Joy in our Suffering


PrayerMy God, my God, why have You forsaken me?  Why are You so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?  My God, I cry out by day, but You do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet You are enthroned as the Holy One; You are the One Israel praises.  In You, our ancestors put their trust.  They trusted, and You delivered them.  To You, they cried out and were saved.  In You, they trusted and were not put to shame (Psalm 22:1-4).

Our Lord and our God, hear our prayer and bring peace to our hearts.  We long for the peace and comfort that only You can provide.  Our hearts are filled with confusion and sorrow.  We have nowhere else to turn but to You.  You, O God, are the One that has the answer for our needs.  You are the only One who can make us whole again.  Amen.

Main Scripture: Read Philippians 1:12-18

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.  It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preaches Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:12-18).

Associated Scriptures:

And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.  This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5, HCSB).

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Romans 2:12, ESV).

When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul (Psalm 94:19, ESV).

Correlative Quotes:

While other worldviews lead us to sit amid life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.     – Tim Keller

When God made Adam, He did not make Adam first and suspend him in the air till he made Eden for him to live in, but He made the garden, fitted it for Him, and then He made the man and put him in it. And so, our great Lord is gone to make heaven fit for us, and He will come again and take us unto Himself that where He is, we may be also. Now for this cause, we are glad that He is not here. We comfort one another with these words, and we see how true this promise of His was: "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy." (John 16:20) Sorrow at His death, sorrow at His departing out of the world these two sorrows are now "turned into joy."[1] – Charles Spurgeon

Psalm 30:5 explains, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning,” I don’t think it is a contradiction, though, because there is a kind of joy that is pain-free, sorrow-free, and without tears. God does that all the time for us. We’re not experiencing the pain because something happened to take away that pain in the morning. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Even that night before when the weeping is abounding, joy has not gone. It hasn’t died.[2] – John Piper


The most often asked question, by both Christians and non-Christians, is: “why do good people have to suffer?”  This is not easy to explain.  However, all people indeed suffer.  All of creation suffers. 

It was 9:00 on Saturday morning and Carol and I had finished a light breakfast.  I had taken our daughter to a Saturday day camp and had just returned home.  Carol was making arrangements for a friend to stay with Dawn for the weekend since we were planning to spend that time with my dad.  It was a warm, sunny March morning, the kind of day we expect when we move to California. I was about to pick up the morning paper, hoping to spend a few relaxing moments while Carol finished packing.

We had just completed one of the biggest and most stressful three months of the fiscal year. I was exhausted. Our organization had set an all-time branch production record, but the effort had taken its physical and mental toll. 

As I opened the screen door to the patio, the phone rang. An unfamiliar voice said, “Mr. (pause) Hitchcock, Mr. Bruce Hitchcock?”  I said, “yes”.  The voice continued: “I have been trying to reach your father and there is no answer at his home. Your mother expired sometime early this morning.  When we went to check on her at 8:30, she was not breathing.  We called the funeral home, and they have made all the arrangements.”  That was it.  I said: “thank you, goodbye.”

Mom hadn’t been feeling well since Thanksgiving.  In early February, the doctor sent her to an oncologist.  She was diagnosed as having advanced pancreatic cancer.  Now, only eight weeks later she was gone to be with the Lord.

She was so sick that we had moved her to a convalescent hospital. The last week she slowly deteriorated to the point that she could no longer speak. But as I leaned down to kiss her goodbye that Friday, I heard her whisper, so quietly that I could barely make it out.  “Bruce, I love you.”  She knew I was there.  I guess she was saying goodbye.

We all suffer.  Suffering is part of God’s plan for our lives, but he is not responsible for it.  Romans 3:23 says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Suffering, sickness, and death are a part of that fall. 

God doesn’t cause suffering, but He does have a plan for us to survive it.  The plan involves Joy.  Joy and suffering are not opposites.  Joy is a gift of grace that is always with us.  It is God’s way of helping us to withstand all of the byproducts of our fall into unfaithfulness.  Joy is that deep sense of assurance that God is there for us, no matter what.  Joy and suffering work together to draw us closer to God.

  1. Joy is the source of our strength in suffering.

Philippians 1:12 explains that even in a time of great suffering, we have the Holy Spirit’s power to give us comfort: “what has happened to me has actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”  Even in times of distress, we can find strength in Christ by living according to His will for our lives.  

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) assures us that He will stand by us through any hardship no matter how difficult or painful: “And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 

  1. Joy in sorrow provides a source for sharing. (Vs. 13), “it has become evident to the whole palace guard.”

We cannot share our faith or experiences effectively outside of the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The fear that each of us feels, when we are confronted with the opportunity to witness for Christ, provides the evidence of that fact.

Philemon 5-6 (NKJV) shares this about our witness: “hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.”  Every good thing comes from our relationship with Jesus.  He is our strength in times of need.

  1. Joy supports us in our sadness. (Vs. 15), “The brethren are much bolder.

It has occurred to me over my many years, as I have watched Christians deal with the struggles of life, that the limit of a person's character, the depth of their spiritual strength, is determined by the point at which they lose their joy.

The growth level of our spiritual maturity ends at the moment in which our joy breaks down. That breaking point is determined by a sudden loss of joy and the onset of a harsh and negative spirit and the display of a critical and cynical outlook and reaction to life.

The measure of joy in life is determined by how a person responds to circumstances, not the way they would like them to be, but by reacting to events the way they are.  Joy is reacting to the way things are and understanding that boldness in the face of difficulties comes from Jesus and He is in control. 

James 1:2-4 (NKJV) assures us by saying: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

  1. Joy shares in others’ success. (Vs. 18), “Christ is preached

All heaven celebrates when one more soul is saved.  Jesus not only shares in and understands the suffering we experience when we share our faith, but He also rejoices in our victories when people say yes and enter into the Kingdom of God. 

Matthew 18:13-14 (NKJV) says: “And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so, it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

Summary Statement:

No one chooses to suffer.  We would rather go through life without any pain, illness, or distress for ourselves and those who are close to us.  However, that is not going to happen; we are going to suffer.  Jesus has provided a way for us to ease the suffering we will surely experience.  He has given us a gift of grace called joy.  The assurance that all will be fine allows us to get through the suffering.  Praise His name; that’s what joy is all about.

Lessons within the Lesson:

Why do we all suffer?

What is joy and how does it help?

How could Paul have joy even though being incarcerated? 

Give an example of when you were suffering, and the joy of the Lord brought you through.

[1] Charles Spurgeon, From Sorrow to Joy, Public Domain, Bible Bulletin Board

[2] John Piper, Does Joy Die in Sorrow Fair Use Authorization, Section 107, of the Copyright Law, By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: