After Jim Elliott and four other missionaries were brutally speared to death while trying to make contact with the Auca Indians in Ecuador, Jim’s wife Elisabeth returned to the United States with her young daughter Valerie, where they grieved the loss of their husband and father and reflected on the suffering they were enduring.
Elisabeth described that time in her life this way: “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God.”
For Elisabeth, her suffering taught her a lesson about what God was trying to do in her life, and I’m sure God’s plan for her would have come as a surprise.
Elisabeth felt called to return to the Auca Indians and continue delivering to them the gospel of Christ. For five years, she lived among them, teaching the same members of the tribe who had killed her husband. Many members of the tribe found salvation in Christ as a result of her willingness to accept suffering from the Lord as His will for her life.
Elisabeth turned severe suffering into her most meaningful ministry.
God is in the business of healing broken hearts. Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. … Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:4,10).
Peter describes the work God does in our lives through suffering this way: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
Do you want to be restored, confirmed, strengthened and established by God? Would it surprise you to learn that God will do that, as you suffer in life. Pain happens to be a part of God’s curriculum in life, teaching us deep lessons in our relationship with Him.
Let’s explore some of the benefits gained by God’s gift of pain.
God restores a broken heart when life has broken it in pieces. This word “restore” was used in the first century to describe the way a fisherman would repair their nets when they were broken or came apart. It also described a doctor who set a broken bone and restored broken pieces so that they grew back together.
According to the apostle Peter, suffering is not just allowed by God; suffering is proof that God is involved. Our divine Healer is mending and repairing and restoring us in the midst of our suffering. And in that restoring process, the Lord will adjust what needs to be adjusted and correct what needs correcting.
When suffering attempts to crush us, God strengthens our character. “Confirm” in the Greek language means “making firm or solid.” In English, we have taken our word “steroids” from the Greek word for “confirm.”
Peter essentially says that our suffering puts our character through an intensive body building program. God is our personal trainer, and we come out of the fire spiritually stronger.
Pain and suffering are steroids for our spiritual character. What Satan hopes will weaken our faith only confirms our faith as we continue trusting in God’s plan for our lives.
I’ve met many believers over the years who agreed that their walk with God grew more intimate and stronger as a result of suffering.
Did you know that if you send a letter to the White House, someone is guaranteed to read it? In fact, there is an entire office, called The Office of Presidential Correspondence, that assists the president in sorting and reading all the letters they receive. When William McKinley was president, the White House only received about 100 letters a day. But today, that number has grown to tens of thousands of letters every day, requiring a staff of 45 people, in addition to 300 volunteers.
When Barack Obama was president, he asked the Office of Presidential Correspondence to sort through, and select, 10 letters that had arrived that day. He made a commitment to read those 10 letters each night before retiring.
Ten letters each day, out of tens of thousands.
Our God, who happens to manage the universe, with more than 7 billion people, is able and willing to listen to us — read our mail — every single day. Our correspondence with Christ isn’t sorted by some Heavenly Post Office. The Lord has yet to pass us off to one of his angels.
God uses trials to reestablish our priorities and pursuits.
Suffering reveals to us the difference between a counterfeit foundation and the genuine item. Trials clear away the cultural fog and remind us of what truly matters in life.
No wonder we can thank God for the gift of pain.