The Year of Many Tears: A Bible Study on Affliction and Suffering
I turned 41 years old this year. Some would assume that this far along in life, I would “have it all together.” If you are one who would make such an assumption, I’m afraid I have incredibly disappointing news…
…I’m not even close to together.
2015 was an incredibly tough year for me. I shed more tears that year than I probably have the entire rest of my life. I have grievously wept over bitter disappointments and been in an overall season of affliction the entire year. When December 31st came that year, I was more than thrilled to turn the calendar and see a fresh, New Year to ring in with all the hope it promises.
I will spare you the details of the nature of my season of affliction because I know that so many others have their own seasons as well. Comparison is such a tempting trap to step into for us ladies, so I choose not to offer the temptation. Suffice it to say, my season might be different in nature than yours, but both of us have very real pain in the midst of our trials.
So, how do we faithfully accept and even thrive within our momentary, light afflictions as Paul describes them in 2 Corinthians 4:17? Is this even possible? And why has the affliction come our way in the first place? These are all valid questions. And answering them Biblically is the key to joy in the midst of the trial. Let me share with you what the Lord is teaching me…
WHY Must We Face Trials?
The question is often asked “Why must faithful, obedient disciples of Christ face such hardship and pain? I thought God was a loving God?” Friend, I submit to you that God’s perfect love is precisely the reason Christians must often go through painful experiences. Let me briefly explain.
Over and over again in Scripture, we are taught that proven faith is tested faith (1 Peter 1:6-7, 1 Peter 4:12). There are many examples of proven, tested, faithful saints in the Bible. Many can be found in the “Hall of Faith” chapter of Hebrews 11. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Rahab, Esther, Mary – the mother of Jesus, the list goes on and on. Each one of these faithful saints had to go through much testing to prove their faith. We still serve the same God and He does not change His ways (Malachi 3:6).
Dr. Greg Harris beautifully addresses the why of our trials in his book The Cup and the Glory. If you are wrestling with this question, I highly recommend this book. It will help you and encourage you greatly.
Learning to Thrive Within Affliction
I want to spend the rest of my time with you today helping you to practically walk through some Scripture that will teach us how to thrive within our seasons of affliction. I often find that faithful, committed Christians tend to be able to accept their trials as a necessary – albeit difficult – part of the sanctification process. Rationally thinking Christians “who because of practice have had their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 6:14) by regularly feasting on the meat of the Word of God are usually expectant of trials.
However, expecting a trial and learning to thrive within one are completely different experiences. This is the lesson I have been learning through my personal seasons of affliction. I wasn’t blindsided by the testing, but I have struggled to consider it a joyful season (James 1:2, Philippians 1:27-30). I will confess to you that this is a lesson I am still learning. My season isn’t over and I’m not sure it ever will be. But my sanctification process is worth the pain because it makes me reflect Christ more. And so is yours. Let’s learn together, shall we?
The Only Place to Find Solace
Indulge me for the remainder of this post while I give you some homework. Let’s look at the book of Philippians to learn how to have some joy within our trial. I like to refer to Philippians as the joy book of the Bible. If you want to know how to become truly joyful by the Biblical definition, you need to saturate yourself in the book of Philippians. We’ll work through a short passage together, then I’ll leave you with some personal digging to do on your own.
- Read Philippians 2:14-18 and circle the words “grumbling” and “disputing” (or their equivalents in your personal translation).
- Underline the words “joy” and “rejoice.”
Together, let’s make a list of what we learned about these words –
“grumbling” and “disputing”
– 2:14 we are to do all things without grumbling or disputing
“rejoice” and “joy”
– 2:17 Paul rejoices and shares his joy even though he is being poured out as a drink offering
– 2:18 Paul urges us to rejoice and share our joy with him
Let’s ask the “5 W’s and H questions” together on this passage:
Who are the instructions given to in verse 14? Answer: Believers (the readers of the letter)
Who has joy in verse 17? Answer: Paul, the author
Who else is expected to have joy in verse 17? Answer: Believers
What are we commanded to do without grumbling and disputing in verse 14? Answer: All things
Where are we commanded to do these things in verse 15? Answer: in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom we appear as lights in the world
Why are we commanded to do all things without grumbling and disputing? (Answer in verse 16) Answer: So that we will prove ourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God, above reproach
How are we to accomplish this task? Answer: By holding fast the word of life (the Bible)
Now, let’s reason through all we’ve learned together for some application. Because knowledge without change is worthless in the life of a Christian.
We are expected to rejoice and share our joy with other believers even if we are suffering (verses 17-18). The demonstration of our joy comes by doing all things without grumbling or disputing. (verse 14). This is accomplished by holding fast the word of life in order to prove ourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God in the midst of our crooked and perverse generation. (verses 14-15)…. So, the ultimate purpose of our suffering is to prove ourselves faithful and to appear as lights in the world. Christians are supposed to look distinctively different in the midst of our culture. How are we doing with this?
Study for Yourself
Read the entire book of Philippians (it’s only 4 short chapters) with a pen, highlighter, or colored pencil in hand and mark every occurrence of the word “joy” or its synonyms (“rejoice,” “joyful,” etc.).
Now, make a list of everything you learn about joy in every place you marked. Just a simple list of the facts gleaned from the Scripture will suffice. (Look at our focus passage above for an example of how to do this.)
Now, ask yourself the following questions –
Who – Who has joy? Who is supposed to have joy?
What – What is joy? What is the definition of joy given within the text? What does joy do for us? What does it do for others?
When – When are we supposed to have joy?
Where – Where does joy come from?
Why – Why are we supposed to have joy?
How – How are we to demonstrate joy?
Now that you have interrogated the Scripture with these questions, it’s time to apply these truths. Spend some time in prayer before your Father and ask Him to reveal to you any areas where you have missed the mark when it comes to joyfulness in the midst of your trial. Ask Him to reveal your heart to you because He is the only One who truly knows your heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Then meekly submit to His authority in your life as He begins (or continues) to mold and shape you in this area of joyfulness.
A Prayer for You
We absolutely can have joy during a season of affliction. But it takes a willing submission on our part to the Lordship of Christ in our lives. We must understand that we are to reflect our Savior. And in order for us to gleam with His reflection, a refining fire must be kindled on our behalf – for our benefit.
Friends, I will leave you with this prayer. I pray this for you as you study Philippians for yourself and learn more about joy.
If you have any questions about how to further study your Bible, or if you need prayer while in your own season of affliction, please contact us. We love hearing from you!