Today’s program reminds me to use these opportunities.

Author Elisabeth Elliot spoke often in her lifetime about having this kind of perspective. And now there’s a new book. It’s called Suffering Is Never For Nothing, and it includes never-before-published content from her personal journey with suffering.

When you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Elisabeth’s brand-new book as our way of saying “thanks.” Your gift makes it possible for us to help women live and thrive in Christ, even in the midst of suffering. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com to make a donation and receive Elisabeth Elliot’s new book, Suffering Is Never For Nothing. You can also call us at 1–800–569–5959.

When you're facing a crisis, do you find it hard to think clearly? Tomorrow, Nancy will help you think ahead and form a plan for enduring difficulty. Please join us again for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to remember that there is a purpose for your suffering. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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