How do you respond to suffering? Most of us attempt to cope with suffering by turning either to apathy, escapism, or bitterness. My go-to is apathy. I see many others turning to escapism and bitterness.
But the fact is that these responses do more harm than good. Sure, they might help us endure rough patches temporarily, but they do nothing to train us to face the next trial that is sure to come. They actually keep us from learning the lessons that suffering can teach us; they keep us from building the character that only suffering produces; and they keep us from experiencing God’s presence and provision in the midst of suffering.
How then should we respond to suffering? This is an area that Christians should model a radically different way of living. To respond to suffering by entrusting our lives, situations, and outcomes to God, and continuing to live faithfully in obedience to and worship of him—this displays a jarringly different view of suffering and the world.
But in addition to this inner hope in God, the Christian response to suffering ought to be distinguished by another mark: a digging into Christian community. When our inclination is to withdraw from others, whether out of embarrassment or not wanting to be a burden, there is much to be gained from remaining in regular fellowship with our church family.
Here are five benefits of staying engaged with the “communion of saints” in the midst of suffering:
- It is here that you will be reminded of God’s reality: while you can only see five feet in front of you and what you see doesn’t look good, that’s not the whole story. There is a greater story that you are a part of, and God is orchestrating it all for His glory and your good!
- It is here that you will be brought back to God’s word: as we speak it to each other, as we hear it preached, as we discuss it in small groups. God’s word brings us the truth, comfort, and hope we desperately need.
- It is here that you will experience God’s presence: It is among and through the church that God works and accomplishes his purposes. If you keep to yourself, you will go through stretches where you start to wonder if God is doing anything. One of the best cures is to dig into community; among us as a body, God is doing a lot!
- It is here that you will be loved, served, and have needs met, and in turn, love, serve, and meet other’s needs: both the receiving and the giving aspects are needed!
- And it is here, that you will be brought back to the gospel. I find that at LEAST weekly I need to be reminded that my identity, worth, purpose, and position before God are established and secure in what God has done for me, and that they do not rest on how I feel or how I perform each day.
So as you encounter suffering of various kinds—and you will—do not neglect God’s great gift of Christian community. Not only does this bring glory to God, it actually is the most helpful way to deal with suffering.