10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. 11 To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10,11)
We live in a culture that I jokingly call, “Fakin’ Worship”. It seems that the Praise and Worship movement that has overtaken our churches has created an atmosphere of false humility and false faithfulness. We have perfected empty clichés: I am blessed and highly favored. I am too blessed to be stressed. And when the choir starts to sing, Chile, we lift our hel…, hol… (whatever) hands. You know, it seems like er’ body is walking in the favor of the Lord and we got to get our “praise on”! We don’t even grieve at funerals anymore! Somehow to cry is to be faithless and unbelieving, but I know that he who loves much also grieves much. Certainly we know we shall see our loved ones again, but for the moment, the loss is great and no one should feel ashamed or guilty for expressing their grief. Have you ever noticed how people are expected to praise their way through everything? Listen, I love to worship, really I do! BUT, I also know that life brings us trouble; it doesn’t always feel good and no one should feel compelled to “praise” in their pain because often the best praise we can bring to the altar is our tears.
Do you remember The Five Heartbeats? Who doesn’t like that movie?!? Well, I can’t think of anyone! Most of us enjoy stories of challenge and triumph -- of overcoming and beating the odds and certainly good music helps; but, there is one line in the movie that had an impact so great that I have never forgotten it. Do you remember Duck’s acceptance speech? "A critic said, 'Donald Matthews will be a great writer one day when he suffers more.' And I said to myself, what does that mean? Now I know what it means." Is suffering really valuable? Apparently God thinks so. Jesus often spoke of what he would suffer and what those who followed him would suffer but the truth be told, adversity will find you whether you love Jesus or not and whether you believe it has value or not. It’s just a part of life.
Let’s face it. Life is life and there are only two things we can be sure of. The first is that we are not getting out alive and the second it that adversity does not discriminate. That, along with sin, is the greatest equalizer of human kind. All have sinned and all will suffer. Job (14:1) said it this way: Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. But some suffer to bitterness and some suffer to “better-ness”. We often wonder how some persons face what seems like insurmountable obstacles and not only survive them but remains pleasant, graceful and productive while others face fewer obstacles and their lives spiral downward and they are left stagnant, hateful and toxic. Well, I think it comes down to how well we choose to suffer. I know, I know! It seems that suffering and well should not be in the same sentence. We can’t pick our suffering but we can choose how we’ll respond to it. I’d like to give you five necessary keys to suffering well so that you can be honest and left better rather than bitter.
1. Acknowledge your pain. Name your pain and give yourself permission to feel it. Be as kind and gracious with yourself as you are with others. God understands the messiness of humanity; you don’t have to pretend to have an unshakable faith. We all shake in the midst of adversity. You can count on having some bad days. Honestly, you won’t disappoint God if you don’t have it together and your tears and disappointment are not a measure of your faith.
2. Trust that God has a plan. Nothing sneaks up on God, God just can’t be surprised. God knew about it before you did! Many say that God never gives us more than we can bear, I don’t believe that. God often gives up what we can’t bear so that God can bear it with us. God walks with us in our pain. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. God is sovereign, just and faithful and has a plan for our lives.
3. Be open to learning. As my siblings and I transitioned from tweens to teens, my father was often heard telling one of us, “You’re going to have to buy your own sense on that one.” What he was saying that there were some things in life that we were going to learn only from experience. Adversity can be an opportunity for great growth if we are open to learning. It has the potential to mature us and make us wise in ways that no other education can do.
4. Be patient. All adversity passes. Trouble doesn’t last always. In the Bible, there are 182 occurrences of the word suffer and its various tenses and 522 occurrences of the word blessed and its various forms. That lets me know that God’s blessings in our lives far outweigh our adversities. So we can hope, even in the midst of pain because of who God is and what God promises.
5. Ask God to meet you in your pain. It’s a process. Getting over your disappointment, anger, bitterness and unforgiveness may take some time. Keep praying about it and keep practicing. Some days will be easier than others. God has never called us to bear the burden alone. “What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and grief to bear. What a privilege it is to carry, everything to God in prayer.” This will compel you to worship!
When you choose better instead of bitter, worship will naturally spring forth as you learn that God is walking with you in your pain. When you choose better instead of bitter, God’s presence will bring you comfort, you will begin to glimpse a brighter tomorrow and you will know that you can patiently await the good things God has in store for your future. Kahlil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls.” Yes, you can be certain that through it all, God will perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you -- if you choose to be better instead of bitter.