When we think of trouble and suffering in the Biblical context, the person most likely to come to our minds is Job. This is what Job said,
‘Man who is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.’ Job 14:1
If you are born of a woman, it is guaranteed that your life will be full of troubles. I wonder why prosperity preachers miss this verse. This should be the first thought of the man or woman who is embarking on the Christian journey, or who, having journeyed long, is now deeply in trouble. Having troubles, which means, suffering pain, throughout your lifespan is to be expected as an inevitable consequence of having been born into this evil world.
So, dear follower of Christ, that is the bad news about your life and mine – there is absolutely nothing we can do to avoid pain in our life. There will be many small pains and many great pains, and one or two death pains, that is, pains as agonizing as dying a premature death. So much so, on his deathbed, the person who has lived the full Christian life will look back and say, ‘My life has been full of trouble’. That is what Jacob, one of the greatest of God’s chosen people, felt about his life, when his days were almost over. He said, ‘few and evil have been the days of the years of my life’. Genesis 47:9
For the true Christian, in addition to the normal amount of troubles in a human life, there will be several extra ones in his life – troubles directly inflicted on him by the enemy just because of the fact that he chose to follow Christ. You want to have a dozen or so fewer troubles in your life? Just stop carrying the cross of Christ and join one of the devil’s religions.
I am giving you the painful news first.
Now, understand something about the levels of troubles you as a child of God will surely encounter in your lifetime.
Trouble comes at two basic levels of pain.
Trouble at the second level of pain is totally beyond any human comfort or solution. The pain at this level cannot be reduced or soothed by anything in this life. The Christian going through this level of pain should not even try to seek comfort from man, and no sensible person should attempt in any way to comfort the sufferer. No sermon, no grief handling program, no human counsel, no human act can do anything to alleviate the pain in the least at this level. I call this level of pain ‘acute suffering’.
Job’s three friends did well for seven days and seven nights when they did not open their mouths once in their attempt to assuage his misery. Agony increased for Job from the minute they tried to comfort him. And the result of their sincere attempts?
‘Miserable comforters are you all!’ moaned Job.
The God’s Word to the Nation version says,
‘You are all pathetic at comforting me’. Job 16:2
This message is not for those who are suffering or may suffer this second level of trouble. In the life of a child of God, such trouble comes only when God knows that person can go through it safely and come out of it closer to his Savior than ever before. And God takes it upon himself the full job of comforting his child in acute suffering, and all that he expects of his other children to do at this time is to quietly pray fervently for the one afflicted with this level of pain. Do not attempt to do anything beyond this if you don’t want to end up as another miserable and pathetic comforter.
Acute suffering occurs when a spouse or a child dies prematurely. Or when a physical pain occurs with such intensity there is absolutely nothing the sufferer can do except moan and groan continuously. Or when a maiming accident or illness has just left a person blind, or paralyzed or handicapped seriously in some other way. Or when a person is just imprisoned, or in imminent danger of his life. Or some other tragedy from which the victim is still reeling in extreme pain. In all these tragedies, I say again, God will take it upon himself the full job of comforting and giving strength to the one in agony so they can somehow endure the suffering. And remember, God in his great mercy has so constituted the human life that no person will ever go through any suffering that is beyond his physical and mental capability to endure it.
‘No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ 1 Cor 10:13
The word for ‘temptation’ in the original Greek also means ‘testing’ or ‘adversity’.
Now let me tell you about the first level of pain, which is the level of 99.99 percent of the pains encountered by a person as he follows Christ on the trouble-laden path to the Kingdom of God. As I mentioned earlier, most people have chosen to walk on the broad paths of life, and they have a faster paced walk than those who have embarked on their life journey through the narrow gate.
‘You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.’ Mat 7:13-14 NLT
At this first level of pain, the suffering person can do many things to reduce his pain. And people around him can also do several things to help the afflicted person suffer less pain. This is the level where the sufferer perhaps is settling down after going through the agony of a tragedy, or he or she is going through some personal crisis, but they have enough strength to go about their work and daily routines.
This then, O child of God who may be suffering right now even as you are reading this message, is what you should do as your first act of enduring your affliction.
