How to Live in Suffering

Luke 23:39-46 NKJV
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ ” Having said this, He breathed His last.

As people, the last thing we want to do is suffer. As Christians, we know that we will suffer whether due to God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:7-8), due to the sin in this world, or due to suffer for the cause of Christ (Phil. 1:29). What we need to learn—what I need to learn—is how to live during the suffering.

My tendency is to close in on myself. There is a sense where I think that, when I am suffering, I don’t even have enough resources for myself, no less have the energy or effort for others.. So instead of reaching out, I tend to draw in. I cloister myself and, to be honest, try to reward myself with something that feels good .. . . food, TV, books, my dogs, something. This is a natural tendency.. When we get physically hurt, our bodies focus all of our attention on the hurt spot. Have you ever noticed that? If you had a back ache and you suddenly burn a small spot on your hand, all of your attention goes to your hand and your back suddenly doesn’t “hurt.” Oh, it still hurts, but your focus is on the more immediate injury.

When we hurt emotionally, our tendency is to focus on ourselves and that means we aren’t focusing on the hurts and pains of others. But the Lord Jesus, even during the greatest trial—the greatest suffering—of His life turned His thoughts to others. Shortly before His death on the cross, He turned to the thief and said, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” He didn’t focus on what was happening to Him, but rather the needs of those around Him. In fact, out of the seven phrases that He uttered on the cross, two were for the needs of others (one in concern for his mother, one to the thief).

Why was the Lord Jesus able to do this? I think it was because He fully trusted God. Rather than looking at His circumstances, He looked at the character of the Father and knew that Father God was trustworthy. The Lord Jesus realized that the circumstances, the suffering, the pain didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was trusting God and following His will.

Are we willing to follow the Lord’s will, even to the point of suffering? Psalm 23:4 states: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Even when faced with the possibility of death, the psalmist didn’t fear, but trusted the Lord. He understood that wherever we go, the Lord goes there with us. And if the Lord is there with us, we don’t need to focus on ourselves; we can focus on the needs of others, trusting God to take care of us.