23 Benfits of Suffering

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When we suffer, Scripture calls us to count it all joy (Jas.1:2), rejoice (Ro.5:3), and leap for joy (Lk.6:23) because of all the amazing benefits that we receive through suffering. For the believer, suffering is always good (Ps.119:75). Unbelievers suffer in ways that do not benefit them, but all our suffering as believers is beneficial in at least twenty-three ways (no doubt there are others I haven’t thought of). These benefits are enjoyed in greater or lesser degrees depending upon the person’s response to the suffering, but the benefits are always available to believers when we suffer.
 
Since the benefits of suffering, in great measure, depend on having the right response to the suffering, it’s essential that we understand how to respond in ways to gain these benefits. For each of the following benefits I will give a description of the benefit, and then a brief statement on the right way to respond in order to gain that benefit.
 
1.   Suffering accomplishes God’s perfect purposes
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
 
Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
 
Everything God does, He does for a reason—an infinitely good reason. He does not waste His time and He does nothing arbitrarily. God only does good things (Dt.32:4). Oh, what a blessing it is to know that absolutely everything that ever happens to us—down to the smallest detail—is a purposeful, intentional, loving, wise, beneficial step in a grand, glorious design!  Every moment of every day you are experiencing the unfolding of the great drama of God’s perfect providential plan.
 
From an earthly perspective it is a frightening thing to be in the midst of the huge, massive powers that seem to determine what happens to us (like the weather, or the millions of people around us, or a hundred other threats that are beyond our control). The temptation is to feel like a mouse in the midst of some giant machinery, running around trying to avoid being crushed in the gears.
 
We are indeed inside a giant machine, but the machine is God’s, and you are not a mouse, but a cog. The heavy, steel gears that are turning you are doing so by God’s design and under His control. This truth alone should make all our suffering and everything else that happens to us exceedingly precious in our sight.
 
Respond to all suffering with the 1:5 principle. For every one thought about your hard circumstances, think five thoughts about God’s purposes. Think about His purposes for as long as it takes for your heart to begin to rejoice in them.
 
2.   God’s tool for the advance of the gospel
Philippians 1:12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
 
2 Timothy 1:8 join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God … 11 of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am.
 
In His wisdom, God has chosen suffering as one of the primary tools He uses for the effective spread of the gospel and the encouragement of the saints.
 
Gain this benefit by considering how much more important the work of the kingdom is than temporal comfort. And rejoice in God’s ability to bring about eternal fruit through your suffering even when you cannot see how your suffering will accomplish anything.
 
3.   Purification
Job 23:10 When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
 
Psalm 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.
 
God uses suffering in countless different ways to increase our holiness and obedience. Even Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Heb.5:8). Some examples of godliness that can be gained from suffering are perseverance (Jas.1:2-3, Ro.5:3), character (Ro.5:3-4), hope (Ro.5:3-4), and humility (2 Cor.12:7). Suffering increases our sense of dependence on God and protects us from becoming puffed up with self-reliance, which is our greatest enemy. Our suffering is training from our Father in heaven. When it is chastisement for sin it teaches us to forsake sin. When it is not related to a particular sin, it trains us in other ways. Either way, it is training that results in “a harvest of righteousness” (Heb.12:7,11).
 
Respond to suffering by reminding your soul how weak, needy, and helpless it is, and strive to increase your sense of dependence on God. Let your suffering humble you. The humbling is not automatic; so cooperate with it.
 
4.   Increased power from God
2 Corinthians 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
 
When we realize that our suffering opens up greater possibilities for God to demonstrate His power in our lives, we will delight in our sufferings. Lack of suffering tends toward self-reliance which reduces the level of divine power at work in your life.
                                
The way Paul responded to his suffering in a way that caused the power of Christ to rest upon him was by boasting all the more gladly in his weaknesses and sufferings. To boast means to regard them as a badge of honor and to think about them as being of great value.
 
5.   Exposure of faith and unbelief
Luke 8:13 They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
 
1 Peter 1:6 now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith … may be proved genuine
 
James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
 
All suffering is a test. Each trial exposes the genuineness or lack of genuineness of our faith. When a trial pushes a person away from God, that exposes the fact that faith, in that area, is not real. When suffering drives a person toward God, that exposes the fact that his faith is real. The prime example of this is Job. God sent intense and relentless suffering into Job’s life for the purpose of demonstrating that Job’s faith was indeed real.
 
