When We Suffer for Doing Good

people-2599319_1280

Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

Have you ever wanted to fight God on an issue even though you knew that He would blow you out of the water with an argument or action that would show you how wrong you were? Have you ever wanted to wrestle against God even though you knew He would win?

I know the fallacy of using my own human logic to try to guide my life or figure out God. I’ve been walking with him long enough to know that His ways are not my own. He has shown that to me over and over.

But recently, even though I knew that it was pointless, I wanted so badly to accuse Him and turn away. I’d been in this place many a time, and I know the danger of going my own way, but I wanted to flee anyway.

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

Here’s what I was all tied up in knots about: If He was going to ask me to do an action for Him, I felt that it should end in good. The situation should end with a happy ending, with a ribbon tied in a bow on top. But yet again, I had stepped out to do an uncomfortable action because He had told me to, and it had ended in circumstances that were not what I wanted or expected.

Quite honestly, I felt that there had been too many of those situations lately. It makes sense to do the hard thing that will end in the award, the raise at work, the leading of someone to Christ, the healing, the miracle. But what about the hard action that leads to persecution, the argument, or the confusing events that don’t add up. What then?

In those scenarios, we can feel like God is being cruel to us because of what He has asked us to do. We may be infuriated by the fact that He has led us to a place where we are encountering hardship that we wouldn’t be encountering if we hadn’t listened to Him. We wouldn’t be the first to feel this way.

In the book of Job, Job becomes fed up with the hardship that has come in his life. He essentially tells God as much, accusing God of cruelty and persecution (Job 30:21, ESV). However, we know from reading the rest of the book of Job that God was not being malicious to Job — nor is He that to us. God allowed the affliction in Job’s life not to be “cruel” or play a mean game with Job’s life, but because He had a purpose. And Satan — not God — was the responsible party for the trouble that came into Job’s life. As Jon Bloom points in “When God Feels Cruel” on desiringgod.org, God did permit Satan’s actions — but He did so to prove Satan wrong and provide encouragement to many other sufferers who would come after Job.

In fact, God responds to Job’s accusation of cruelty and asks him this important question, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8, ESV). The Message translation words it like this: “Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?” In other words, God asks Job if he is able to stand against Him on his own righteousness.

In our own lives, when we feel that God is being cruel to us because He has allowed or led us into undesirable circumstances, we see that God is more than capable of running the universe — and often our accusations of Him are made because we don’t understand things from His perspective. As Bloom notes, we have to trust in God’s goodness despite what our feelings tell us.

Certainly, after listening to God’s argument, Job repents of his original position and acknowledges that God is sovereign and worthy of praise no matter the events in his life. Similarly, in my own situation, while I didn’t get the same monologue God gave Job, God stopped me in my tracks by offering a divine response to my human argument.

What God Says About the Suffering That Comes From Doing His Will

The next morning during my quiet time, as I was still fuming over the injustice of the reality that good doesn’t always come to you for doing God’s will, I came across this gem of Scripture in 1 Peter 4:19:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Say what? I didn’t have to wait for a thunderclap from heaven to signal God’s answer. His response waited quietly right in front of me silencing every complaint I wanted to raise in His direction. I knew He wanted me to stop resisting Him and accept the situation He had ordained in my life. Like Job, I had to acknowledge God’s supreme power and knowledge even when things weren’t making sense according to my own wisdom.

When we’re in a place where we don’t like where God has brought us, we can break down this verse and look at a few ideas that may help us in our circumstance:

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

If we look at other translations of this verse, the wording is arranged to say not “those who suffer for doing the will of their Creator” but to say something more along the lines of “if God’s will is for you to suffer.” For instance, the New Life Version says “if God wants you to suffer” and the New Century Version says “then those who suffer as God wants.”

No matter which translation you look at, the passage highlights the idea that God’s will and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes God’s will leads straight into suffering, and it’s difficult to grapple with in those moments because we don’t always know all the whys.

