If you know how to suffer, you suffer much, much less. And then you know how to make good use of suffering to create joy.Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022)
Learning how to deal with suffering is both a God-given grace and something we can learn. It helps us to be content and even joyful in times of suffering and injustice. Contentment is an inner condition cultivated in humility. We can have a teachable spirit prepared to bend to God’s will.
Rich Nathan, founding pastor at Vineyard Columbus, taught a sermon years ago that offered a three-part plan to be content no matter what suffering we may endure. Here are his three points.
No. 1: Practice surrender.
The Bible teaches that everything, even our loved one’s illnesses, has to pass through God’s hands before it happens. As Elisabeth Elliott put it: “Whatever happens is assigned.” God’s power is unlimited, and he rules all our lives.
Matthew 10:29-30: Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. The very hairs on your head are all numbered.”
Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who live him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We will never suffer trials unless God allows them and watches over them.
The most important example of a person who trusted God under terrible circumstances was Jesus himself. Have we ever been in so much agony that we sweat blood over it? Yes, Jesus understands how we feel.
We learn things from suffering that we probably couldn’t learn anywhere else: reliance on grace, humility, perseverance, quality prayer, faith, trust, and a real relationship with God.
If we can’t accept this for a lifetime, Rich suggested that we accept it “just for today.”
No. 2: Practice thanksgiving.
Start being grateful for the littlest things: grass, sky, trees. Spend a day looking for things to be grateful for.
No. 3: Practice abiding.
This means that you connect with God’s person. This is the essence of Christian mindfulness. You focus on the present in the felt presence of God. You can do all things through God who strengthens you, but you have to abide in God to do so.
Rich encourages us to welcome the Holy Spirit into areas where we’ve grumbled, where we are discontented, where we are frustrated. Invite the person of the Holy Spirit to come into that part of your life. Contentment will grow where we abide in God.