|This study © 1999 by David Humpal.
1. Do you think God allows Christians to suffer? Why or why not? How have you felt about God when going through a time of suffering?
When bad things happen to us, our tendency is to complain and we may even get angry at God as if we expect him to pamper and spoil us throughout our lifetime. But Christians are not exempt from suffering, and it is important for us to understand that. This study will look at why this is so, and how we can handle those times when we feel like giving up.
2. Read John 16:33 and Acts 14:22. What do these verses tell us about suffering?
Jesus said in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." We are told that we are going to have trouble in this world. Christians have suffered persecution down through the centuries. Even today, Christians are being slaughtered and persecuted. Much of the recent violence in East Timor was aimed at the Christian Churches and their ministers there. In Acts 14:22 we are told how Paul and Barnabas went from church to church, "strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ĎWe must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,í they said."
The fact is Christians are not exempt from hardship. Whenever we experience troubles, instead of complaining we should remember the sufferings of Jesus, the early church, and all those countless other Christians who have been martyred, tortured and ridiculed for their faith. Our problems may pale in comparison!
3. Read John 15:20 and 2 Timothy 3:12. Why do you think God allows persecution and suffering to happen to Christians? What have you learned during times of suffering?
In John 15:20 Jesus tells us, "Remember the words I spoke to you: ĎNo servant is greater than his master.í If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." Notice that not all people will persecute us. Some will receive the gospel message. But I think itís important to remember that even in persecuting, those who are inflicting harm have to be thinking of the gospel message. There was a tribe of Indians in South America that only came to Christ after killing the first missionaries. When the second group arrived, they realized these people were willing to face death for the gospel message. The greatest persecutor of the early church was Saul of Tarsus. I believe as he was watched Stephen being stoned to death and saw Stephenís faith, it had an impact on him. Later Saul would become Paul, changed from the great persecutor of the church, to the great apostle of the church! Sometimes we go through times of suffering as a testimony to others of our faith. How do we handle these difficult times?
Paul went so far as to say in 2 Timothy 3:12, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." The fact is we grow through times of suffering, not times of abundance and ease. It is easy to get lazy and complacent when everything is going right. But when we are facing afflictions, we are sure to spend time in prayer and our focus turns to God. Without suffering, we would never grow in our faith. I think God wants us to be adults, not babies. So he sometimes allows us to scrape our knees a bit.
4. Why doesnít God answer all your prayers? How do you feel when God doesnít seem to answer you?
In Luke 11:9-10 Jesus makes this promise, "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." These are some of my favorite verses. God always answers our prayers, and he always does what is the very best for us.
I believe that every time we ask according to Godís will, we will receive. We cannot pray for something opposing Godís sovereign will for our life. I always pray, "God if itís your will." This is what Jesus taught in the Lordís Prayer when he said, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done." We are to pray according to Godís will, not our own. My experience has been that most of my prayers God answers with yes; sometimes he answers yes, but wait; and a few heís answered with no. Billy Graham explains, "When we pray for help in trouble, or for healing in sickness, or for deliverance in persecution, God may not give us what we ask for because that may not be His wise and loving will for us. He will answer our prayer in His own way, and He will not let us down in our hour of need."
5. Read James 4:3. What does this teach us about receiving from God? What do we learn when God does not give us what we think we need? Why would God answer no in a situation where we are sure the answer should be yes?
When we pray, we have to ask with the proper motives as James 4:3 tells us, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." Sometimes we want things that God knows are going to be harmful to us spiritually. But like the spoiled child, we keep on insisting on having our way and we get mad when our heavenly parent wonít give us what we want.
If we truly believe that God is in charge of our life and cares for us, then we must be willing to accept Godís answers. This means when a trial comes along, we need to realize that God will see us through and our faith will even grow through it. That is much better than crying and complaining to God the whole time!
6. Read Romans 5:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 4:17. What are the benefits of sufferings listed in these verses?
This may come as a surprise, but there are actually benefits to suffering listed in scripture. Romans 5:3-4 tells us, "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Paul tells us we need to rejoice in our sufferings. Do you do that? Maybe you should, because notice the benefits - first it teaches us perseverance, next it builds our character, and finally it gives us hope because we learn to trust in God. So donít think of troubles as suffering or misery, think of it as a time of building character and growing faith.
Besides the immediate benefits in this life, 2 Corinthians 4:17 points out, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." Not only will sufferings benefit us in this lifetime but also in the next. Now, Iím sure we canít understand how this happens. Thatís because our focus is so much on this earthly existence and our present circumstances. But God does not take an earthly view. God looks at the long-term heavenly perspective. Since we canít possibly have that kind of perspective, we need to just trust that God knows what heís doing.
7. Do you ever feel like God has failed you? How can you trust that God wonít let you down?
When we only see our own circumstances, we may feel like God has failed us. But as Iíve lived my life, I have seen how God has taken me through times of learning, growing, and trusting so that I could be effective in my ministry today. None of those difficult times were especially pleasant, but I now realize they were all necessary. It becomes easier to trust God after we have seen his divine hand help us through a time of turmoil and despair. We realize that even though we felt God was far from us, he was right beside us all the time. So it is easier to trust God the next time suffering comes along.
I believe doubt, fear, and worry is in direct contrast to faith, trust, and believing Godís promises. When we allow fear in, our faith goes. We overcome doubts by trusting God, we overcome worry by believing Godís promises. This is a choice we have. We can choose faith or we can choose fear.
8. Read Psalm 34:19, Isaiah 43:2 and Psalm 37:23-24. What do these verses teach us? Why do you think we still worry so much when troubles come our way?
God has promised to be with us even when we are facing times of trouble. Psalm 34:19, "A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all." Isaiah 43:2, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." Psalm 37:23-24, "If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand."
Since we know God will be with us, why do we worry? We need to learn to trust in God and have faith to go through those times of difficulty. When we gain this heavenly perspective, we will see our Christian walk in a whole new light.
This study on Why Does God Allow Suffering © 1999 by David Humpal, all
Graham: The Faithful Christian pg. 149