Regardless of the outcome of the test, the test itself is a priceless gift. When suffering exposes a lack of faith, that alerts us to a very important reality (like discovering cancer in the early stages so it can be cured). When suffering exposes genuine faith, that glorifies God.
 
Gain this benefit from suffering by looking carefully at the test results. Did it drive you toward or away from God? Did you respond in a way consistent with faith? If so, rejoice! If not, be glad that the deadly disease was spotted in time, and strive to shore up that area of weak faith.
 
6.   Ability to glorify God through faith
1 Peter 1:6 now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith … may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
 
The book of Job begins with a conversation between God and Satan in which the Devil questions the validity of Job’s worship. He claims that Job only worships God because God has bought him off, and that if God took away the blessings, Job would curse God. In essence, Satan is saying that God is not really worthy to be worshipped apart from bribing that worship out of people. When Job lost everything and still worshipped God, that showed God to be worthy of worship and honored Him before Satan and all the angels and demons, as well as anyone who has ever read the book of Job.
 
The greater a person’s suffering, the greater that person’s ability to glorify God. The only way to please God is by faith (Heb.11:6), and faith is never so God-honoring as when it is in the midst of suffering. Anyone can say, “Praise the Lord” when there is blessing. But when a person remains devoted to the Lord even in severe pain—oh, how that honors God! When we suffer, we have a means of honoring God that the angels can never experience.
 
Furthermore, the more we suffer and remain faithful in this life, the more honor and glory Jesus will receive from our lives on the Day He returns (1 Pe.1:7).
 
Gain this benefit simply by continuing to be faithful to God—especially in those times when the suffering seems so baffling, and in your wildest imagination you cannot see a good purpose for it. Memorize Job’s responses:
 
Job 1:20 Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
 
Job 2:10 “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
 
Respond that way and then sit back and enjoy God’s smile on your faith.
 
7.   Greater ability to experience various attributes of God
1 Peter 4:13 rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
 
Note carefully, it is not our suffering that results in being overjoyed at the Second Coming—it is our rejoicing in that suffering. Those who have rejoiced in their suffering for Christ more in this life will have greater joy. Those who have rejoiced less in their suffering for Christ will have lesser joy.
 
One of the reasons for our increased capacity for joy on that Day is the fact that our suffering enables us to experience all the attributes of God that can only be experienced in the midst of pain. There is no greater thing than to have a favorable experience of an attribute of God. Experiencing what God is like is the greatest thing in the universe. The angels in heaven get to experience many of the aspects of God’s glory firsthand. But think of how many attributes of God they can never experience. No angel will ever experience what it is like to be forgiven. None of them will ever feel God’s compassion or pity or mercy. Those attributes of God cannot be experienced apart from suffering. The fact that we are subjected to sin and suffering places us in a position to experience God’s tenderness, restoration, refreshment, guidance, companionship in the midst of loneliness, rescue from danger, peace in the midst of turmoil, and so many other marvelous facets of His glory. 
 
One example of this is God’s compassion and pity. Think of a child gets a scrape and runs into the house crying, and then stops crying and goes on his merry way after mom gives it a kiss. What happened? Is there less physical pain? No. The pain is exactly the same after the kiss. The reason he ran in crying, and the reason he stops crying after the kiss is because compassion is such a delightful thing to experience. And as sweet as it is to receive it from mom, it is far more wonderful to receive it from God. In fact, it is better to suffer and receive God’s pity than to never have suffered at all. Oh how important it is that we learn to enjoy God’s compassion and pity when we suffer.
 
Gain this benefit by seeking God as your refuge, comforter, healer, guide, counselor, redeemer, restorer, shield, fortress, and rock.
 
8.   Increased understanding of the goodness of the presence of God
Psalms 13:1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
 
One of our greatest problems is our inability to appreciate what is so wonderful about the presence of God. We can read about it in Scripture, but often our emotions and desires do not get on board with what we know intellectually. But when we suffer, and we say to our soul, “See, the presence of God is so good; this is a sample of what it’s like to be a little further from that presence”—that trains the soul to appreciate (with mind, heart, and soul) how wonderful the presence of God is.
 
9.   Increased thirst for God’s presence
In Psalm 63 David was going through horrible suffering. The person he probably loved most in the world had turned against him. His own son had rebelled against him, taken his throne by force, and was hunting David down to kill him. David was in unbelievable agony over this. He had been the greatest king of the world, and now he was in the desert running for his life from his son. The physical suffering of being out there in the desert combined with the emotional agony, and felt unbearable.
 
