Paul vs Job Part 5: Suffering in the Bible

Going through difficult times sure doesn’t feel good.  Often we don’t have any idea why or how any good could come of it, but the Bible speaks about the lessons and benefits we can gain from suffering. I have found seven of them that helped bring my own struggles into focus.

1. Suffering produces intimacy with God.
Job 42:5 says, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.” Job learned more about God through his suffering.  I believe that is one of the greatest benefits of struggle if we draw near to Him during the trial.  When we are going along in Happyland, we don’t have as much motivation to meditate on God’s Word or to pray or stop and listen to Him.  It’s during our times of suffering that we draw near to hear Him and that will lead us into a closer relationship and intimacy with God.

2. Experiencing God on a Deeper Level.
It just follows that greater intimacy with the Lord will lead to a deeper relationship with Him.  The closer we get to someone, the more we understand the person and the greater we feel we can rely upon them. The same is true with God.  The deeper we go, the more we will be able to trust Him even in our darkest hours.

3. Equips us to comfort others in need.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” I know how my own struggles have given me experiences that I have been able to share with others to help them through similar issues.  That’s the whole reason for this blog and my Facebook group.

4. Comfort comes easier from those who’ve struggled.
People who are suffering tend to feel more comforted by those who have been there.  I think that is why the Bible details so much of Job’s and Paul’s struggles.  We not only gain comfort from reading about these men, but as Paul writes, we can use our own struggles to comfort others because they will know that we truly understand.

5. Suffering gives us strength.
I know it seems counter intuitive, but if you think about it, both Job and Paul were stronger for the suffering they endured.  Paul’s courage is evident as I shared a few weeks ago.  It’s very much like our muscles that atrophy if not used and strengthen as we work out.  Our courage, is much like that.  It’s strengthened when we need to use it.   I had ankle surgery and wasn’t able to walk for months.  I’m now working to gain back the muscle I lost in my right foot which is now visibly thinner than my left.  My suffering has given me strength to move forward because I see many of the problems that come my way now more like small bumps in the road where as I had once seen them as mountains.

6. Suffering produces growth and maturity.
James 1:2-4 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,  knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”  I know it sounds like there should be an easier way to gain growth and maturity, but there really isn’t.  Remember when your mother called your aches growing pains?  And how companies that grow into large organizations have growth problems to deal with?  Well, it’s the same with us.  We cannot grow and mature without some growing pains…suffering.

7. Suffering conforms us to God’s image.
Romans 8:28-29 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  If you think about it, Jesus did the ultimate suffering for the good of us all.  Our suffering, though to us humans, feels so bad, it can’t compare to what Jesus suffered.  And think about how the Father must suffer seeing His Son and so many of His children suffer. All parents hearts ache when their children struggle.  As we suffer trials, we become more like Jesus and closer to the Father.

Suffering is no fun. I’ll be the first to admit that I’d never choose it and would be the first to admit I’ve prayed for it to stop every single time rather than having to go through all the struggles I have.  But I am also the first to admit that, without those same struggles I’d have prayed away, I wouldn’t be the person I am today with a more intimate, deeper relationship with my God, the ability to comfort others for I have also struggled, and the strength, growth and maturity to be more conformed to God’s image.  What about you?

 

 

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Paul vs Job Part 3: Lessons From Paul

So last week we looked at the lessons we can learn from Job about being in trial. This week, I’m sharing the lessons I feel we can learn from Paul.

1.  Bad things happen even when you’re doing God’s will:
I heard some say that bad things happen to those who are doing evil, but this is a fallen world, so bad things can happen to anyone.  The Bible talks about how the you can be persecuted for your faith.  Paul was one who was.  He was put in jail at least twice.  But Paul also talked of having some kind of medical problem he called a thorn in his side that he prayed would be removed.  God didn’t heal Paul, but instead said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”   Bad things happen even when we are doing God’s will for our lives.  Bad things also happen in the secular world even when we follow the rules.  Once my dh was fired even though he was doing a fabulous job for the owner of the company.  The owner just didn’t like that my dh was Mexican.  It caused our family severe financial hardship for a few years and we are not totally out of the woods yet, though God has always made a way for us and things are looking up financially.

2. There is always purpose to your life:
Paul had a purpose to (a calling on) his life that kept him busy even though he struggled with various trials.  I believe each one of us also has a purpose to or a calling on our lives.  And that purpose can get us through the struggles if our focus is on that purpose more than it is on our struggles.   Hard to do at times, but well worth it.

