Introduction: “Suffering builds character.” That diagnosis is as unpopular as “Eat your spinach; it’s good for you.”
Charlie Brown Story: One of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoon strips has Charlie Brown and his baseball team losing yet again. There have been innumerable line drives that cause pitcher Charlie Brown to go flying off the mound, his hat and glove and even clothes sailing in all directions. On the way home he complains to Linus. Why has the team lost again? Five million to nothing! And this is the eightieth loss in a row! Nobody can hit. He’s got a beagle for a shortstop. Lucy certainly doesn’t try very hard out there in center field. Etc. Charlie Brown, whose secret unrealized ambition has always been to be called “Flash,” is one dejected athlete. Linus responds with a casual shrug. “Look at it this way, Charlie Brown. You learn more from losing than you do from winning.” This is exactly what Charlie Brown doesn’t want to hear. Turning on his friend in sorrow and rage, he knocks him right over with a shriek: “that makes me the smartest person in the world!!”
Romans 5:3, 4: “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.”
NIV Text Notes: “A Christian can rejoice in suffering because he knows that it is not meaningless. Part of God’s purpose is to produce character in His children.”
Learning the Hard Way: Yes, many of us have pleaded with God: “Lord, let me learn some other way. I don’t need suffering in order to follow Your will. Please let me attend some easier university, where I can soak up Your lessons on a laptop computer or by taking a painless pill.” But the history of our human race is that we generally only learn through pain and suffering. Still, the son or daughter of God has an advantage in being able to trust that God does have an ultimate purpose in their life.
What Is Faith? It truly is one of the great tests in the Christian walk to keep trusting in God when the pain just goes on and on with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. Author Hank Hanegraaff describes faith as: “trusting God even when you do not understand.”
Knowing the Face of God by Tim Stafford: (This deals with the “inner” effect of suffering): “Suffering is lonely, and its most obvious effect is to bring the sufferer into a new relationship with himself. Suffering does not teach from a textbook; it works with the material already in a woman or man. It purifies this human material, cutting away layer after soft layer until only firmer stuff remains. All the dross goes: the ambitions, love of money, vanity about appearance, everything that sets us above others in our own mind. Suffering purges everything that is not central to life.”
Media Story: Hollywood actor Christopher Reeve enjoyed the good life and gladly accepted paychecks for playing fairly frivolous roles like Superman. In 1995 he was thrown from a horse and paralyzed for life. Did his priorities and values change for the next nine years of his life? If he could have spun the world backward and reversed time, as Superman did in the first installment of that series, and gone back to the time of his abundant health . . . if he could live it over, would he spent his moments of vitality with greater wisdom? I imagine we all would.
Eternal Perspectives: “I complained about having no shoes . . . until I met a man who had no feet.” Suffering can help us to hold on to an eternal perspective.
Having an Outlook of “Abundance” Despite Suffering: The book Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, stirs your heart to read many stories of people who have lived long lives where pain was a daily and hourly companion. Some of the people in India that Dr. Brand worked with suffered for decades from the ravaging effects of leprosy or other grave illnesses. But this missionary doctor was often amazed at how many people learned to endure suffering with grace and good cheer, and actually live Christian lives that he could only describe as abundant.
He reminisces: “I have never made much money in my lifetime of surgery, but I feel very rich because of patients like these. They bring me more joy than wealth ever could. And they bring me hope for other suffering people. In Namo, Sadan, and Palani [three of his patients] I have indisputable proof that pain, even the cruelly stigmatizing pain of a disease like leprosy, need not destroy. ‘What does not destroy me makes me stronger,’ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used to say, and I have seen that proverb come alive in many of my former patients.”
Pain Without Apparent Meaning: Yes, sometimes pain is a signal to us of something we need to change. TV commercials joke about heartburn, but this is a body signal protesting our foolish choices. Taking a certain pill allows you to continue the mad party; still, it’d be a lot better if we selected a more sensible diet.
But often pain is simply there as an undeserved foe. It’s a random attacker. There’s no reason it’s part of your life except for the fact that we live in a cruel, sin-soaked world. You don’t have a lesson to learn; you’re simply on the enemy’s hit list. What perspective can you possibly adopt that will see you through this endless valley of shadows? All we can say then is that we suffer for the sake of Christ. Maybe there’s nothing else, no other reason. But the Bible tells us that there’s nobleness and reward in being a fellow sufferer with Jesus Christ. He suffered too, and we, as parts of His family, may well have a heavy cross to bear.
Philippians 1:29: “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.”
Acts 5:41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus.]
That willingness, that spirit of rejoicing in the midst of suffering, is largely why the infant Christian church survived. There was incredible pain and persecution for those first followers of Christ. Beatings and crucifixions and lions and the agony of families torn apart, either by the wild beasts of Rome or by the spiritual splits this new faith caused. What impact did all the flowing blood have? Louis Bouyer: “The importance of martyrdom in the spirituality of the early Church would be difficult to exaggerate . . . After the elements of the New Testament, certainly no other factor has had more influence in constituting Christian spirituality.”
Two Realities: 1) Suffering and pain can and do bring us to a new level of character. As sons and daughters of God, we accept the blows of the chisel because we want to someday be made whole again. 2) Through all that comes our way, Jesus is there. In your darkest hour, the Son of God stands by your side: “Immanuel” – “God with us.”
Letters To an American Lady by C. S. Lewis: After losing his wife to cancer, “Jack” Lewis wrote in one of his final letters: “Remember, though we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way around—we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think Our Lord says to you, ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath you are the everlasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust Me so little?’”
Conclusion: Sometimes there is no other purpose for pain except to teach us to witness to our faith in Jesus’ presence.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.