While I have experienced trials in my life, I have yet to have a life-shaking event; a Job-like experience of suffering.
This can be a dangerous place to be for two reasons. The first is that you can begin to take for granted what God has, by His grace, blessed you with in this life. These things are meant to point you to Him and give Him glory for the grace He has shown at the Cross. The second reason these times of ease can be dangerous is that you can become so accustomed that trials catch you off guard. Something tragic happens, you are ill prepared, and your faith is shattered.
Look at what Luke 6:47-49 tells us about the inevitability of suffering:
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. but the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.
Notice that the stream comes for both the man who has built his house on solid ground and the man who built without foundation. We are not wondering IF we will suffer but WHEN. Just because a follower of Jesus is faithful to Christ does not mean he or she is exempt from trials.
We need to be prepared. Notice the type of person the above passage commends: he ‘dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.’ This was a man who loved theology, God’s word, pursuing a deeper knowledge of Christ. Jesus was his rock. Joshua Harris applies this verse to our lives when he said: ‘Theology is for everyone because there are storms for everyone.’
So, here are a few study tips that can help you prepare for suffering:
1. Read the Bible through the lens of suffering
Notice passages like the one above. Read the book of Job. Study Paul and his sufferings in passages like 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Look at Christ in the final days of His like to see the only perfect example of how to suffer well.
There is a common theme of suffering all throughout God’s word. And the lesson is an important one. Hebrews 11:36-40 says,
Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went afflicted, mistreated- of whom the world was not worthy- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
2. Use other resources to aid your study
C.J. Mahaney gives the following short list of resources-
-How Long O Lord by D.A. Carson (Book)
-Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, ed. by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Book)
-When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson-Tada (Book)
-Beside Still Waters by Charles Spurgeon (Book)
-Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges (Book)
-Called to Suffer and Rejoice by John Piper (Sermon Series)
3. Learn from those who have suffered well
Are there believers in your life who have experienced trials? Sit under them. Talk to them. Find people who have stories of God’s grace and mercy through suffering. Read the stories of Joni Eareckson-Tada and Matt Chandler. Read the Life and Diary of David Brainerd. Study William Cowper, the hymn writer and poet who suffered greatly from depression.
4. Learn the Gospel
We never get away from the gospel. We don’t move past it to greater things. There is no greater thing. The death of Christ on the Cross IS the answer. Understanding the depth of your sin and the grace of God at the cross will keep you from the dangers of shattered faith.
C.J. Mahaney comments:
Those who find that their sufferings in this life are not greater than their sins find joy in the secret place of suffering.
After explaining the suffering of many faithful followers the author of Hebrews begins chapter 12 with an application:
Therefore, since we have been surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
May Christ be your only hope, your example, and your true joy as your prepare for and endure the trials of life. God has prepared something better, an eternity with Him.