3. God sets NO limits on some of our trials:
Job’s trails were allowed to continue for a limited time.  Some of our trials may be more like Paul’s that last until the Lord calls us home.  I’ve had some of my chronic illnesses since I was a teen.  Others have been added unto me in my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s and I don’t expect they will leave me this side of heaven.  Like Paul, I’ve had to deal with them for decades.  You may have had to deal with your trial(s) for a lifetime.  God does’t promise He will always heal, but He does promise to be there with us to see us through.

4. Paul shows us three qualities that are good to develop in life:
Paul was patient, persistent,  and courageous.  Those are three things that we would do well to develop because they are the three qualities I have found that help you get through a trial.  Struggles are so much more difficult when we are not patient to wait on the Lord’s timing.

We can often feel as if we should be healed or this crisis should have been over sooner, but the Lord may want to use the struggle we are in for a greater good.  If we are patient, we don’t fight against what is happening, but rather go with the flow and thus have less inner struggle to deal with while in trial.

Trials can often overwhelm us to the point where want to give up, but Paul shows us that persistence pays off in the end. We can do so much more if we keep going, keep doing what we can and know to be right.  Not that we won’t have thoughts of giving up, but that they will be momentary and allow us to keep moving forward.

Courage is what it takes to get through trials and struggles and Paul is a great example for us to follow-especially if those trials are long lived.

5. Paul was focused on God’s calling in his life.
Paul spent most of his time and energy on his calling.  He was laser focused on evangelism and ministry.  I believe this is THE most important thing we can learn from Paul about trials.  The more you struggle, the easier it is to be distracted from our purpose or calling.  That’s how Satan works.  He distracts us from doing God’s will by throwing a monkey wrench into our plans. One of those wrenches might have chronic illness on it and another might have financial troubles or neighbor problems…  The more laser focused we can be on our mission, the less focused we are on our problems and the smaller they will seem.

6. How to be content in any situation
In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul writes, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in an and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

Paul’s contentment seems to come from strength he found in God. His patience, persistence, and courage came from having faith and relying on the Lord for everything.  He had faith that God knew what was best and that His timing was perfect.  That acceptance, I believe, allowed Paul not to fight against his circumstances and just plow through the tasks he was charged with.

7. Paul was eternity focused  not self focused
Finally, I believe that Paul’s contentment and joy in the Lord despite trials was easier because he was focused on the bigger picture.  If you’ve ever had a baby, especially without benefit of pain meds, you know that probably the only reason you were able to get through that as well as you did was because you were focused on the precious child you were about to be blessed with.  Pain of that caliber is too great to endure without meds without some goal in mind.

Paul was focused on eternity with Jesus much more than on the issues he faced day to day.  In my own experience, I find that I can get through the irritating, frustrating, painful, and tiring overwhelm much better if I keep my eye on the prize: the mission He gave me, eternity in heaven.

 

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Paul vs Job Series Part 1: Differences

I’ve always been frustrated by well-meaning Christians who quote Job when someone is struggling in trial.  It frustrates me mostly because I remember being deep in trial, overwhelmed, and frustrated at something that had been going on for years and would continue for the foreseeable future. My chronic health issues are incurable.  They can be managed (and at present, they are managed fairly well), but they are not something I expect will go away.  In fact, the older I get, the more difficult they become.

So, when someone quoted Job to me, I felt even more frustrated because my struggles weren’t comparable to Job’s because God restored Job.  It doesn’t appear He will restore me.  Job’s struggles had an expiration date.  Mine don’t.  Most of you reading this will relate to that.  There is a difference between going through a trial (or even many trials) for a short time and ones that last so long your only relief is the other side of heaven.

In thinking about the differences between temporary trails and permanent ones, I began to realize that there is a huge difference between Paul and Job.  That prompted me to look deeper and what I found is that there are different comforts and lessons in each.  I’ll be sharing about that in later weeks, but for now, I’d like to share the stark contrast between Paul and Job.

