One of the biggest questions a Christian may ask is, "If I am a Christian, and God loves me and protects me, why am I going through hardship and tough times?" It is important to know that God does not say that as Christians we are going to live happy and perfect lives. In fact, He through Paul says quite the opposite:
…28and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
|~ Philippians 1:28-29||NKJV|
Paul actually lists all of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:22-28. The question is therefore why do we suffer for Christ, and how do we deal with it? These will be answered here.
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Why do we suffer?
It is a good question: Why to we suffer if God is watching over us? Why do we fall to dept or lose jobs? God has many reasons to allow us adversity, just as Jesus suffered before and on the cross. A study done by Hal Lindsey, a Christian evangelist and writer, in Combat Faith lists ten reasons why we suffer all detailed below.
To Glorify God
It may sound odd, but sometimes we are given tribulation in order for God to receive glory. Consider the events in Daniel concerning Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (perhaps better known by their pagan names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego). They were to be thrown into a flaming furnace for not worshiping a pagan god. They declared to king Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:16-18, "…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king…".
In other words, ultimately in this tribulation that the three were receiving, God would be glorified from their deliverance from it. Similarly, the nation Israel had had its trials which God delivered them from, for instance when He took them out of Egypt's captivity, and thus God received glory. Similary, we may face trials so that our perseverance in God may one day glorify Him when we are delivered from the hardship.
As Discipline for Known Sin
Hardship can be used by God to discipline us for a sin we may have committed. Just as a father would punish his son for doing wrong, our Heavenly Father would discipline us for our trespasses against Him so that we may not sin again. This is detailed in Hebrews 12:5-11 which itself quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 below:
11My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor detest His correction; 12For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
To Prevent from Falling into Sin
This world is a world of sin, and if we are too comfortable in our environment it becomes easier to fall into that sin. Therefore God will make a situation uncomfortable so that we may not fall into that sin but instead depend on Him for deliverance. 1 Peter 4:1-2 indicates that our suffering will cause us to desire not to sin should our hardship be met with our faith in the Lord.
To Keep From Pride
The concept of sin came to be even before Eve took the first bite of the sacred fruit. Satan, a former angel of God, had once been God's chief angel until pride caused him to rebel and ultimately fall (see Isaiah 14:13-13). Likewise, we should not be prideful as well. Sometimes pride comes from prosperity and us not attributing the prosperity to God but instead our works. As such, to keep from falling to pride we may lose the prosperity so show that ultimately, God has the power.
To Build Faith
This is opposite of what most people would believe. One would think that trial and tribulation would cause a believer to lose faith in the Lord, however this is opposite of what the Bible teaches. Rather, faith is built by being tested just as how exercising, though it is uncomfortable to most, builds muscle. Peter in 1 Peter 1:6-7 emphasizes this idea. Peter tells us that our faith would be found to glorify Jesus, though it be tested by fire. The classic example of this is Job who although he lost everything maintained and built faith in the Lord.
Tribulation, just as it helps us build faith, also helps us to overall grow, especially in perseverance, character and hope. Romans 5:3-5 says the following:
3And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
According to this, our growth occurs in a process all starting with hardship. Hardship gives us a reason to have perseverance: to get through it no matter what. Perseverance builds character by having us trust in the Lord and be humble. Finally, good character gives us the hope we need to overcome the hardship.
To Teach Obedience and Discipline
One of the ingredients for a miracle is to obey God. When things are going too well and we are comfortable, we may not be inclined to listening to God. Therefore, God will use tribulation for us to listen. There are a few of these examples throughout the Bible. One of the biggest examples is Jonah. He was told to warn the city of Ninevah of its imminent destruction by God, but at first he wasn't obedient. After tribulation at sea and being in the belly of a fish for three days, he finally listened to the Lord and did as He wished.
A similar situation fell upon Paul who while he was Saul was met by Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul was blinded so that he may obey God and preach throughout the known world. After this hardship, his sight was restored (Acts 9:10-19).
To Equip Us to Comfort Others
Although each hardship is unique, many may be similar. A neighbor may be going through a trouble similar to your own, or perhaps a neighbor is going through a trouble that you have already experienced. Thus it is our duty to comfort those who are going through tribulations similar to our own or similar to ones we have experienced. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says:
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
While we are in hardship, God comforts us. And so it is up to us to return that comfort by comforting others. We may go through a hardship for the sole purpose of being able to emphasize and comfort a neighbor who by our actions may come to Christ.
To Prove the Reality of Christ in Us
What this means is that our tribulation in effect shows that we have Christ should we truly trust Him. Many people who go through hardship may lose hope because they do not have Christ, but for us, it is revealed in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 that because we have trust in Him, though we may experience hardship we do not lose hope. Though we may be dying in body, we know that we are not abandoned and therefore rather we have His life manifested in us, to be a light for others.
As Testimony to the Angels
We also go through tribulation as a testimony to the angels, so that if we persevere, God may show them how faithful we can be to Him. Job 1:8 demonstrates this idea as God presents Job to Satan the fallen angel in which Job suffers to show the faithfulness that mankind can have.
How do we deal with hardship?
3You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
|~ 2 Timothy 2:3||NKJV|
The Bible throughout tells us to endure hardship and gives examples of those who endured much hardship, namely Paul. However, it is understandable that enduring such tribulation is not easy and in many ways tests the faith. The Bible addresses this idea of facing hardship through promises to overcomers and direct instruction.
Promises to Overcomers
The Bible presents some promises to those who overcome persecution and hardship. In Acts 14:22, it is clearly said that "we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." According to this passage, it would appear that going through hardship1 is a prerequisite to entering the Kingdom of God. Paul throughout his epistles promises hardship. However, Jesus does promise us in Revelation 2:11, the letter to Smyrna, that the overcomers of such persecution would not feel the second death (which is a reference to everlasting punishment).
Another promise that is well known is Romans 8:28.
28And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
It is important to note the first three words of this verse: "And we know". In other words, this is not some speculation but a fact. The verse doesn't promise that everything good will happen to those who love God. Rather, it promises that all things work together for good for those who love God. Hardship though at the time may not be good will result in good things in the future, especially as rewards in Heaven. From the ten reasons listed above, many of the good things would be someone getting saved or a renewed faith in the Lord, but whatever the case you must always keep a mind that persecution and trials will result in good.
God also ensures that we know some exact instruction on how to deal with hardship. His answer is simply this: be patient and faithful, and pray. The best way to handle hardship is by continuing to trust in the Lord by claiming His promises (above), being patient through the time for it is only temporary, and praying.
Paul gives this instruction in Romans 12:10-14. To summarize, Paul says to be patient, pray continually, and bless persecutors. We must be patient for the trial is only a temporary thing here on Earth. By praying continually, we can better keep our trust to the Lord. Finally, even though it may be difficult, we should bless our persecutors and show them the love that Jesus showed us.
Paul again tells us to be patient in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5, and by being patient we may be worthy of the Kingdom of God. In the end, having the patience through a trial will be rewarded when we meet God in Heaven.
Finally, Jesus Himself, who wrote the church of Smyrna, says in Revelation 2:10 to be faithful. This message refers more to persecution by others, and it is important that even if threatened for believing in Him, our faithfulness will be accounted for in Heaven and we will not taste the second death.
Overall, facing persecution is not easy. However, it we trust in the Lord and pray remembering His promises, we can make it through in better condition than the start. Always remember that God always fulfills His promises and is faithful to the end.