First of all, never think of embracing the comfort of a coping mechanism. A coping mechanism is a human-contrived method to reduce your immediate suffering to a more endurable level. And it would reduce your pain – for an hour or two – and then plunge you to a depth where you suffer more pain than you had before your resorted to the coping mechanism.
Alcohol was my chief coping mechanism in the earlier years of my Christian life when I was afflicted with severe and continual trials. The pubs had a notice in them which announced the ‘happy hours’ when one could buy liquors at half the regular price. For me, any time I was in the bar was a happy hour. I did not drank excessively or got drunk. I drank just enough so I could get a ‘high’ – a nice warm feeling when all the troubles in the world seem to be at a hazy distance, and I really felt ‘happy’ in the cheery atmosphere of the present hour. This happiness, of course, was nothing but mild intoxication. And then, next day, at around the same time, my need for being comforted in whatever was afflicting me then seemed even more urgent than the previous day, and I would go to my favorite pub like a sheep led to its shearers. Oh, what far greater pains and additional troubles I brought upon myself because of my daily comfort in the embrace of a deceptive spirit! This coping mechanism nearly destroyed my family life, but Christ rescued me in time by his unfailing grace.
Alcohol is the coping mechanism that is probably the most resorted to by people wearied by longdrawn troubles – troubles that continue unabated for months and years. After an initial struggle to surmount them or endure them, the suffering person feels he couldn’t cope anymore and desperately looks for some soothing way out. And what camouflages pain as immediately as alcohol? Even the Bible recommends alcohol for the one – certainly not a Christian – who is about to suffer some miserable form of death. (See Proverbs 31:6-7) I suppose it is ok for such person to drink and forget his misery because his situation is so absolutely hopeless that nothing is going to save him anymore, whether he drinks or not. But for the rest of us, to drink alcohol to tide over our unhappy state, or to try to palliate our suffering by numbing our pain sensors is but sheer folly that surely would lead to an increased intensity of trouble.
‘And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.’
Coping mechanisms come in myriad forms and from a multitude of dark avenues originating from hell. I know a family, where the father and husband, a prosperous banker, lost his job, and unable to accept his new situation and unable to live with his family as a loser, left his four little children and wife, ran away to the arms of another woman, where for some time he found comfort and self-confidence in her embrace. Then, as his troubles increased, he ran away to another country, where he found new soft arms to comfort him. Now, twenty years after he left his family, I heard he managed to get a new job and hence wasn’t running to newer comfort zones…yet.
Running away, pornography, extramarital affairs, foods, smoking, gambling, overworking, partying – all these give a temporary escape, a short ability to cope with the life trouble, and then drag the person even deeper into the pit of misery. It is the surest way to turn a person’s prolonged suffering into lifelong tragedy.
A former colleague of mine suffers a failed marriage. She finds a measure of relief from her constant pain by smoking, overworking, and partying her head and hips off. Today, her life is in a far more pathetic state spiritually and physically than she was in when I first met her. There are strong indications that this woman – once a beautiful, talented and affectionate lady – is now possessed by several demons who have taken advantage of her dissipated state of mind to try to destroy her completely.
Afflicted child of God, as you go through your severe trial, be on your highest alert against being drawn to anything that would serve to allay your pain – anything you know in your heart your Savior wouldn’t recommend in your present situation. If you are not prayerfully alert, you initially wouldn’t even recognize something you do as a harmful coping mechanism. But God has provided innumerable safe ways you can effectively cope with any degree of pain that life’s various troubles lash you with. Instead of calling them coping mechanisms, which has a negative connotation to the term, I prefer to call them ’principles of endurance’.
It is God himself, if you seek it from him on your knees, who will gently show you what principles of endurance you can apply in any particular trouble, which will enable you to endure it patiently until you come out of it. And come out of each trouble, you surely will sooner or later. That’s one of the great promises of God to his people going through all kinds of trials.
‘The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from ALL their troubles.’ Ps 34:17 NLT
For your reassurance, he repeats this promise just a couple of verses later.
