How should we respond to suffering?
So how should we respond to suffering? How should we as pastors respond to suffering? I’m going to give you 12 points, and they’re going to summarize all that has been said before.
1. Don’t be surprised when trials come. That’s 1 Peter 4:12. Expect it, talk about it, get together with other pastors frequently, read good books on suffering and talk about it. So I was looking at the website of the All India Pastors Conference, and there are some great books recommended there, Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain in the Christian Life by R.C. Sproul. Let me recommend another book, Weakness is the Way, by J.I. Packer, or just read, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper. Don’t be surprised, keep talking about it when you’re not suffering, and prepare yourself for that day when you will suffer.
2. Remember the gospel and your calling. Christ also suffered leaving you an example. You have been called to this, this is God’s will for you. You see that in 1 Peter 2:21 and Philippians 1:21. Always remember that that’s the first fuse to blow.
3. Be mindful of God. Remember his sovereignty over all things, and entrust yourself to him, especially when you suffer unjustly when it’s not your fault. And let me suggest this, start with the small things. Remind yourself that he is sovereign, when your bike tire gets punctured, when you miss the bus, when the electricity goes off, when the motor doesn’t work, when your children fall sick, be mindful of God when the little things go wrong. And then you will be able to submit to Him when the great sorrows arise.
4. Trust in the Lord’s wisdom and power. He knows how to rescue the godly from trials (2 Peter 2:9). He knows what he’s doing. So often when I’m confused and weary and tired, I say to myself, “I don’t know what’s happening.” But I have comfort that the Lord knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s doing.
5. Remember, suffering is for your sanctification. It is meant to produce endurance. You see that in Romans 5:3, so teach yourself that from the New Testament. Teach Yourself that from the Old Testament. Do you remember what David said in Psalm 119:71? “It is good for me that I was afflicted so that I may learn your statutes.”
6. Remember that suffering and trials are battles that require you, pastor, to fight your unbelief. Fight it with faith in Christ’s all sufficient work, share and suffering as a good Soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3).
7. Pray, pray, pray and pray. Remember what James 5:13 says, Is there anyone among you who is suffering? What should you do? Pray, go to the one who has all authority and all power. Go to the one who can help you, and you will receive grace and mercy in time of your need. Christ ensures that you will get that.
8. Endure suffering and remain steadfast, knowing that you will receive the crown of life. That’s what James 1:12 says.
9. Resist the devil and be firm in your faith. Resist the devil and be firm in your faith, and remember the church. In 1 Peter 5:9, Peter says your brothers face the same problems all over the world. Remember, you are not alone.
10. Rejoice. Count it all joy (James 1:2). This is God working in you.
11. Be filled with hope. Remember that all suffering is temporary. You know there might be some people listening to the talk, who will find relief from their sufferings only in glory—only in glory! And here’s what I want to say to you: the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
12. Trust that God comforts his afflicted. He comforts the afflicted. And he does it through other people in the body, who have suffered and have received similar comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). So pastors, rely on other pastors, rely on your elders, and your members. If you are going to suffer, you need to have a biblical understanding of what church is. I know you, you might feel that you’re the one who needs to be ministering to others. But pastor, remember this, God has given good gifts to your congregation, to minister to you as well.
There have been so many times when a member in my church has prayed for me when I was discouraged. They reminded me of those precious truths that I had forgotten. And I needed to hear that. Sometimes it will take an ordinary member to replace that view. Members who are committed to each other, to each other and to their pastors. The local church is that context in which you can be ministered to. The church is all you need. One day, Christ will return for the consummation of all things, and we will be glorified. John tells us that on that day, Revelation 21:4, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away.” There will ne no more suffering. But that time is not now. There will be suffering before glory, humiliation before exaltation, just like it was for Jesus. Trials are divinely ordained for true faith to shine. You know, it is pretty easy to reduce saving faith to a peaceful feeling. It is easy to reduce saving faith to mere ascent, as though if you know the right answer, you will be alright. But when trials come, you know what it does to your faith. It rouses your faith to grab hold of the guard of promise, it makes you rely not on yourself, but on the guard who raises the dead.
There’s something about suffering that is supposed to bring to your mind the glory that is to come. There is something about trials and sicknesses and pain and distress and grief and loss that should point you to the new heavens and the new earth. There’s something about grief that should cause you to look beyond your circumstances and to the cross to the God who makes all things new. And that should cause you to rejoice. The God of the gospel is sovereign over your suffering. And he ordained suffering and trials as means to sanctify you and make you more like his son, bringing us closer to glory.
But unless you see your sin, unless you see your wickedness as a greater evil than all your trials, unless you see the wrath of God and His eternal punishment, more severe and more frightening than any trial, you are not going to find joy in the salvation that Jesus Christ provides. God is very much in our lives, working quietly behind the scenes, through the job losses, through the floods, through the fires, through harsh governments, through unjust employers, through miscarriages, through failures, through difficult marriages, so that we might see more of our sin, but also that we might see much more of our Saviour and be anchored in him.
Before I close, I want to introduce you to a friend from the past. This man had multiple childhood infirmities that he never grew out of. He struggled to sleep at night, and his eyesight was very poor because he read by candlelight. His wife died less than nine years after they were married. He had no children, since his wife was unable to have any after a single miscarriage. He had many critics who are a constant source of grief to his soul. He suffered from chronic asthma, migraine, pleurisy, kidney stones, haemorrhoids, gallstones, severe arthritis, and frequent influenza accompanied by raging fevers. Imagine that, on top of that, John Calvin was constantly harassed by the City Council, who tried to control his church, and he constantly felt the pressure and demands of an incessant workload. You see, Calvin was a towering and influential theologian and pastor in his time, but he was also a profoundly afflicted man. And yet in all of that, he knew that the God who knows all things, orchestrates all things, ordains all things, superintends all things is the very same God who provided for him a saviour. And so he was content to not know the reasons behind all his afflictions. Calvin himself once said, “Thou, O Lord, thou bruises me, it is enough for me to know it is thy hand.”
This article is the final one of the five-part article series of the transcript of Session 3 preached by Brother Anand Samuel in the AIPC 2021 Online Conference held on Sep 17-19, 2021.
Please click here to view the sermon.