RECENTLY, I had the honour of delivering a sermon on the faithfulness of God during times of suffering, notably in the excruciating experiences of miscarriage, money issues, and a difficult marriage. Countless women silently suffer with albatross-type issues and are in need of restoration, redemption, and sometimes rescue. As family, friends and community, we must not fail to surround and help women to overcome.
But what does the scripture tell us about suffering and trials? For starters, it alerts us to expect suffering and not be surprised. Here is what 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 16 say to God's beloved about suffering: "..do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in that name."
Rejoicing is hard to do when you are suffering and feel ashamed — let us not fool ourselves. But let us also be clear, confident, and be set at ease that rejoicing is a work of the spirit, and I have found that that work is ignited by worship. In my own personal moments of suffering God has lifted me with a song that just comes into my spirit; with a word, and words to confirm that word; with a person; with community; or by the Holy Spirit himself. I have learned that in moments of great emotional or physical suffering we must trust God's hand and heart, follow the lead of the spirit, and wisely learn to discern and surrender to God's will.
Surrendering to God's will does not mean that your hope is diminished. It simply means that you know and understand that God is sovereign and that if He has not done what you've asked, begged, fasted and prayed for — it is for your good. It is no different from the child beseeching his father for something that the father knows is not the best thing for the child and indeed may hurt the child. When God doesn't end a season of suffering in the way we expect, we must trust His heart and be confident that "all things work together for good for those who are the called according to His purposes". (Romans 8:28)
I also believe that God has a soft spot for women, even when they endure suffering for years like the woman with the issue of blood (in Luke 8). I believe virtue goes out from Him when a woman's sincerity of need touches Him. He heals and restores as we see in 1 Peter 5:10 and 11. 10: "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. 11: To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."
Truth be told, sometimes that restoration and re-establishing may look different from what you expected or were believing for — a baby in the womb to be saved, debts to be paid off and forgotten, a marriage to be restored. But restoration is more about the person God is forming in you than the outcome. That's hard to process when you are walking through it but, as I've shared in a recent poem, "Hindsight is circumcision." Sometimes it is after you have gone through the trial that you are able to see how marvellously "the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you".
My sister in Christ, if you are going through any kind of suffering, be encouraged that "in this world you may have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world". (John 16:33)
Join me next week for a reflection on the power of community in times of suffering.
Passionate about faith and women's empowerment, Shelly-Ann Mair-Harris has served on the board of women's rights organisations and is the author of several publications including God's Woman and The Goodies on Her Tray. A woman of faith for several years, Shelly-Ann is also an award-winning playwright and poet as well as a trained and experienced media, marketing, change management and strategic communications professional.