‘The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue EACH time.’ Ps 34:19
Each time…every time. Not just the big troubles, but even the little and the middle ones…all your troubles.
Yea, the same God who has promised to deliver you from all your troubles will also show you the best way to endure each trial. Just spend a little more time on your knees, and pray a little more fervently for urgent help to endure your pain. That, Christian, is the first and the most effective principle of endurance – increasing your prayer time on your knees. Even if you apply no other principle, this alone is more than sufficient to see you through your trial. This is how our Godly foreparents endured their troubles. They knew no other coping mechanism, but prayer and just more prayer. And how effectively they were able to endure as a result, and finally emerge from their chamber of affliction smiling each time!
Each person will be given his specific God-ordained endurance principle relative to his particular situation. But in general, I have found the following general principles helpful in my own life, and which I believe may be useful for you to keep in mind.
I took to alcohol to escape for an hour or two the trouble hounding me outside the pub. When God rescued me from this deathpit, I realized I could find equally enjoyable, but totally safe, happy hours outside the pub, if I really looked around.
An activity that can keep your mind fully occupied in it for part of the day is a highly effective principle of patiently enduring a painful trial. During one severe time of trial, I taught parttime at a high school. The smiling and responsive students around me lifted my spirits for several hours each day throughout the duration of my affliction. Interaction with a group of people whom you like and who like you brings comfort during the days of your affliction.
But on some occasions of trouble, it can happen that interaction with people you like to be around when you are not facing a trial is a depressing experience when you in an afflicted state. Once, I stopped attending a prayer fellowship which I had been attending when things weren’t that bad in my life. But in my severest pain, I just didn’t feel like being in the midst of people who were shouting hallelujahs for all the happiness they were enjoying in their lives. But I found my pain was pushed to the back of my cerebrum when I was with a group of my students or with my old schoolmates at an alumni meeting.
Another principle of endurance that may be of help to you: See if you can take up a new hobby or revive one that you had neglected for years. It helps to a significant extent.
I started to learn to play the guitar in my 58th year – during a time of severe trouble in my life. My past follies finally caught up with me, and a person very close to me who was involved with me in a former project, had to go to jail because of me. I would have any day gone to jail instead of that person, but I was inextricably trapped in another country. Worse, that person’s family who had been very close to me and looked up to me for decades, were calling me a blight to their lives. All I could do was fall on the floor and call out to my Comforter to rescue that person. After the initial acute suffering of a couple of days, God enabled me to accept the distressing situation, regather my composure and quietly go about my daily tasks, while keeping a tight rein on my pain inside me.
Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, in the midst of one of the greatest afflictions of my life I was strengthened to go about my daily life by the grace of Christ in me. I even found sufficient calmness of mind to compose some instrumental melodies on my guitar. God intervened and the person didn’t have to complete the whole sentence and was out after a couple of weeks. (By the way, if you happen to come to one of my meetings, ask me to play some of the melodies I composed on my guitar during this trial. I think they are beautiful God-inspired music which may uplift your spirit when you are feeling weighed down by the cares of life.)
That is the key, earnest Christian. In all your severe afflictions, God will keep you moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, till you are out of your trouble completely. He will even give you the grace to do some of your best life works in the midst of your afflictions.
The Lord comes to your rescue each time…every time. Not just in the big troubles, but in ALL your troubles.
As you learn how to endure your troubles, always keep foremost in your mind that all the endurance principles – the props to hold you up while suffering – will go only a short distance unless God himself propped up your props. And the only way you can receive God’s prop to hold you up daily is for you to simply ask him, fervently, daily.
Pour out your heart to God without demanding an immediate end to the suffering. God has never answered my prayer for an immediate deliverance. But he has always answered my prayer for more strength to endure it.
When deliverance does not come within the deadline you set in your mind for your release, remember that setting deadlines for the trouble that God has allowed in your life is not your business. I emphasize again, don’t plead with him desperately to end your suffering. It is useless. That’s not going to happen. Plead for more strength to endure instead.
