For the apostle Paul, however, he viewed suffering as an inevitable part of the Christian life. He viewed suffering as an opportunity to learn how God goes about meeting our every need. Suffering is a training ground for service to the body of Christ. It equips us so that we can better minister to those who are going through trials and hardships.
Suffering is not an easy subject because suffering hurts. No two ways around it. No matter where or how we suffer in our lives, no one really looks forward to enduring it. Webster defines “suffering” as physical or mental pain or distress; something to tolerate/endure or to permit/allow.”
There is an interesting contrast in that definition, which proposes a choice to us: We can (1) tolerate or endure suffering; or (2) permit and allow suffering.
Tolerating or Enduring Suffering
These words carry a negative connotation. Just picture “the look” on someone’s face when they are asked to do something that they clearly have no desire to do. It’s the picture of a closed mind and un-teachable spirit. Do we give God “the look” at times, as well? A negative look speaks volumes – condemnation, judgment, dislike, belittlement. It does not lend comfort or seek to encourage. That “look” can do much more harm than good and take much time for damage repair.
You can easily picture "the look" on the Pharisee's face in Luke 7:36-39, and the disciples' faces in Mark 10:13-16.
Permitting or Allowing Suffering
These words carry a positive connotation. They denote a willingness to learn and grow. Jesus is our most prominent example. Regardless of the many indignities, general rudeness and atrocities that Jesus suffered, He permitted and allowed it thereby turning those situations into teachable moments. The apostle Paul went through severe persecution and suffering, but he permitted and allowed it with joy (Philippians 3:10).
Inherent in Paul’s statement is his overwhelming desire to be like Christ. Do we share his desire? Paul makes clear that only those who have suffered are able to comfort others. God’s provision of comfort is not self-serving but is intended to equip us for service to the church. God comforts us, Paul states, so that we, in turn, can comfort those in any trouble.
So, how do you choose to handle your suffering? By tolerating or enduring it with a long face and sour attitude, or by permitting and allowing God to guide you through those teachable times?
Lighthouses are built by ship-wrecked sailors. Roads are widened by mangled motorists. Hospitals are built by those who were sick.
Where nobody suffers, nobody cares.
When we suffer we learn to care.
John Henry Jowett, a pastor from England in the late 1800s, once said, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.”