He wrote about it in Psalm 63 while he was in the desert.
 
Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek __________; my soul thirsts for ________, my body longs for _________, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
 
I left a few words out. Ask the counselee, “What would you naturally expect a person in David’s position (and yours) to put in those spaces?” “My soul thirsts for…my son to come to his senses”? My soul longs for…restoration of my family and vindication and the return to my throne”? Earnestly I seek…to recover what was lost”? That’s what most people would say because most people think that’s what would restore happiness. But that’s not what David said. He had one desire:
 
Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
 
Respond to agonizing pain by using that pain to increase your thirst for God’s presence, because only His presence can restore joy. This is a wonderful truth, because God said we will not experience His presence unless we seek Him with all our heart and all our soul (Jer.29:13).. Most people are unable to enjoy deep, rich, satisfying experiences of His presence because they never get thirsty enough to really seek with all that is in them. But one thing intense suffering can do (if it is interpreted properly) is increase our thirst to a level that we ARE able to seek God with all our heart and soul. So always use suffering and pain to increase your thirst for God. Look at the pain and interpret that pain as thirst for the presence of God.
 
10.                     Drives us to God, intensifies prayer
Luke 22:44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly
 
We have all experienced the calamity of having a dry, dull heart toward God that results in passionless, weak prayer. In some cases, when we were passionate in our prayers without suffering, there is no need for God to send suffering. But where passion is lacking, it is worth suffering some pain if it restores our zeal in seeking God. Passionate prayer is of infinite worth, but it is hard to come by. Praise be to God for supplying the suffering we need to drive us to pray with passion! Gain this benefit by pouring out your heart in passionate, earnest prayer when you suffer.
 
11.                     Makes us long for heaven
2 Corinthians 5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
 
The greater our hope for heaven the more we honor God. Suffering increases that hope. Respond to suffering by thinking more about heaven.
 
12.                     Increased hope for the Second Coming
Revelation 21:4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
 
Oh, the glory Jesus will receive on that Day that He puts a permanent end to all suffering. The shouts of the angels on that Day will be one thing, but nothing compared to the praises of those who have endured suffering and death. Let suffering turn your thinking to that glorious Day.
 
13.                     Snaps us out of the fog of trivia
Psalm 102:4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.
 
Suffering—especially severe suffering, has a way of awakening us to what is truly important. We get so caught up in the trivia of life that tiny, little things get us worked up, then some major trial comes along and opens our eyes to how meaningless all those things are compared to eternal realities.
 
Take advantage of this benefit by seizing on the prime opportunity to preach to your soul about what is important and what isn’t.
 
14.                     Teaches us to understand God’s Word
Psalm 119:71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
 
Very often the key to understanding God’s Word comes only through suffering. A painful ordeal breaks into your life, and the agony of it drives you to seek a solution from Scripture with an intensity you would not otherwise have. When you listen to sermons your ears are alert to principles that would address your problem. And when they come, you hear what no one else hears, and you have insights into how to apply that Scripture that no one else picks up on because they aren’t going through what you are going through.
 
Gain this benefit by seeking answers from God’s Word when you suffering. And don’t give up until you find them![1]
 
15.                     Teaches us the horror of sin
Romans 8:19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
 
Not all of your suffering is due to sin in your life. But all your suffering is due to sin. It is sin that caused the Fall and the curse. All pain exists because of sin, and is designed to teach us how horrible sin really is. None of us hate sin enough, but suffering, if we use it right, can train us to hate sin more. Let all your distress over suffering feed your hatred for sin and increase your love for righteousness.
 
16.                     The privilege of participation in the sufferings of Christ
1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ
 
Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
 
Acts 5:41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
 
Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ … to suffer for him
 
When an employee in the United States is injured on the job, it is the employer’s responsibility to cover the medical bills. And in a similar way, when a Christian suffers any hardship while on the clock for Jesus, that is considered suffering for Jesus. An example of this is Epaphroditus, who was to be honored because he almost died for Christ (Php.2:30). What happened? Was he scourged like Paul? Beaten by an angry mob for preaching the gospel? Threatened by government officials? No. He got sick while en route to delivering a financial gift to Paul (Php.2:27). Somewhere along the line he inhaled a germ and became ill, and God considered that suffering for Christ, because it happened while on the job for Christ. If your spouse or boss mistreat you, if you are in that job or marriage because you are seeking to follow God’s will for your life, then ALL suffering in that job or marriage counts as suffering while on the job for Christ.
 
