Tears spilled down my face without warning when I got a text from a family member sharing yet another heartbreaking situation among the countless others I have grieved over the past decade. But it wasn’t just this situation that opened the gates of grief. Rather, it was the accumulation of many deep sorrows and heart wrenching losses that our family has suffered. And while God has faithfully upheld and strengthened us, grace upon grace; on this particular morning a spirit of heaviness descended like a thick cloud, wrapping itself around my broken heart.
Knowing I needed to get ready for my work as a women’s ministry director, I swatted my tears away and jumped into the shower. But the thing about grief is that it follows you, so I let my tears lead me in a prayer of lament. As I cried out to God, His Spirit brought words of the prophet Isaiah to mind:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me; because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion–
…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (heaviness). They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor” Isaiah 61:1-3.
Perhaps you needed to be reminded of these words today as well. The good news is that Jesus Christ has come to save and set us free from our bondage to sin! God, in His mercy, has chosen us to display Christ’s beauty to the brokenhearted. And He is coming again soon! Yet, while we wait patiently for the Lord’s return, the darkness can feel overwhelming at times. We long for loved ones to turn away from sin and trust in Christ; we mourn for a world that loves what is evil and hates what is good; we weep for those who are oppressed and treated unjustly.
As I let these life giving words of future redemption and restoration fall over me along with the water in the shower, I gave thanks to God that while our weeping may last for a night, joy will surely come in the morning! (Psalm 30:5) Until then, God calls us to trust Him with things that are hard and make no sense to us. He exhorts us to walk by faith, not by sight, and He assures us that our faith will be greatly rewarded when Jesus Christ returns to gather His bride to Himself and makes all things new. Until then, this is our brief moment in history to bear witness to the goodness of God and the power of the gospel to a dark and hurting world.
As I have walked through a seemingly endless season of suffering, I have been helped by remembering that we are in a spiritual battle with an enemy who relentlessly works to defeat us and destroy our witness. He sends fiery darts of doubt, fear, and despair. He tempts us to look to the world’s comforts for solace. He works hard to isolate us from God’s truth and the church in hopes that we’ll stumble and fall, or at least lose our joy. He knows that the moment we take our eyes off of God’s faithful promises, we become vulnerable to a spirit unbelief and despair. Yet, God in His kindness, has used even my defeats to teach me greater dependence on Him. Still, the more we resist the temptations that often come during times of suffering, the greater victory we will experience.
Common Temptations In Suffering
Comparison: When life gets really hard, it can be tempting to wonder why God chose us for this suffering when others appear to be living the life we always expected. If we continue down that path, it will cultivate a spirit of discontent, envy, or bitterness in our hearts. Some examples include:
- Most of your friends are happily married and you’re still single and feeling very alone.
- You’ve celebrated the births of many babies, while infertility has left your own arms empty.
- Your child has a severe illness, disability, mental disorder, or emotional/behavioral challenges, bringing significant challenges and pressures you never anticipated. Along with this, you’ve grieved the loss of relationships or opportunities-some because your family is set apart by your differences; others simply because of the pure exhaustion it takes to manage what a change in routine involves.
- Death has intruded and the loss has left you feeling like you can barely get out of bed in the morning. It might be the death of a marriage, a spouse, a child, a parent, or a life long dream.
- Your child has turned away from Christ and is living a lifestyle that breaks your heart.
God asks us to trust His love, wisdom, and providential rule over every circumstance that He brings or allows in our lives. As we accept what He has appointed, yielding our hearts to His purposes, we can trust that He’ll use every moment of suffering for our good and His glory. He promises that He will.
Stoicism: Another temptation is to make so much effort to endure pain or hardship without complaint that we fail to be honest with others about our questions and struggle. God doesn’t expect us to deny our feelings or strive to handle life’s trials on our own. Rather, He calls us to carry one another’s burdens, weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. The Psalms of lament provide a way to express our confusion and pain, while still acknowledging that God is all wise, good, and does all things well.
Cynicism: When multiple hardships come at us over an extended period of times, it can be tempting to self-protect or become skeptical about life. The truth is that, as believers, we have every reason to hope, no matter how hard things look or feel to us now. God promises that for those in Christ, a glorious inheritance is being kept in heaven for us!
Giving way to worry, self-pity, or fear: Unmet expectations, chronic pain, life-threatening health issues, financial insecurity, persecution, death of a loved one, marital tensions, betrayal, rejection, being misunderstood by others, trauma, or mental disorders– there is no end to the things God’s people are called to suffer and endure. It’s only as we abide in Christ day by day, casting our cares upon Him, that we find rest for our weary souls and can face each day with the confident assurance that His grace is sufficient for us.
Doubting God’s loving-kindness: While I have always believed God loves me, I went through a period of time when I struggled to reconcile His goodness with ongoing heartbreaking circumstances. When prayers seemed to go unanswered year after year, when life kept getting more confusing after specifically praying for clarity and direction, or when things got worse after we cried out for some measure of relief; I needed to re-examine my theology of God’s wonderful works, because frankly, they didn’t seem very wonderful to me. And God met me at the cross.
The only thing to do when the darkness of life descends upon us is to remember that God sent His only Son from heaven to suffer and die, bearing the wrath we deserve for our sin. He did this purely out of love for undeserving sinners, that we might be reconciled to our heavenly Father. It is only as we look at Christ’s nail scarred hands that we can trust God’s love and wait patiently for Him.
“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
Thankfully, God’s Word has much to say to His suffering children, offering both truth and comfort. Let these truths sink deeply into your heart.
- He draws near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, (Psalm 34:17-18)
- He tells us not to be surprised when suffering comes but to rejoice inasmuch as we participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that we may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed, (1 Peter 4:12-13).
- He gives rest to the weary, (Matthew 11:28-29)
- He has compassion on us, (Luke 7:13)
- He is our peace, (Isaiah 26:3, John 14:26-27)
- He sees us and hears our cries, (Psalm 18:6)
- He fights for us, (Deuteronomy 3:22)
- He afflicts us for our good, (Psalm 119:71)
- He has chosen our afflictions for our eternal joy and His everlasting glory, (Isa 48:10-11)
- He’s preparing an eternal home for us in His presence, John 14:1-4
- He intercedes for us, Romans 8:27
- He sings over us, Zephaniah 3:17
God also gives us promises that are anchors for our soul when raging storms threaten to overwhelm us. Ask God to use the following treasures of grace (along with the many others in His Word) to spur you on when the darkness prevails and no light seems to be on your horizon.
- “I will never leave you or forsake you,” Hebrews 13:5
- “Fear not, for I am with you; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand,” Isaiah 41:10
- “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,” Isaiah 41:31
- “Nothing is impossible for God,” Genesis 18:14, Luke 1:37; Jer. 32:17
- “My grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in weakness,” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
- “I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” (Joel 2:25)
- “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence….”(2 Peter 1:3)
- “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose….” Romans 8:28
- “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans 8:39
My heart has been lifted even as I’ve written these promises. God’s Word tells us to remember His past faithfulness, remember His promises, and remember that, one day soon, Christ will return and our weeping will be turned to joy. On that day, God will give us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. We will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (Rev. 22:20-21).
For the joy set before us,