April 7, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Lamentations 3:19-23 (NRSV)
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Suffering can turn our hearts away from God. But it can also open our hearts to a deeper experience of God’s love and grace. Suffering helps us know Jesus better, sharing in his life and death. Suffering also connects us to the “groaning” of creation as we hope for the new creation that is coming. In our times of pain, God supplies, not only hope, but also the Holy Spirit, who reassures us of God’s presence, love, and grace.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Lamentations in Lent.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began wrestling with the question, “How can I trust God when I’m suffering?” I suggested that Scripture is one way the Lord encourages us to trust in him even when our lives are hard. Today, I want to point to another source of encouragement, the most important one of all.
I’m thinking of Jesus. More than anything else, more than anyone else, Jesus helps us to remain faithful even when our lives are filled with pain. For one thing, when we are hurting, we know that Jesus understands. He experienced the discomforts and discouragements of this life. He was, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic vision, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3, KJV). Thus, Jesus can sympathize with us in a profound way. As it says in Hebrews 4:14, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of suffering. Now, the existence of Jesus doesn’t provide a definitive answer to our philosophical questions. If anything, Jesus creates even more questions. Why would God become human in Jesus? How is it possible for God to suffer? Why did God choose to suffer rather than to obliterate suffering? We’ll never fully answer questions like these. But, we have in Jesus God’s response to our suffering. God sees it. God feels compassion. God shares our pain, even as he shared our humanness in Jesus. God is with us when we suffer. Jesus makes this clear.
It’s true that sometimes people abandon their faith because of the pain of life. They just cannot understand how a loving God would let such terrible things happen. Yet, it’s also true that sometimes our suffering helps us to know God more truly and trust God more fully. When we suffer, we can enter more deeply into a relationship with Jesus, the man of sorrows.
Jesus suffered, not only to be able to have compassion for us, but also to bring about the ultimate end of suffering. Because of his death, the power of sin and death has been broken. Ultimately, God will triumph. God’s kingdom will pervade all creation. Sorrow and suffering will pass away.
We find this hope in many places of Scripture, but perhaps most compellingly in the eighth chapter of Romans. Here, the Apostle Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). In Paul’s view, our suffering is experienced by the “whole creation” that “has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Rom 8:22-23). Yet we share with creation the hope that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).
Such hope keeps us going even in suffering. But hope is not the only thing God supplies to help us persevere. Paul explains, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). God’s own Spirit helps us to pray, even praying through us in hard times.
Even when life seems impossibly difficult, God is with us. God is on our side. As it says in Romans 8:31, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Not only is God for us, but also God loves us with an abiding love. Here’s how Paul concludes his discussion of suffering, hope, and faith: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39). No matter how painful and confusing our lives might be, God loves for us will never let us go. Thus, we can affirm God’s faithfulness even in the midst of suffering. Suffering helps us to know Jesus better and opens our hearts to receive God’s love in a deeper and truer way.
How has Jesus helped you when your life has been hard?
Has your experience of suffering ever helped you grow closer to God?
When you hear about creation “groaning,” what comes to mind for you?
What helps you to know, really to know, that nothing in all creation can take away God’s love for you?
As you think about the people in your life, reach out to someone who is going through a difficult time right now. Let this person know of your care and concern.
Gracious God, how I thank you for becoming fully human in Jesus, for entering into the pains and sorrows of this life, as well as its delights and joys. Thank you for knowing how it feels when I am exhausted, lonely, or in pain. It encourages me to know that you understand, and that you are with me always.
Yet, even more, I thank you for entering into human suffering in order to vanquish it. Your death was not the end. After Good Friday, there came Easter. After suffering, victory. After death, the fullness of life. How thankful I am, Lord Jesus, for the hope I find in your resurrection. Help me, I pray, to live with this hope today.
All praise be to you, Word of God Incarnate, Savior, Lord! Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Sabbath Rest in Christ: Needed for Life’s Journey (Hebrews 3:7–4:16)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.