My friend, George, suffered for 15 years in a prison for a crime he never committed, in a land where a person can go to jail for decades if someone in the regal circles wanted him to. I spent about a month in prison in the same cell with him. Since I knew my term was only a month, I could look forward to my release. But not he; he could never know how long they would keep him. He established a routine. Reading newspaper, comforting fellow prisoners, then eventually finding work in the prison library. Even with all these props, no man can keep up his spirits for 15 years without God’s direct power strengthening him moment by moment, year after year. At least one of our fellow cellmate’s mind had gone cuckoo after spending several years behind bars. But George was the most cheerful person to be around in the prison, and yet among the most suffering. He continued praying, and his people kept praying for him…until the day arrived that God decided to open the prison doors for him, and he was reunited with his family that he hadn’t once seen for 15 years.
While you shouldnt demand or expect an immediate deliverance, you should perseveringly ask God to cut short the length of your afflicted days. There are several examples in the Bible where God intervened and shortened the period of suffering of his servants.
In your time of suffering, it is ok if you don’t feel like talking to anyone, or going anywhere…even to church. Don’t force yourself to act normal. You are not. Cry when you feel you want to cry. Sometimes when the pain seems too much to bear, you will have to grit your teeth and just endure and not try to find something or someone to ease your pain. Such extreme moments will be rare, by God’s mercy, but if they come, just clench your fists and endure, while crying out to God for urgent help. I pass on to you this great assurance I gained from my severe sufferings that afflicted me on and off for 40 continual years: you can endure, and if you keep calling out to God for his strength and keep trusting him to deliver you at the right time, he will give you the strength to endure and he will surely deliver you at the time that only he knows is best for you.
Some Christians may advise fasting when one is suffering. It may be a good idea for some people, who, I suspect, may have a trace of masochism in them. But it is certainly an unpleasant idea for me when I am groaning in pain. Fasting is meant to ‘afflict’ our souls, so we can realize how weak we are as human beings and how dependent we are on God for protection and blessings in this life. A trial is already an affliction, and there is no logic under heaven to afflict your soul further, unless it is an attempt to cajole God into acting sooner than he otherwise would.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ Is 58:3
The Bible does not tell us to fast (at least I haven’t seen a passage yet) when we are already afflicted by a trial from God, unless of course the trail is a result of our sin, in which case we certainly need to fast to regain our closeness with God. If sin is not involved, James tells us to pray when we are suffering, not afflict ourselves more by fasting.
‘Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.’ Jm 5:13
Fasting is generally for times when we are prosperous and getting distracted by worldly cares, or when we are so engaged in our work that our prayer life is getting affected and we need to get away from it all to regain our closeness with God. In such cases, the person needs to go to a mountaintop retreat, like Jesus did, or to a quiet corner of his house, and fast until he is back in the close embrace of his Father.
Fasting is also recommended when we need to make a major life decision, to humble ourselves, and to know God’s direction and will in a particular situation.
‘Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.’ Ezra 8:21
Let me add one more thing before I close this message. In your trouble, if you don’t feel like applying any endurance principle to reduce your pain, that’s perfectly ok and normal. Just praying and quietly going about your daily routine – even while suffering the pain – is all that is finally expected of you by God. But for many others, including me, these endurance principles have proven of much help in enduring our trials.
I pass on to you God’s greatest assurance to all sufferers: you will come out smiling in the end. You will emerge cheerful and grateful to God for how he helped you during the period of suffering. You will be able to walk even steadier than before, and your peace and joy will be fuller than ever before. The suffering may have cost you many precious things in life, and broken some of your fondest dreams, but God’s awesome workings in your life will ensure you are able to let go of all those precious things and rejoice in the greater possessions and the grander dreams he has now given you in recompense.
And the thought to keep uppermost in your mind while suffering: Our Father in heaven – who says that even if your own mother forgets you, he will not forget you – is in control and knows exactly to what extent you, his beloved son or daughter, can endure. And he will ensure you have the strength to endure until he delivers you. And deliver you, he will surely, and not one second beyond what he has set for your good.
Let me quote again a verse I had referred to earlier. The paraphrased words in parenthesis and brackets are from the Amplified Bible itself:
‘For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently.’ 1 Cor 10:13 AMP
‘I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]’ John 16:33 AMP