Learning to see suffering as worship, is much like a connect the dots picture. We can’t imagine suffering leads to anything “beautiful”. Remember those children’s coloring books that included “Connect the Dots” pictures? They were among my favorites; it was like hide and seek with a pencil. Seeking the final picture remained a mystery unless you correctly connected the dots. God’s plan in our lives similarly does not move in a straight line, yet reveals a beautiful picture we couldn’t see before.
We often view suffering as a “detour”, we head in a particular direction, then we hit suffering. We automatically assume we were headed in the wrong direction. But what if suffering confirmed we were headed in the right direction? Why do we view suffering or hardship as “bad”? In fact, I know a few women who live nominal Christian lives due to their fear of suffering. They believe deeper intimacy with and commitment to Christ means that ugly “S” word happens. If you fear suffering, I hope to change your perspective by learning to see suffering as worship.
Why do we fear suffering?
“Why do we fear suffering” seems like a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious, “because it’s painful.” While that certainly is true, other reasons for fearing suffering come to mind.
- Suffering disrupts our comfort zone
- Physical pain and death often accompany suffering
- Financial and material loss often result from suffering
- Suffering disrupts our feeling of control
- Plans, intentions and dreams are derailed by suffering
- Suffering reveals entitlement attitudes.
The list is not exhaustive, I know you can come up with a few more. But realizing core reasons for fearing to suffer can help us move past those fears. I have faced all of the reasons listed at one time or another in my life. My relationship with Christ became stifled. Fear driven anxiety became my new best friend. I foolishly thought I could avoid suffering, and spent my time running from the very thing that I needed.
A New Perspective on suffering
I’ve spent a good deal of time in Bethany in recent days, visiting with Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. This visit changed my perspective on many things including suffering. I shared a little bit about Luke 10:38-42, choosing to prioritize seeking God’s Presence in the moments of each day. There we see Mary choosing the “better part” as described by Jesus. But then we have the story in John 11:1-43, the story of Lazarus’ death. In this amazing story we once again see 2 responses to one singular event, only this time the roles are reversed!
The sisters sent word to Jesus when Lazarus was sick to come immediately, yet He tarried and Lazarus died. Finally Jesus arrives; when Martha heard Jesus coming, she went out to meet Him. The narrative tells us she once again had a house full of people. She surely was busy “serving”, but this time she left her serving to go to Him. Not only that, but the conversation that follows is amazing. She once again tells Jesus what she “thinks”, but her whole attitude is different this time. The first time in Luke 10:40, she not only told Him what she thought, but she told Him what He should do about it! This time she shares her thoughts, but then humbly bows to His will. We see the components of worship; meekness and humility. Meekness, which is the correct view of God, and humility, the correct view of ourselves.
We also see a different Mary, this time she did not go to Jesus. Martha encouraged her to go to Jesus. Mary did go, but in her response to Jesus, we see hopelessness and despair (John 11:32). She did not have the same response as Martha; Martha “believed” and acknowledged God’s sovereignty (John 11:21-27). But in her grief, Mary was focused on the temporal, she could see no purpose beyond that.
Mary previously took a risk and sought intimacy with Christ in Luke 10. Yet in John 11, we see suffering come to this family, but not without purpose. So often we think intimacy with Christ means we are exempt from suffering. That somehow His love for us is demonstrated by His protection from suffering. We know Jesus loved this family, Bethany was a favorite stop for Him. We see in John 11:35, that “Jesus wept” at Lazurus’ tomb. Yet in that love He allowed suffering to come to this family.
we do not suffer alone
We often view Mary as the one who knew what worship meant, sitting at the feet of Christ. But at the death of her brother, Mary did not worship Jesus, she questioned Him. Martha often viewed as the “server”, becomes worshipper in the midst of her suffering. While she too, mentions Jesus could’ve healed Lazarus, she acknowledges His sovereignty and bows to His will. This is the purity of surrender in learning to see suffering as worship.
All suffering for the Christian is with Christ; we see Jesus weep with Mary, Martha and the others affected by Lazarus’ death. We can say all suffering for the Christian is also for Christ; He declares in John 11:30, that this happened for God’s glory. God has a purpose for suffering and works it for good in our lives. But satan uses it to threaten our faith in the goodness of God. How often do we speak like Mary and Martha; “if you had been here things would be different”. Satan tempts us to leave the place of intimacy with Christ to handle things ourselves. When we do that, we miss the fellowship of Christ in suffering and become vulnerable to bitterness.
suffering’s great work
I have to admit, in times of suffering, I tend to question more than accept. Refusing to see God’s goodness and instead look at the circumstance determining I can’t trust Him. I believed in His good promise in Proverbs 22:6, and trained my children in the ways of the Lord. The latter part of the verse says, “And when they are old, they will not depart from it.” My two oldest children have no time for God; ultimately departing from His ways. Did God forget His promise? I wondered that many times over the years.
But the truth is, the situation with my children is not about me. God’s purposes and plans are so much bigger than that. Learning to see suffering as worship means to acknowledge suffering performs a great work in our lives. A work that is only fulfilled through suffering.
Suffering’s Rich Reward
- Conforms us to the image of Christ
- Strengthens and confirms our faith-God is who He says He is
- Produces humility and meekness
- Produces joy-(physically/literally for Martha & Mary-figuratively their faith yielded joy)
- Glorifies God
- Breaks our self-reliance II Cor. 1:8-10
- Reveals Christ more intimately to us
Learning to See Suffering as worship
Learning to see suffering as worship means we understand that worship involves sacrifice. True worship includes a correct view of God and His character, displayed in meekness. Meekness develops through suffering; trusting God’s goodness despite hardship. We saw meekness in Martha as she showed her grief to Jesus, but acknowledged HE was God. True worship also includes a correct view of ourselves, displayed in humility. Humility is developed through suffering, as we accept God’s sovereignty in hardship. Martha displayed humility in affirming her belief that Jesus was the Messiah, forsaking her desired outcome.
We also see Mary return to beautiful worship in John 12:3, as she (unknowingly) anoints Jesus for his impending burial. Her worship not only involved the sacrifice of the costly perfume; it involved the sacrifice of her reputation. Mary’s worship was scandalous. She let down her hair in mixed company; something reserved for the privacy of her husband or simply done in private. Beautiful, powerful, worship comes at supreme cost to the one who offers it.
Worship Transforms Suffering
We think of material possessions, good health, jobs, a home, food, relationships and many “good” things as blessings from God. Gladly, we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to Him for these good things. We may tithe on our income and give in various ways to the less fortunate as an offering of worship to God for His goodness. These things are right and good for us to do because everything we have comes from our loving Heavenly Father. We are meant to receive these things with gratitude and open hands, giving back to Him as we bless others for His Kingdom.
Suffering feels like the opposite; a stripping. Grief, sorrow or loss empties our hands and breaks our heart. But when we “accept” that suffering, we find there in our hands, something to offer back to God; worship. And in this broken giving back, God in a mysterious exchange, gives Himself to us. God does not intend that we “hold” suffering selfishly just as He does not intend we hold any blessing selfishly. As we acknowledge God’s sovereignty in our suffering with gratitude, we reap the rich rewards of suffering. This transforms our suffering into a beautiful sacrifice of worship. Learning to see suffering as worship releases God’s glory and the infinite worth of Christ through our brokenness to others.
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