Is happiness your goal in life? Are you seeking all the gusto you can get? Is your creed, ‘You only live once so eat, drink, and be merry.’ Is this the good life? There is no doubt that most people live this way, many Christians included. We seek to find ourselves and then indulge ourselves. We seek our personal space and desire to obtain enough of the economic pie to do whatever we want. But, if personal happiness is the goal then suffering is the enemy. It is a virus, a cancer, a disturber of the peace.
But while our goal in life may be happiness God’s goal for us is holiness. He is seeking to reclaim us for our created purpose - abiding joy in the likeness and the presence of God. God wants us to know holy joy and He will not settle for temporary happiness. And if holiness is the goal in life then suffering is one of God’s sharpest and most effective tools. He uses our suffering to show us His glory.
When we suffer we often feel forsaken by God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). If I am suffering, I think that God is not with me; I am not happy and I think that God is letting me down. But think of it things way: Our suffering is not hindering happiness but forwarding joy. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
We take suffering and use it to produce bitterness, anger and depression; eyt, God’s intention in our suffering is to create holiness. “In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Perhaps we are aiming at the wrong target.
Since suffering, trials and afflictions are designed to produce holiness in us, let me give a few anchors for your faith in the midst of difficulty.
God knows where you are. Our Father knows all things and he sees you in your affliction. “The people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel - and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25).
God is with you where you are. God has bound Himself by His own Word to his people forever. The Holy Spirit lives in the people of God. He is always with us. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Whether you God given task is to dispossess the nations in the Promised Land or to mature in your trials, the Lord is with you.
God wants you where you are. God wants us to suffer? Yes He does. God has assigned this trial? Yes He has. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?… [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:7, 10).
God will not leave you where you are. Your suffering will end. We tend to project our present difficulty into the infinite future and so unnecessarily add to the burden. This too shall pass. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Our calling in our suffering is to wait on the Lord. What is that? It is actively trusting in the presence and acting on promises of God. “Waiting on God is an action based on confident assurance of grace to come.” (Paul David Tripp)
If you aim for happiness, suffering will cause you to fail. If you seek holiness, your suffering will mature into joy.