However, if we look at other sections of 1 Peter, we see that suffering in doing God’s will is something we should rejoice over — not something that should derail us from our calling.

2. Despite what happens, we need to commit ourselves to Him.

I love this next section. The verse tells us what we should do in the situation where obedience doesn’t appear to be paying off: “Commit ourselves to our faithful Creator.” The temptation is to get angry, to tell God we will control things, that we will “take it from here.” But this is where trust comes in. Do we believe He loves us? Do we believe His way is perfect and He knows all things? Do we believe He is worthy of our trust?

The passage assures us that He is trustworthy. In fact, quite interestingly, Peter uses the word “faithful” to describe the One who holds us and all of our circumstances together. He is faithful not just when events are favorable in our life — but even in the midst of suffering.

3. Even when we suffer, we need to continue to do good.

Lastly, the verse urges us to continue to do good even when it doesn’t make sense, the way is hard, and we want to give up. Quite honestly, what we all want to do when our situation doesn’t pan out the way we thought it would is run in the opposite direction. But this verse urges us to “continue to do good.” And that sometimes is the hardest thing. To continue when you don’t have the results you want, you don’t know why, and it doesn’t make sense.

Friend, we have a God who knows what He is doing. When the way is unclear, and we can’t see what He is doing, the passage urges us to keep on doing what we know is right. My former senior pastor used to say, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.” In other words, when you have no earthly idea why circumstances are going the way they are or why He has allowed what He has in your life, you can still trust that God is good and His way is flawless.

When I survey my life, I know Him to be a faithful God. I can look back and see how he was constant through times where I was not. He has always been there for me and you, and He will continue to be faithful, or as one of my favorite worship songs says — “do it again.”

Let’s choose to trust Him even when His will leads to hardship rather than good.

Related Bible Verses:

Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

*Updated October 30, 2017

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

How Sugar Became an Idol in My Life

coffee-2600891_1280

I see these cute Christian shirts that make me think, “Ah. That expresses my faith well.” I am a quiet person. Perhaps one of these will give voice to my faith. One in particular states, “I love Jesus, coffee, and naps.” I love all three, and, while I rarely actually get a nap, I often feel desperate for one.

Another shirt states, “It is well with my soul.” Overall, that is true for me. But do I really represent that all the time? Absolutely not. And then I wonder if I am too worried about appearing hypocritical. Would I be making a stand for God or turning those who have no faith even further from God? Having friends who do not know Christ makes me shrink from purchasing such a garment for fear of presenting a conflicting message.

And then, I think, it is just a shirt.

I have been pondering which shirt to buy for some time, even though it is unlikely I will ever buy any of them.

How God Revealed an Idol

In the process of contemplating the messages of these T-shirts, God opened my eyes to a more profound perspective. It really began with sugar, specifically, the sugar in my coffee. The coffee, of course, was listed on one of the shirts as one of my “needs.”

For a little background, I am in the heart of writing my dissertation which will earn me a PhD in psychology when I complete it. It’s tough. I have a family, a church family, and a full-time job. My mother lives with me. My mother-in-law is still learning to live alone after the death of my father-in-law. There are many reasons I feel continuing my education is a selfish endeavor.

I began brainstorming ways that I could function more effectively, disappoint as few people as possible, and still complete this dissertation. Let me also say that at this time I had been researching some strategies for pre-menopausal women, feeling like my hormones have been doing somersaults since my last child. I found that even in my late thirties, the hormones can create problems.

One strong suggestion from this research, because I am not into fake medications but prefer to utilize what God gives us naturally when possible, was to quit sugar.

After a nasty sugar detoxification period, going without sugar was supposed to leave me energized, focused, and steady. Those are qualities I would like to hear used to describe me from people like my husband, sons, family, and co-workers.

