How to Suffer Well

In James 1:2-4, we find these gripping words: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Nobody likes to go through times of testing or to experience trials and suffering. Yet all throughout the Scriptures, we are called to rejoice or to express joy during these times. This seems counter-intuitive. Why would anyone want to erupt in joyous praise when faced with everything from stage-4 cancer to a loss of a job to a wayward teenager to personal financial ruin?

In the James passage above, these trials are a way to test our faith. This word “testing” was used in ancient times to describe the purity of gold coins. In the smelting process, the dross would rise to the top and leave a pure gold alloy to fashion coins. In the same way, God is purifying us of all our dross in order to strengthen our faith. He is producing steadfastness in us so that we will be spiritually mature. The chief goal of God’s process in taking us through trials is to make us look more and more like Jesus.

1 Peter 1:6-7 reads: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Peter uses this same metaphor of testing by fire to purge the dross and reveal the precious gold.

Paul also echoes this truth in Romans 5:3-5 when he states, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Paul uses a different word than Peter and James—the word “suffering”—which means to be squeezed through narrow straits. When we are squeezed by the trials of life, again we are called to rejoice in our sufferings. Our sufferings are to produce an endurance where we stand in the strength and power of Christ.  Interestingly, the Greek word Paul uses for “character” is the same word that Peter and James use for “testing” and again it relates to the purity of gold coins.

If we take these three passages together, we see a resounding and recurring theme—especially when we note the repetition of the same key Greek words. The overarching admonition from Scripture is that we are to rejoice in our sufferings because God is using them to purify us and to strengthen our faith and to make us look more like Jesus. One thing we can count on when we experience trials is that God is doing all things for our good (even when it doesn’t appear to be so) and He is doing all things for His glory.

So when, (not if), you encounter trials and sufferings and hardships, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and rejoice in the work that the Master Potter is doing in your life to fashion you to look more like His Son. Claim the promise that if you are a believer, God’s love has been poured out graciously in your heart through the Holy Spirit and He will never leave you or forsake you.

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