How we live speaks more volumes to the people around us, then the words we say. Our lives are the testimony of our true, deeper beliefs. This is especially true in suffering. How we face trials speaks like a megaphone to those around us. Suffering works in us particularly by helping to demonstrate what God has been doing in us. In other words, suffering displays our sanctification to others.
How I face suffering reveals the work that God has been doing in me. So, if I face suffering with spiritual maturity, faith, and steadfastness then I speak out about God’s sanctifying power. If I face suffering with anger, bitterness, and surrender then I manifest my need of greater spiritual growth. Of course we all have moments of doubt and struggle. No one faces suffering perfectly. There is room for us to struggle with faith, and disappointment, and we can resist anger and bitterness even while it continues to tempt us. Yet, suffering presents us a unique opportunity to truly display how we have been growing.
Paul uses his own response to trials as a means of encouraging the faith of others. In a lengthy dress to the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20, Paul writes:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.[c] 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by[d] the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But 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. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,[e] which he obtained with his own blood.[f] 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (v. 18-35)
When wanting to encourage, strengthen, and challenge these leaders Paul points to the various trials he endured and the way in which navigating them by God’s grace and for God’s glory. His suffering becomes, then, a tool for their good. It can be the same in our own lives.
I think in my own life of those whose testimony of faithful endurance has made a huge impact on me. I recall in the aftermath of my own father’s death how hard it was for me to sing songs of worship that following Sunday. I did not feel like worshipping, in fact I didn’t feel at all like being at church. I looked around the auditorium of our church, however, and I saw people who had also endured hard suffering, and I watched them sing “glory to God forever,” and I believed that I too would one day sing those words again. I saw a single mother who’s son had died in a tragic accident singing. I saw a couple whose son had died of a heartache sing those words. I saw a man with terminal cancer sing those words. Their example of enduring suffering with faith encouraged me to keep believing.
How we face suffering is not just about our sanctification, but it is about the sanctification of those around us. When we endure suffering with faith and trust in God it serves to propel other brothers and sisters forward. It gives them hope, and enables them to face their suffering with similar confidence in God. It is not easy, by any means, but we never suffer merely by ourselves and for ourselves. Our suffering involves others, even if we don’t realize it. Alan Noble beautifully captured this reality in an article he wrote “On Living”. Speaking of the need to endure suffering Noble writes:
Understood this way, life becomes an awesome responsibility and burden. Suicide becomes a slightly more viable option for people when someone they respect succumbs to it. Like it or not, if you give up, it will open up the possibility for others to give up. You have the solemn responsibility to bear witness to the goodness of life by living despite suffering. But life is also a gift. As it turns out, the greatest gifts are always also burdens: love, children, wisdom, beauty, salvation. Our being is a result of gratuitous love by God, and we honor that gift by participating fully in it, even when participating in being feels unbearable.
We have the responsibility to face suffering for the good of others, for their own endurance and sanctification. Our suffering serves others. God uses our response to hardship to help sanctify other believers even as it displays how we are growing. How are you facing hardship, friends? Someone needs your example.