In a fallen world, disappointment and discouragement are an unfortunate but ever-present part of life. We all experience trouble in our lives. The source of trouble might be a divorce, money problems, a rebellious teenager, a loved one addicted to drugs, suicide in the family, bad relationships at work, or any number of other issues. It’s a sad fact that bad things happen to good people.
The list of unwelcome circumstances that can intrude on our lives is a long one, and even the most righteous Christians encounter hard times. When troubles rain down, the rain falls on sinners and saints alike. This is the bad news. The good news is that God can make something good come out of even the worst circumstances. This is the message in Romans 8:28 where we read: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
Consequently, when you are struggling through hard times, it is important to try look for God’s purpose in your suffering. Knowing His purpose my not alleviate the pain you feel, but it can give you hope that God is going to use your suffering for good in some way. The key to discovering that purpose is to look past your struggles to how God might be using it them for good. As you begin to look for God’s purpose in your suffering, be reassured that His overall purpose in our lives is to make us more like Him; more Christ-like in everything we think, do, and say. Further, God can see right into our hearts. He knows our inner-most thoughts, weaknesses, and transgressions. Consequently, He knows how far we have come and how far we have yet to go on our journey to be more like Him. When He sees areas in our lives in need of improvement, He sometimes uses the suffering we are enduring to make those improvements.
Before continuing, a caveat is in order here. The fact that God can use our suffering for good does not mean He causes our suffering just so He can do good things. The fact that God uses our suffering to make improvements does not mean He causes our suffering. We suffer because we live in a fallen world where bad things can happen and often do. We live in a world where people have free will and often exercise it irresponsibly causing problems for themselves and others. It is important to understand this because Christians who are suffering sometimes wonder if they are being punished by God.
In a fallen world where troubles are part of life, God uses your disappointment and discouragement to satisfy some purpose He has for you; to make you better in some way. He knows you even better than you know yourself, and He knows what you need to become more Christ-like. Your suffering can be a tool He uses to accomplish this purpose. Consequently, when life hurts it is important to be open to learning how God might use your suffering to make you more Christ-like.
Finding God’s purpose in your suffering can be difficult because it can require soul-searching and self-examination. This is hard enough to do on a good day, but it can be especially difficult when you are struggling with adversity. To find God’s purpose in your suffering, you may have to look deeply into yourself and ask, “How do I need to change to be more like Christ?”
Recognizing and honestly admitting our shortcomings is never easy. As human beings our motto might be summarized in these words: emphasize the best and downplay the rest. The problem with this approach is that God sees right through us to the core of our hearts and souls. We may be able to hide our shortcomings from others and even ourselves, but we cannot hide them from God.
TO FIND GOD’S PURPOSE IN YOUR TROUBLES LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Christians who are hurting sometimes need help in finding God’s purpose in their suffering. Because this is often the case, I developed a brief self-assessment that makes probing the possibilities of God’s purpose in your suffering a systematic and objective process (or as objective as people who are hurting can be). The self-assessment is based on the following questions:
Could God be using your suffering to increase your faith?
Could God be using your suffering to improve your Christian character?
Could God be using your suffering to prepare you to better serve Him?
Answering these questions will require prayer coupled with honest introspection. In asking these questions, you seek to discover things God already knows about you, but you may not yet know about yourself. In pursuing answers to these questions, you should come to know yourself better. This is a good thing, but it can be a hard thing. What can make the process especially challenging is that you may find it difficult to admit to yourself and God some of the answers you discover.
This looking-honestly-in-the-mirror aspect of the process can cause discomfort and even emotional distress, at least in the beginning. This is why prayer is such an integral part of your introspective journey to discover God’s purpose in your suffering. You probably won’t be able to forthrightly answer these questions or acknowledge what you discover about yourself without the help of God, and that help is sought through prayer.
If you are bogged down in disappointment or discouragement, these three questions, along with prayer, can help identify God’s purpose in your suffering. Doing so may not take the pain or stress you feel away, at least not immediately, but it will give you a sense of hope. It may not show you the light at the end of the tunnel, but it will show you there is one.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com