Gain this benefit first by making sure your suffering is for Christ’s sake, and not because of unrepentant sin or folly on your part. We can rejoice over suffering that is the consequence of sin (see #3), but if the sin or foolishness is currently ongoing, put a stop to it.
 
Secondly, spend time thinking about the grand honor of suffering for His name.
 
17.                     Reward
Luke 6:22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
 
Suffering for Christ is a grand and glorious privilege, and will be richly rewarded. No matter what you go through in following Christ, He will make it worth your while—times ten billion! Respond to suffering by thinking about the wealth and generosity of the one who is going to repay you for all that you have lost in His service. 
 
18.                     Motivation to change
Psalm 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.
 
Psalm 119:71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
 
The reason lepers lose their limbs is not because the leprosy destroys them; it is because the lepers themselves destroy them because of their lack of sensation. They lose the feeling in their skin, so every time they grab something that is hot, or sharp, or they have a rock in their shoe—things like that destroy their hands and feet because they feel no pain, so they don’t know to stop doing what is causing harm. Pain is a gift. It motivates us to stop what we are doing and figure out what is wrong so we can avoid doing damage to ourselves.
 
Emotional pain is the same way. It is a gift from God that motivates us to take action to solve problems in the soul. When our pain is due to a pattern of wrong thinking or behavior or attitudes, when the pain becomes intense enough it drives us to find answers about the cause of that pain. If God had designed us in such a way that we could wander from Him and not suffer any pain as a result, that would be unloving. We would most certainly wander far from Him.
 
Use emotional pain to drive you to examine the complex inner workings of your heart (see  ch.4). Utilize a wise counselor if need be.
 
19.                     Enables compassion
Hebrews 2:18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
 
Compassion is a crucial component of Christ-likeness, but it is impossible apart from suffering. You cannot feel for someone who is suffering if you have no idea what it is like to suffer. And the closer your suffering is to that of the other person, the greater your ability to have compassion. So the greater the intensity and variety of your sufferings, the better!
 
And not only does suffering help you have compassion, but when you have suffered that also helps the other person to take comfort in the fact that you can empathize with what he is going through. In His omniscience, God the Son could have fully understood what our suffering was like without experiencing it Himself, but He went through it anyway in order to help us take comfort in the fact that He has felt the sting of what we are feeling and is therefore a compassionate High Priest. The more you suffer, the greater a commodity you are in the Church. 
 
Gain this benefit by remembering your pain so you can bear the burden of others when they suffer.
 
20.                     Enables us to help others
2 Corinthians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
 
This verse does not say that you will automatically be able to comfort people just because you went through suffering. It only works if, in your suffering, you succeeded in finding comfort from God. But if you do suffer and find comfort from God, you now have the ability to show others how it’s done.
 
21.                     Increased glory
2 Corinthians 4:17 our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory.[2]
 
The promise is not simply that once our troubles are over we will receive glory. The promise is that the troubles themselves are accomplishing that glory. That is, the greater your suffering now, the greater the glory of heaven for you when Jesus comes.
 
22.                     Footsteps of Jesus
Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
 
Hebrews 2:10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
 
1 Peter 2:19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. … 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
 
We exist to be conformed to the image of Christ. That is the goal of our predestination (Ro.8:29). So every time we suffer and respond like Jesus responded, we are following in His glorious steps. When warning the Disciples about the suffering they would experience Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master” (Mt.10:24). If our Master wasn’t exempt from suffering; we certainly shouldn’t expect to be exempt. Gain this benefit by following Jesus’ example in the way He embraced and responded to suffering.
 
23.                     Enables sacrificial giving and deeper expressions of love
2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort
 
1 John 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
 
Something about love compels the lover to give sacrificially to the beloved. Like David, who refused to offer God that which cost him nothing (2 Sam.24:24), we all desire to give something valuable—something that costs us a lot, to those we love. Giving in a way that causes us suffering is the most costly gift we can give. That is the way God gave to us. Suffering enables us to give precious, priceless gifts even when we are penniless.
 
Gain this benefit by giving generously—and by rejoicing whenever a gift costs you something.
 
 
 
 

[1] By “answers” I do not mean answers to questions God doesn’t address, like “Why did God let this happen at this time?” I’m referring to answers to the question, “What does God’s Word say about this?”
[2] Author’s translation.