Job: Old Testament                                                   Paul: New Testament

Job: Didn’t really know God                                 Paul: Knew God and Jesus well

Job: Before the Trial: Righteous                        Paul: Persecuted/Self-Righteous

Job: Questioned God and Complained         Paul: Never complained

Job: Got all back and more                                  Paul: Never healed

Job: Honored by others                                        Paul: Mistreated/Jailed

Job: Family oriented                                               Paul: Ministry oriented

Job: Blamed God for his troubles                   Paul: Praised God for trials

Job: Example of Trusting God                          Paul: Example of a Leader

Job: Man after God’s own heart                      Paul: My Grace is Sufficient for you

Job: Friend’s mocked him                                  Paul: Friends comforted him

Job: Lost children, wife mocked him            Paul: We don’t know

Job: Had lots of issues but short-lived         Paul: Fewer issues, but long-lived

Job: After had honor and wealth                   Paul: Poor/Jailed

Job: Surrounded by “friends”                         Paul: Alone, but supportive letters

I had never considered this idea before but found it fascinating how drastically different these two men were. It’s interesting how different their lives were and how different their faith was.  What other differences can you find between the two men?

 

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Sometimes You Need a Pity Party

cry baby partyI don’t think you’d be human if you were sunshine and roses every day, especially in the face of chronic struggles and hardships.  However, some will tell you-you’re not a good Christian if you share that you are depressed or upset or frustrated.  It’s not like the Lord doesn’t know you feel this way. It hasn’t escaped His notice.  It’s not a sin to be angry or sad or frustrated with your situation.  It’s only destructive if you stay there.  It can actually be quite therapeutic to throw yourself a little pity party now and again.

I think the only people who don’t ever go down deep in the valley of despair are those who don’t have any problems. Know any people without any problems?  Me neither!

So when you are exhausted just after getting up in the morning, you go looking for your sandwich in the closet, your electric bill is past due and you have only two nickels to rub together…AGAIN, you will enter that valley.  What you do there and how long you stay will determine your quality of life and the joy you find in spite of it all.

The value of a pity party:

Allow yourself time to grieve and/or express your negative emotions so you can move on.  Without a pity party, some find it difficult to gather the strength to move on to life’s next chronic hurdle because they haven’t dealt with the previous one.  Making time to express your anger, sadness or frustration can help you get rid of those feelings.

What to do at your pity party:

Invite people to your pity party.  You don’t have to send out formal invitations or anything, but fellowship with one or two trusted, Christian friends or family members who understand what it feels like to deal with the issues you are struggling with.  They will not only understand and allow you to vent but lead you back out of the valley of despair and back to the Lord.  They can help by validating your feelings so you aren’t concentrating your energy on justifying why you feel the way you do.  You have a right to your feelings.  You don’t have to marry them, but you have a right to them as you come by them honestly.

Play Woe is Me.  Express how you feel and allow that trusted friend or family member to see the real you–even if it isn’t pretty right now.  It’s your party and you’ll cry if you want to so…cry if you want to!  You’ll feel better afterward.

Allow friends or family to lift you up.  I know.  It’s frustrating to make one single statement and have well-meaning Christians immediately jump all over you about not being positive and tell you just to cheer up.  But once you’ve had a good cry (or scream as the case may be), you need to be lifted up out of the valley or you’ll be tempted to stay there.  And trust me, pity parties are a nice place to visit, but you don’t want to live there!  Your friends want to help.  Let them.

What to do after your pity party:

Have some FUN!  Here are a few ideas.  Go for a walk, see the beauty God put on this earth.  See the humor in your situation and poke fun at yourself. Lift someone else’s spirits.  Make someone laugh.  Concentrate on someone else’s problems for a while and try to help.  It’s amazing how focusing on others will draw you out of the pit you’ve fallen into.  Write about it.  Sing about it.  Hug your blessings…better known as your children.  Hug someone else’s children.  LOL

Pray.  Pray that God would take this from you and, if God doesn’t take the struggle away, pray that He would use it, your experience and you to lift someone else up.

Lastly, thank God.  Thank the good Lord for the good things in your life.  Count your blessings.  You have some!  Even in the lowest pit of despair, you have some blessings you can count.  If your dishwasher broke and you can’t afford to fix it, you can thank God your water bill is paid this month and you can afford dish liquid.  If you are so tired you can’t get up out of bed, thank Him for the bed you have.  If your pain level is high, thank Him for the life you have and the chance you have today to perhaps find your answers. Maybe you’ll discover something that helps you.  Maybe you’ll discover a $20 bill in the couch that will pay for a few groceries.  I know, I’ve looked there a time or two as well!

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”—  2 Corinthians 4:7-9

I pray this has been helpful and uplifting. Please leave me some feedback in a comment.  Share your story.  Tell me what you’d like to see in the coming weeks as I share.  And please pass this post along to others who may need to start planning their own pity party.  😀

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