Editor’s Note: This article summarizes the practical applications of Palmer Chinchen‘s recent book, God Can’t Sleep: Waiting for Daylight on Life’s Dark Nights, (David C. Cook, 2011).
Suffering is all around you in this fallen world, and sometimes it’s so tragic that it’s heartbreaking. Yet God promises that He is loving and merciful. How can you reconcile these two realities that seem like they compete against each other?
The key is to look for God’s mercy, even when it seems like it can’t coexist with the suffering you encounter. God’s mercy is a stronger force than even the worst suffering, and when you look for it, you’ll find it.
Here’s how you can find God’s mercy in the midst of suffering:
Look for God beside you. God promises to be close to you when you feel brokenhearted. Remember that when God came to Earth as Jesus, He experienced what a broken human heart felt like as He endured suffering firsthand in our fallen world. Nothing can ever separate you from God’s deep, unconditional love; He cares about what you’re going through. If you can’t sense His presence with you, pray, asking God to comfort you by making you aware of His Spirit nearby.
Realize that some parts of faith only grow in the dark. God uses the darkness of suffering to teach you valuable spiritual lessons that you couldn’t learn in the bright light of good times. When you must travel through dark circumstances, be confident that you won’t emerge from them the same as you were before. Expect to grow into a stronger person as God’s redemptive purposes unfold in your life through suffering. Ask God to show you specific ways in which He wants to bring good out of your pain.
Ask God for the help you need to overcome sin. Face the reality that much of the suffering in our fallen world is caused by human sin. But count on the fact that God is merciful toward all sinners. Whenever you recognize a situation in which some of your own sin has contributed to your suffering, pray for help, and God will give you the strength you need to overcome sin. Stop holding onto any sinful secrets that have been causing guilt, shame, and bitterness in your soul. Confess your sins specifically, repent of them, accept the forgiveness that God offers you, and embrace the power that God gives you to move forward into a better life.
Listen for God speaking in the silence. When your suffering becomes so painful that you can’t make any sense of it or figure out how to endure it, you may feel as if you’re trapped in silence, since nothing that other people say or do to try to help actually breaks through to you. But when you’re at the point where you don’t hear anything else, you can actually hear God best, since you’re less likely to get distracted by the world’s noise around you. In the silence, pour out your thoughts and feelings to God in prayer, and then listen to what He has to say to you. God won’t shout, but He will whisper, to encourage you to keep drawing closer to Him.
Ask God for the faith to move forward even when you’re afraid. It’s natural to feel fear when you’re going through suffering, but God will give you the faith you need to do whatever you need to do, even while you’ll struggling with fear. Rather than asking God to take away your fear, ask Him to give you the faith you need to overcome it. View each crisis you go through as an opportunity to express your faith in God’s power to sustain you.
Simplify your life. Sometimes suffering makes you aware of the need to clear clutter out of your schedule and surroundings so you can experience more of the peace that God wants to give you in all circumstances. Devote more time to your relationship with God. Eliminate activities from your life that don’t reflect your highest priorities, and use the free time left from cutting them out to pursue a deeper relationship with God.
Participate in God’s plan to end injustice in the world. When the suffering you see around you disturbs you, do something about it if at all possible. Recognize that all Christians have a crucial role to play in God’s plan to free people the suffering caused by injustices such as addiction, oppression, disease, poverty, racism, and debt. Ask God to give you compassion for people who are suffering from injustice. Realize that you and your efforts have tremendous value in God’s kingdom, and that God wants to express His mercy for suffering people by working through your life to help them. Pray for the wisdom to know what specific ways God wants you to serve others to help bring more justice to our fallen world – and then take action to do so! Choose to do one small thing at a time instead of becoming overwhelmed by the immensity of the needs surrounding you. Trust that God will use you to touch one person’s life at a time to accomplish something great even from small efforts.
Don’t let suffering keep you from living fully. If suffering has discouraged you to the point where you no longer take the risks you sense God calling you take to live a full life, pray for encouragement. Don’t settle for anything less than doing what God leads you to do every day, and don’t quit when suffering causes discouragement to creep back into your soul. Instead, keep praying, and you can count on God to keep encouraging you.
Forgive, so your suffering won’t poison your soul with bitterness. Rely on God’s help to forgive the people who have caused you to suffer. Keep in mind that God will help you every step of the way if you’re faithful to respond to His call to forgive others as He has forgiven you for your own sins.
Look forward to heaven. Remind yourself often that God will replace the ugliness of suffering in this fallen world with the beauty of holiness in heaven. Hold onto the real hope that you have in Christ of living free of suffering when you get to heaven.
Adapted from God Can’t Sleep: Waiting for Daylight on Life’s Dark Nights, copyright 2011 by Palmer Chinchen. Published by David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, Co.,www.davidccook.com.
Palmer Chinchen is the celebrated author of True Religionand the pastor of The Grove in Chandler, Arizona. His passion is to challenge Christ followers everywhere to change this world for good. He holds a PhD from Trinity International University and a BA and MA from Biola University.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles (http://angels.about.com/). Contact Whitney at:firstname.lastname@example.org send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience.