Why Must We Suffer?
For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:5-7 NIV).
Everything seemed to be going smoothly ~ finally. As co-director of the Evangelization School of Good News Ministries with my husband, Ralph, I was used to being challenged by problems that threatened to interrupt the week-long school.
First it had been the wedding. We were going to close our graduation ceremonies by 3 o’clock on Saturday so the church would be free for use by the wedding party. But as my volunteer team and I stuffed the students’ packets the day before the school began, thinking that everything was under control (while knowing such confidence is always an illusion), the phone rang.
“You have to end your school earlier,” said the woman’s voice that greeted me. “The wedding party needs the church much sooner.”
“We can’t end earlier,” I said, wondering about my ability to wear the mask of a calm, loving Christian servant. “Everything’s set. We’d have to eliminate one of the teachings, but that’s not fair to the students.”
“You have no choice.”
There are always choices, I thought. God? What’s your choice?
I said to the wedding coordinator, “How about if we use a different room in the church?”
“Well, the classrooms are too small. We could use the dining hall, even though that would mean we’d have to clean up from lunch before starting the final class.”
“No good. The wedding party would hear you. The wall between the dining room and the sanctuary is too thin.”
“So let the wedding party be evangelized by what they hear!” I shot back. Oh no, my mask was slipping.
“Uh, I understand your difficulty, but–.”
No you don’t, lady, I thought. What God? Oops. You say she does understand, that she’s just trying to do her job? I know, but God, You know how important this Evangelization School is. It’s Your school! You set it up! What do You want me to do about this problem?
The wedding coordinator had a suggestion: “How about using the upstairs classrooms.”
My mind flashed: But, but — I don’t want to be accommodating! I’m tired of being accommodating! Why can’t someone else be the accommodating one for a change? This isn’t fair, God. The classrooms are too small. Sure, we could open the divider walls and turn three classrooms into one, but it would be a long, long, sideways classroom. Sure, it’s workable, but what if any of the students have trouble with stairs? We need to be concerned about the handicapped. Sure, it’s only for a one teaching and the closing ceremonies, but….
“Okay, we’ll use those upstairs classrooms,” I conceded. “Just that one time.”
Problem solved. And then came the next phone call.
“Did you hear about the parishioner who died?” asked the bearer of new tidings.
“Yes, but that shouldn’t interfere with our school,” I said.
“The funeral party needs the church for the viewing.”
“The viewing! That can’t be. Viewings are always held at the funeral home.”
“Not this time.”
Oh, no. Here we go again, God. “When is the viewing?”
“On Tuesday, the same time your school starts.”
I cried on my husband’s shoulder. As co-director with me, Ralph should suffer through this problem too, I thought. Ralph, however, saw the solution quite easily.
“We’ll hold the opening sessions in the classrooms. And since those rooms will be set up for the opening, we might as well stay there all week.”
“What if we get handicapped students?” I asked. I didn’t want Ralph to assume that directing the school was so easy.
“Have any handicapped people registered?” he replied.
“Well then. God knew we’d have to use the classrooms, so if He sends someone to the school who can’t climb stairs, that’s His problem, isn’t it? Why should we worry about something that might not even happen?”
With that handled, the school proceeded without any further glitches. The students arrived, the teachers hooked their attention, the meals got cooked and served on schedule, and I sat back and smiled. God was doing His work, and people’s lives were being transformed. Everything seemed to be going smoothly–finally.
I took some time to sit in church and thank the Lord.
“This school is awesome, God! And I’m awed that You’ve given me the privilege of being part of it.”
You like ministering for Me, don’t you, My Dear Child?
Yes, Lord! I’ve dedicated my life to serving you. Help me to do it even better.”
Are you willing to suffer to become a better minister to My people?
It didn’t take long for me to know the answer. Suffer? Nobody likes to suffer, and certainly not I! What did God have in mind? Would my house burn down? Would my husband be killed in a car accident? Would either of my two teenage children come down with some horrid disease? So far in life, I’d managed to escape from any big sort of disaster. Other people hadn’t, and I didn’t want to become one of those “other people.”
The importance of the avoidance of suffering had been carefully trained into me ever since I was an infant who got her diapers changed whenever the load got heavy. In our culture, we’re trained thoroughly to shun pain.
However, Romans 5:3-5 (NIV) says: “Let us rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Rejoice in our sufferings? For many years, I had had trouble understanding this scripture. And as I struggled with it, I learned more and more about the miracle power of suffering. The greatest miracle is the ability to rejoice even in the midst of the most excruciating pain, but there are many wonders that are birthed by our sufferings.
Our lives can be destroyed by pain, or they can be improved by it. The miracle happens when we turn away from the destruction and find God’s healing. Miracles also happen when our sufferings change not only us, but also the world around us. These miracles are possible only because “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” He knows how we feel. He understands why we feel this way. He shares in our sufferings. And He is always in the midst of a great plan that will transform the bad things that happen to us into truly miraculous events.
© 1997 by Terry A. Modica