Sugar. My friend-for-life. How could I give up sugar while going through such a difficult task as a dissertation? I have quit sugar before — in all but my coffee — but I need that sugar in my coffee. It is such a comfort. I look forward to each cup (probably more like three or four). I can get through most situations knowing that a cup of coffee with sugar is at the end.

However, I realized that if I am asking my family to sacrifice for me, then I must also make sacrifices. I knew I would suffer, however superficial it seems. Since I was giving up sugar, why not give up gluten, too? I have gone gluten free in the past, and it left me feeling much better. Healthier. Stronger.

Thus, in order to feel better and find the energy I needed, I went off sugar and gluten. By day three of no sugar, my husband was begging me to go back on it. I had a headache. I was irritable. I had no comfort.

But I am stubborn. I thought — if this substance has this much control over who I am, then I want nothing to do with it.

Several weeks into this new life-without-sugar, I learned a wonderful lesson, as are all lessons from the Lord. This one I know was from Him: At times when I should have been taking comfort in the Lord, I turned to sugar instead.

That was a blow to the person I believed myself to be. Sugar was something so trivial that I let become a god to me. Judges 10:14 (ESV) states, “Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in your time of distress.” Bingo. That was me.

Gaining Self-Control: Making Jesus My Comfort

Since giving up the sweet stuff, I no longer get tired in the afternoon. I can work for crazy amounts of time, still give my kids attention for their homework and antics, and perform well at work. I lost weight that no amount of exercise has ever gotten rid of. It was a struggle that ended with me on top, infused with God’s power rather than the power of “things.”

How many times have I heard at church that anything we rely on has the power to become a god to us? I chide myself that I didn’t see this sooner, yet, since I am human, I know something is bound to sneak up on me again. I can still enjoy sugar since my detox, usually every weekend, with no side effects. The sugar no longer controls me. I control it.

I did fall off the wagon once. I slowly let sugar creep into my day-to-day routine. However, when I began waking up in the morning feeling as though I hadn’t slept, I quickly realized the culprit. I got back up and quit sugar once again.

Moderation works. Anything of the Lord is good. The only thing I do not need moderation for is my time with Him. For it is never enough.

1 Corinthians 10:14 (ESV) states, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” I am thankful for the discernment God gave me that allowed me to garner self-discipline over this part of my life.

I no longer want the “I love Jesus, coffee, and naps” shirt that was “so me.” My perspective of what is important has shifted. I want every part of me, even my clothing, to reflect that. Plus, I drink less coffee now — only one cup usually. I no longer yearn for naps. As my father-in-law used to say, “You can sleep when you die” (and that is how he lived his life). And I will never again compare Jesus’ name to trivial, momentary pleasures on this earth.

Living my life with less sugar and with more Jesus is so much better.

Through a path that began with a shirt, diverted to sugar, and ended in idols, I found out more about both Jesus and my relationship with Him. In defense of the shirt, Jesus’ name is in larger font on it than either coffee or naps. Makes sense. He is larger.

It is important for us all to attempt to recognize what idols, even legal ones like sugar, we have in our lives. The lesson for me was to not just examine where I spend most of my time and energy, but from where I receive my comfort.

Despite all that I’ve learned, I do still like the Jesus shirts, though. The one I eyeball now states, “Blessed by Jesus — Spoiled by my husband.” I haven’t found anything wrong in that thus far. After the dissertation, I may treat myself to it.

Rebecca Lindsey

Rebecca Lindsey

After “retiring” from teaching in 2013, Rebecca is currently back at it as a high school Teacher on Assignment where she is able to help students identified as at-risk for not graduating on time. The in-between years, she worked as a therapist in private and public practice. Her interests are in helping others, hiking, kayaking, gardening, dancing, and reading. She loves exercise, nutrition, and natural healing. After completing her doctorate in organizational psychology, she plans to lead others to improve leadership, career, and personal life-skills and maybe even author a few works. In every role, she feels there is an opportunity to model the grace and redemption given to us by Jesus. Rebecca lives in Dallas, Georgia, with her husband and three boys (the middle child is a Weimeraner).

