We Christians should have the most complete and accurate view of reality. We know what’s happening behind the scenes after all, at least as much as humans can possibly know. And we are absolutely certain of the end of the story! But what does that mean for right now? And what has God promised? What about suffering? What about breakthrough? Or might we expect both suffering and breakthrough?
Some Christians have claimed that living “right” means you can live above suffering. Just learn to pray/believe/claim/worship “correctly” and your sickness, poverty, pain, or any other struggle can go away. You can have it now! Victory is yours!
True? Well, in some ways yes. But this is an incomplete picture of what Scripture teaches, or of the example and witness of followers of Jesus over the last 2000 years.
Other Christians have made a theology out of their suffering. In light of the struggle that is a constant companion for almost everyone, some simply give up. The promises of God for good things must all be for eternity. This is as good as it gets right now. Don’t expect anything except suffering until later.
The truth is, it’s both.
And we often get into trouble when we try to make things either/or. There’s only one either/or in the universe. You can only love, honor, and obey one master. It’s either the God of heaven, or the ruler of the kingdom of darkness. Everything else is usually both/and.
New Testament Perspectives
This deserves a whole Bible study. But briefly, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament taught a both/and approach to suffering vs. breakthrough.
On the suffering side, Jesus promised His followers suffering. “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33, emphasis added). Not might, but will. Peter wrote, “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9).
Can you think of one follower of Jesus who has escaped suffering? Contemporary examples such as Corrie ten Boom, Joni Eareckson Tada, and Vaneetha Reisner help us see that this reality continues even today.
And the New Testament also promises breakthrough. In the same verse in which Jesus promises His followers trouble He promises victory. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He promised His followers both “a hundredfold now in this time” and “persecutions” (Mark 10:30).
Paul writes, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
And when you look at these promises of breakthrough more closely, there is never the guarantee that suffering will be removed. It’s breakthrough in the midst of suffering. (See Romans 8:35-39, 2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
Can you see how taking one “half” of this truth and ignoring the other can be dangerous?
Embracing suffering as the whole story keeps you from experiencing the Kingdom of God here and now. Your attitude and heart become crippled and dark. You’re not much good to anyone.
On the other hand, expecting that breakthrough means the elimination of suffering leads to disappointment and discouragement. Sometimes breakthrough means your circumstances will change. And sometimes your circumstances don’t change–but you experience breakthrough anyway.
What does this look like?
The addict can experience sobriety (regardless of what the substance or behavior is). AND, that sobriety usually comes through a process of ongoing struggle and pain.
The spouse in a traumatic marriage can experience wholeness and peace. Sometimes that means the marriage itself becomes whole. And sometimes that means that person individually lives well even when their marriage is not restored.
The unmarried person can experience living fully alive with authentic intimacy. Sometimes that means a loving marriage will happen. Sometimes that means deep connections with others in other ways while still single.
A person physically ill can find meaning and joy. Sometimes that means physical healing quickly. Sometimes it means embracing life even while experiencing disability or pain.
Living Well with Suffering AND Breakthrough
A few practical steps that will help you live this out in your own circumstances.
Walk Away from Unnecessary Suffering
Some of our suffering comes through our own hands. A big part of the breakthrough Jesus promised is along the lines of, “You don’t have to live like this!”
Walking with God in a journey of increasing wholeness means you can experience real lasting and increasing freedom from anger, unhealthy lifestyles, sexual acting out, negativity, demonic oppression, etc. You quit smoking, eat healthfully, choose your thoughts well, connect with others in deep ways, etc. Your own soul becomes increasingly well, and that works itself out in your behavior becoming increasingly loving, courageous, and whole.
You can stop hurting yourself.
Invite Jesus Into Your Suffering
God rarely drops healing or breakthrough or anything else on us. But He always comes to be with us in the middle of our sickness, broken marriage, emotional struggle, or anything else. It’s always right to ask Him for relief.
And most of the time He invites us into a process of working with Him. The second part of this two-part prayer is often the most impactful: “Jesus, what step do You need me to take next?” There is so much of the Kingdom of God that we can experience here and now that we don’t take advantage of.
After my husband died I experienced both indescribable pain and irrepressible hope at the same time, sometimes at the same moment. That’s Jesus being with us in our suffering.
Don’t Forget Eternity
If this is as good as it gets, as Paul said, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We need more. We must have eternity.
Even Jesus needed to keep His eyes on eternity. “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus needed to keep His eyes on eternity in order to make it, so will we.
Breakthrough is real! It can change everything.
A breakthrough in your circumstances sometimes happens. But you can experience a breakthrough in your heart, your mind, your attitude, your relationship with God, regardless of your circumstances.
Our Powerful Breakthrough Prayers course walks you deeper into breakthrough, helping you apply the principles of the kingdom of God to any problem you have. This would be a great step to take in the beginning of 2022.
Your Turn: Which “camp” do you tend to fall into? Are you likely to give up and simply embrace suffering as the whole story? Or are you likely to believe breakthrough means the elimination of suffering? What would it look like for you to embrace both? Leave a comment below.
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- Jesus promised His followers both suffering and breakthrough. We miss so much if we cannot embrace both of those aspects of the kingdom of God. Tweet that.