May 2012 – Why We Need Suffering
March 11, 1997: my wife Michelle is in labor with our second son, Scott, when something goes wrong.
She starts losing blood with every contraction; it’s not long before her face turns pale white. The doctor walks in, takes one look at her, and says “emergency C section.”
They wheel my wife off to put her under anesthesia, and push a set of scrubs at me. A few moments later I’m in the operating room. When Scott is extracted from Michelle, he’s having a seizure. A nurse rushes him to a table, clears fluid from his lungs with a syringe, and pumps air in to help him breathe. She shakes her head… he won’t breathe on his own. She rushes him to another room where Scott is put on a ventilator.
After about two hours of tests, a doctor walks up to me and says point blank: “I have no hope for this baby.” Rage wells from within as I stifle the urge to hit him so hard that his teeth fly out of the back of his head. Then, overwhelmed with shock and grief, I walk out, get in my truck, and fall apart sobbing.
A day later, the doctors take Scott off the ventilator to see if he will breathe on his own. He does; a faint glimmer of hope breaks through. The next three days are spent at the hospital going between Michelle’s room and Scott’s side. After more tests, we discover that Scott’s cerebellum isn’t formed correctly and chances are high he won’t make it much longer. Michelle and I don’t care; we just want to get Scott out of the hospital as soon as possible.
By Thursday night, after four days of an intense life or death situation, I’m drained. Michelle’s still at the hospital recovering from surgery, and I go home to get some rest.
A little later that night, soft, clear words form in my mind: “Will you release him to me?”
I blow the thoughts off as just me being tired.
“Tomorrow you will have a decision to make. Will you release Scott to me?”
Now I know it’s God talking, and I break down crying, “No Lord, please. Please don’t put that on my shoulders.” He doesn’t speak again, and I find myself hoping that it wasn’t really God.
Saturday morning, just as I’m getting ready to leave for the hospital, Michelle calls, crying. Scott has just stopped breathing on his own and the doctors need a decision whether to put him back on the ventilator or not. With tears streaming down my face, I force the words out: “I think we should let him go home.”
I rush to the hospital. All the tubes are pulled off of Scott, and he’s handed to Michelle and I, who hold him as he dies on his fifth day of life. In his final minutes, I blurt out a request from God, asking Him for something, anything. In that moment, Scott, who basically doesn’t have a fully functioning brain, smiles. Michelle gasps and I can’t believe what I just saw.
There is a sense of peace in the room, as if God is there, taking Scott in his arms. Moments later, he’s gone.
Michelle and I leave the hospital and go to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription. As we’re checking out, the clerk innocently asks “when are you having your baby?” Michelle breaks down crying as I explain to the bewildered young man that Scott just died.
It took about a year before I could stop crying. There were many mornings where I’d sit down with my Bible and stare out the window in a daze, not knowing how to pray. I never asked God why Scott died; it wouldn’t have brought him back. All I knew was that my heart was shattered.
Today I call the day of Scott’s death the worst and best of my life. The worst, because of our heart-rending loss. The best, because my wife and I encountered God in a powerful way.
God has taught me a lot about suffering and its benefits over the years. I believe we need it because:
1. Suffering shows us what’s in our heart.
When God allows us to be squeezed with a trial, that which has been hidden in the depths of our heart rises to the surface. I have had anger, doubt, rebellion, lies, fear and pride exposed; much that I wasn’t aware of. I believe the Lord would flush these out so He can bring healing and a new heart.
For example, bitterness, especially if it’s directed at the Lord, reveals that we’ve bought into lies about Him and/or don’t have a true understanding of His character. If we see Him as cruel, distant, uncaring, or beating-happy, or if we think that every bad event that comes our way is because God is “pounding us for our sins,” we don’t know Him like we think we do. I believe that the Lord is more interested in showing me my distorted beliefs so He can provide me with a deeper, truer understanding of Himself than He is my comfort, even if it means putting me through a trial, even a severe one that goes on for months or even years.
After Job lost his family, his business, and his health, he railed at God, accusing Him of “destroying man’s hope” (Job 14:19) and “uprooting his hope like a tree” (Job 19:10). Much of Job’s defense centered around the good works he had done and his righteousness, exposing a belief that “if I do good things then only good things will/should happen to me.” This runs counter to Jesus’ words that “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33), Paul’s in Philippians 1:29 that “to suffer for His sake has been granted us,” and Peter’s in 1st Peter 4:1-4 that “since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, we are to arm ourselves with the same purpose.”
2. We suffer that we might know Him.
In Philippians 3:10, Paul said his goal was “that I may know Him (Jesus) and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” I like the first two, but the “fellowship of His sufferings” is something I’d rather pretend wasn’t there.
The truth is that suffering puts me on my knees like nothing else. I seek God with more intensity and frequency during a trial. I’m parched for God’s word and it leaps off the page when I read it. Today I probably fear success as much if not more than a trial; when I’m going through a time when all is easy, my spiritual muscles are prone to softness. It’s not that I don’t love God, but that I allow myself to get too busy, self-focused, or choked with the worries of the world. During a trial I’ve got to have God.
I also ask more people for prayer, which puts them on their knees.
We need suffering because we’re prone to wander; our trials train us to stay close to God.
3. We suffer that God might give us gifts.
Humility is a gift.
The last time God squeezed me hard, several years ago, I was shocked and sickened to see the immense mountain of pride that erupted from my heart. I was confronted with the fact that much of my life was all about me and what I could achieve; my agenda, vision, and goals. Knowing all the Bible verses in the world couldn’t help me; I needed Jesus for this one. Still do.
Humility frees me from self and all the train wrecks I was prone to when operating in pride mode. It grants me wisdom, keeps me from sin, reminds me that I need God’s strength every moment of every day, and grants me the favor of His grace (James 4:6). Humility moves me towards the love of God.
The second major gift God kept pouring out on me was Himself. Although He didn’t solve my problems overnight, He kept showing me He loved me. Much of this was because I was going after Him like my life depended on it. The Lord has promised that if we seek Him with all our heart we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Notice that we find Him when we’re seeking Him, not the answer to our problems. He will provide the way through in His time, His way, which brings us back to humility again.
4. We suffer that we might be brought to a deeper place of surrender.
It is when there is no way out and it seems like we’re boxed in from all sides when we finally cry out “Do whatever You want to do Lord, I’m tired of messing my life up. Just make Your will clear to me.”
For some this will mean they’re finally ready to do the thing they know God has been calling them to do. For others it will mean waiting on Him for guidance. Some will be challenged to release the controls of their life for what will truly be the first time.
In Hebrews 5:8 we’re told that Jesus learned obedience “through the things He suffered.” If this is how the sinless Son of God was trained for obedience, think how much more suffering we’ll need to get it.
God uses those who obey Him. If you’re serious about being His disciple, suffering will be a part of the process.
5. We suffer so that we might have true strength.
If we say we “feel strong,” we’re probably operating more out of the flesh instead of the Spirit; feelings are not a reliable indicator of the source of our strength. In 2nd Corinthians 12, Paul, who was being tormented by a demon, said “when I am weak I am strong.” Under such attack Paul was undoubtedly on his knees a lot, seeking God and asking for perseverance and strength… which kept him humble… and opened the flow of grace (see how it all works together?)
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Suffering = death to self, and is a catalyst for crying out to God for His strength. Anything that causes me to have more of Him and less of me is good.
6. We suffer so we might have strong faith.
Faith that has not been tested in the fires of suffering is the Sunday school version; something we know about but don’t possess. Those who have been to hell and back and have encountered God along the way come through with tough, battle-tested faith. They are less prone to fall prey to fear, and more content with living life without having all the answers. There is peace.
7. We suffer that we might possess endurance.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
Some trials take months, even years to worth through. A few last a life time. One of my best friends has cystic fibrosis, a permanent disease that debilitates the lungs. He is an example of persistence and endurance through pain and suffering like no other, and has been an encouragement to me to keep going when I’ve walked my own hell-valleys.
Why do we need endurance? It used to be that as soon as I was tempted with porn that I’d throw my arms up in surrender and give in. Today I know that temptations never last, and that if I just stand firm and stab the enemy with prayer and God’s word the battle will eventually be over.
Those God used in Scripture often came under fierce attack; without endurance they would have quickly folded. Also, Scripture extolls the man or woman who is an overcomer and “endures to the end” (Matthew 24:16, Revelations 2-3). The fires of suffering produce a tough heart that is able to go the distance no matter how hard they get hit.
8. We suffer so that we might bear fruit.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
…for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
Coming face to face with all of our pride, selfishness, fear, and bitterness has a way of putting the flesh to death; our trials show us that we need God. Such a person who lives in the truth that their inner world is a “fatal tragedy,” as Oswald Chambers puts it, is more apt to live in the power of the Spirit than their religious flesh-works. They are a ready tool in the hands of the Master, fit for His purposes.
Just the fact that they’ve endured a severe trial makes them of great use; now they can comfort and encourage those who will trudge the valley of pain. Perhaps this is why Job’s three friends blew it; I doubt they would have been so quick to attack him if they’d have experienced loss or hardship anywhere near what he went through.
I should mention that suffering is dangerous. There is a risk that some will allow their heart to harden to the point of unbelief; a dangerous place from which there is no guarantee of return. The enemy will pound you constantly with lies: “God is cruel… He’s abandoned you… He’s beating you for your sins…” If you feel your heart starting to grow cold and/or are getting so poisoned with bitterness that you’re in danger of drifting away, open up to a friend and ask them to intercede for a soft heart and a revelation of the truth. The enemy knows how to twist and distort God’s word so that the only verses you notice are those that show His judgment, to the expense of the many that show He is also a God of mercy, love and forgiveness.
In closing I’ll leave you with 10 checkpoints for the road of suffering:
1. No matter what happens, or how you feel, never stop seeking God. Saturate your mind with the truth and stay on your knees. Remember to take all of God’s word into consideration.
2. Don’t try to go it alone. Get the support and prayer of a few trusted friends. You’ll need the sound wisdom and encouragement of others; during a time of suffering our judgment can be clouded.
3. Get plenty of rest and exercise. Don’t binge on junk foods. Porn, drugs or alcohol will compound the problem.
4. As hard as it may be, go to work and keep your life going. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a pit of despair by allowing your problems to consume you.
5. Make time to have fun, even if it means something as simple as taking a walk in the sun.
6. Don’t stuff your emotions. Cry if you need to. Express your anger but be careful not to allow bitterness to take over.
7. You probably won’t see it today, but God has a reason for what you’re going through. God allowed Job to go through a terrible trial, and has used him to encourage many throughout the centuries.
8. If you have sinned, remember that God used Peter’s failure of denying Christ three times to encourage the broken as much as He has “righteous Job.” After Jesus restored Peter, we never read of Peter sticking his foot in his mouth again, and the Lord used Peter many ways, including penning two chapters of the Bible through him. Your life is not over, and there is still hope.
9. Ask God what He wants you to learn and see from your trial. If He exposes sin, allow Him to do His work. Cooperate with the process; don’t fight it.
10. If someone hurts you, forgive them as quickly as possible to keep yourself from bitterness. However, just because you’ve granted forgiveness does not mean you have to trust and/or subject yourself to abuse again. Trust must be earned.
Ladies Prayer Group
We have a group of ladies who share and pray for each other by conference call once a week. The women who’ve participated in the past have found this a blessing as they have others who they can share their struggles with and find encourage from, in addition to praying for each other and the ministry. Most participants are wives whose husbands have issues with sex and/or porn addiction. If you’re interested in getting involved, please email me.
Healing for the Soul
Healing for the Soul, run by Jayson Graves, is a professional Christian counseling organization that specializes in helping men who struggle with sexual addiction break free, providing healing for their wives, and working with teens. They offer counseling and support groups over the phone.
Go to www.healingforthesoul.org for more info.
Jayson also served as a host on the Blazing Grace radio show; you can download the mp3’s at www.blazinggrace.org.
The Road to Grace
The Road to Grace; Finding True Freedom from the Bondage of Sexual Addiction is Mike Genung’s book on breaking free from sexual addiction.
Topics covered include:
* Biblical tools for overcoming sexual temptation.
* Healing from shame.
* How to stop a masturbation habit.
* Dealing with the core issues that drive sexual sin.
* Understanding and receiving the love of God in the heart.
* Healing for Wives
* How to restore a marriage that’s been broken by sexual sin and/or adultery.
The Road to Grace is used in support groups, and provides plenty of material for discussion.
For more information and to purchase, visit www.roadtograce.net
www.blazinggrace.org – Blazing Grace home page
www.blazinggrace.org/forums/ – a community for those who struggle with sexual sin and their spouses.
www.roadtograce.net – Site for Mike Genung’s book The Road to Grace; Finding True Freedom from the Bondage of Sex Addiction.
www.2chronicles714.net – Site that focuses on putting 2nd Chronicles 7:14 into action for individuals and churches.
The moral law, ordained by God, does not make itself weak to the weak by excusing our shortcomings. It remains absolute for all time and eternity. If we are not aware of this, it is because we are less than alive. Once we do realize this, our life immediately becomes a fatal tragedy.
Blazing Grace’s purpose is to minister to the sexually broken and equip the church to effectively deal with the porn epidemic.
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All material copyright 2012 Mike Genung