More Posts

Where Is God When We Suffer?

building-2599469_1280

Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

It is easy when times are good to say we trust in the Lord, and He is a good God. But how about when times are bad? Can we still say those words then?

When chaos takes place in our lives, when circumstances aren’t going as we would want, proclaiming God’s goodness and faithfulness is much more difficult. Some of us have been through or are going through such tremendously hard situations.

Oftentimes, there are layers to our trials. We have multiple problems occurring on multiple fronts; it can be overwhelming. We may feel crushed down by the weight of them. Paul said on his journey in Asia: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). So deep was the agony, so great the torment and trials, Paul didn’t know if he would find his way through them. And yet, he persisted and put his full trust in Christ.

While Paul is a man in the New Testament who met with tribulation, Job is a man in the Old Testament who met with affliction. He lost his estate, wealth, and children in one day (Job 1:1-22).

Unbeknownst to him, prior to his devastating loss, a discussion happened in the heavens between God and Satan. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job’s possessions and family. Then, to add insult to injury, God granted Satan permission to afflict Job’s health. Job’s body broke out in painful boils. Job’s suffering was so great, he cursed the day he was born. His wife suggested he curse God as well, but Job replied, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Job was unwilling to abandon his faith even in the midst of heavy trials.

To make matters worse, Job’s “friends” came to sit with and comfort him; however, they made Job feel even more terrible by heaping blame on him for the tragedy that had fallen on him. Although each friend had a slightly different view, they all arrived at the same conclusion: Job’s suffering was due to sin. In order for him to get out of his situation, he needed to confess his sin.

Talk about a miserable time for Job! His wife abandoned him emotionally when he needed her most, his friends told Job he was to blame for the trouble that had happened (even though that wasn’t the case), and Job stood accused by everyone close to him in his life.

No one understood or supported him. He was not even sure of what God thought of him initially. We can learn a few ideas from Job’s journey of suffering.

On a side note, these points are those I’ve loosely based on the information from a Suffering and Sovereignty study from the First5.org app from Proverbs 31 Ministries. I’ve been reading the study these past few weeks, and even as I’ve chosen to talk about the concepts in a slightly different way, they are those I developed while going through the study.

1. Suffering falls on the righteous and the wicked.

While clear connections can sometimes be drawn between our actions and the events happening in our life, sometimes they can’t. Certainly, the Bible talks about God bestowing blessings on the righteous and evil on the wicked. Psalm 51:12 says, “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” Proverbs 33:3 says, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”

However, the book of Job reveals a more complicated view of suffering. Sometimes the wicked flourish with no recompense and the righteous suffer through no fault of their own (First5.org).

In both scenarios, God is still sovereign and in control. We as Christians must accept both good and bad — knowing He allowed both in our lives. That doesn’t mean we let people abuse us or mistreat us, let ourselves be passive doormats, or resign ourselves to situations that are not God’s best for us.

However, we understand that suffering is part of the Christian experience. We also understand that eventually, a man’s evil will catch up with him. He will be judged for his wrong and suffer the consequences of his disobedience against God.

2. Friends are good, but only One will never abandon us.

Friends are good, but we can’t always rely on them to say the right things or know what to do when trouble comes into our life. As we see in Job’s story, Job’s friends meant well, but they had no knowledge of what was really going on. By Job’s response, we see that their words did not comfort him and did not ring true for him. Similarly, we will have people completely misunderstand us and offer us advice we shouldn’t take (First5.org).

The only way we can know what to do and find true comfort is to turn to the only One who will not abandon us. We may feel like God is far off and silent, but He is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). God is the only One who will have an accurate perspective of each situation we face. We can easily be lead astray by friends with good intentions who give us human wisdom and logic — maybe even a few Bible verses thrown in that might be right in another scenarios. We need to seek and listen to God’s voice above all others.

It can be scary to be the one voice in a situation that is dissenting when everyone else is assenting. We may think something is wrong with us if we are the only one offering a different point-of-view. However, sometimes our Christian faith walk requires us to think and act differently than those around us. Sometimes differently than even our Christian friends and family members.

The voices around us may tell us we’re wrong, that we’re not in God’s will, that we have brought the suffering on ourselves. But what is God telling us? At times, God will pinpoint an area of our life that He’s working on. His methods for bringing this to our attention may be extremely painful. However, other times the suffering we go through is not necessarily brought on by our own choices, but rather allowed for reasons only God knows.

3. God doesn’t expect us to be stoic in our suffering.

As repeatedly emphasized in the First5 study, Job didn’t curse God, but he was not emotionless or stoic in his suffering. He attempted to process through what was happening by pouring out to his feelings to God and his friends.

Similarly, it’s OK in our pain to express how we feel, to be honest with God. Job basically wanted to die, and He told people that. He didn’t try to play the religious role and pretend like these events weren’t devastating to him. He poured out his pain to others and told his friends what he thought of their comments.

In our own pain, we need to tell God how we truly feel. We don’t need to gloss over our feelings or pretend they are not there. We can be truthful with God. He can handle our grief and raw emotions. Certainly, Job went a little too far towards the end of the book of Job by accusing God (rather than just raising honest questions). However, we can learn from Job to take our questions to God and wrestle through our grief — rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

Conclusion: God’s Purposes Are Supreme Through Our Suffering

Jesus told his followers before leaving the earth that they would have trouble, but to “take heart” because he had “overcome the world” (John 16:33). As Jesus’ followers, we will share in His suffering.

While our suffering can happen as a result of our sin, at times we will suffer without knowing the reasons or causing the suffering in or own lives. In those periods, as hard as it may be, we need to cling to God, ask Him our hard questions, but say as Job did, that we will accept both the good and bad seasons God allows.

At the very end of Job, after God spoke to Job, Job responded by saying in Job 42:2-6:

I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

Ultimately, as the NIV Study Notes state, Job decided that God and His purposes were supreme, and he simply surrendered to God’s plan for him, which included suffering. After this, God made his friends go to back to Job. Job prayed for them, and his fortunes were restored.

Also in the NIV Study Notes, it says: “God does not allow us to suffer for no reason, and even though the reason may be hidden in the mystery of his divine purpose — never for us to know in this life — we must trust in him as the God who only does what is right.”

In other words, when our circumstances are such that they feel out of control, we have a God we can rely on and trust because His purposes for us are always good (Romans 8:28), even if they don’t feel good. Like Job, we can wrestle with God in our pain and request that God take the difficulty away. Ultimately, though, if He doesn’t — and we know our suffering is not a result of our own folly — we can trust that God has a reason to allow it and will bring good in our life through it.

In addition, we see Job say something very interesting in response to God. He said that he had “heard” of God, but due to this experience he had “seen God” (Job 42:5). Similarly, in our pain, however great, we will have the opportunity to learn more of God as we share in His suffering.

Interestingly enough, when I wrote the lines above to conclude this article, I penned them before I had read the end of the First5 Job study I mentioned earlier. However, quite fittingly, when I watched their last teaching video, I saw that Wendy Blight read Job 42:2-6 and came up with a similar conclusion. I thought it was cool that we shared some of the same thoughts about the end of Job.

In conclusion, then, what we can say about God’s whereabouts when we suffer is that God has not abandoned us. As believers, we can be assured of this truth found in Scripture: God is with us, a constant friend (Matthew 28:20; John 15:12-15).

Related Bible Verses:

2 Corinthians 5:14: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is seen.”

Podcast Notes:

In podcast episode, please note that there are two corrections: the reference to 1 Corinthians 1:8 in intro is actually 2 Corinthians 1:8. The Psalm 51:1 reference in the first point is actually Psalm 51:12.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts