This is a touchy subject, especially amongst believers. But I feel that it's important to address.
Growing up as a young believer, I always had the notion that if I obeyed all the rules, played the good girl role, and did whatever I was told, then naturally everything would fall in to place. I did enjoy great teenage years in my youth group and had wonderful friends and experiences- because I obeyed my parents and the scriptures I was spared many heartaches. But when I started going really really deep in my faith, it seemed that trials began to pop up.
I remember the first time I experienced deep heartache, and I thought to myself, "Why would Father allow me to experience this pain when all I have done is tried to obey Him?" Despite the setback I continued serving Him and chose not to let the trial rip me away from my faith.
As I studied scriptures and faith matters at college I began to realize that maybe I had it backwards all along. I had always equated suffering with failure. That somehow me experiencing a trial meant that I had done something wrong. That I was being punished so that I could learn from my mistakes. Aiming for perfection had seemed to bring even more suffering, and I couldn't understand why. Until my eyes were opened.
There are two events that I give credit to this epiphany. The first was a book my mother recommended to me after I experienced yet another heartache. Pain, Perplexity, and Promotion: A Prophetic Interpretation of the Book of Job by Bob Sorge. It had never occurred to me before I read this book that suffering is equated with deep faith. I highlighted almost every word in this book as it resonated with my soul. Every question I had ever asked Father about my suffering seemed to be answered in this book. I'll never forget the moment when I read that when we pray for the Lord to send the fire to purify our hearts (and we really mean it) then Father will take us seriously. He talked about how some believers aren't serious about deepening their faith, therefore they don't cry out for Him to humble them and mold them into His image. But those who are serious about being changed, will be changed. He then went on to say that it is a privilege to suffer for righteousness' sake because it is a sign that Father is purposely working in your heart. I was floored. Truly floored. This was new to me.
The second event that changed my perspective on suffering was the teachings of a certain teacher at college named Nita. Anyone reading this who knows Nita, knows what I am talking about. I loved all my teachers for different reasons, but I loved Nita for the reason that she opened my eyes to the Lord's purpose for suffering in our lives. I wrote notes furiously when she taught. It seemed that every word coming from her mouth was spoken straight from the Lord to me.
Her point she kept trying to get across to us students was that Father is more concerned about our hearts than what we can do for Him. Of course He wants us to serve Him and live a passionate effective life for His Kingdom, but His first priority is our hearts. This floored me. I had always been so focused on what I could do do do for others, for Him. I ran myself weary trying to save the whole world and back around again, that I hadn't even considered that my heart was more precious to Him than my works.
Nita said in class once, "Father is more concerned about the location of your heart than your geographical location." This too floored me. We were at a college studying how to live overseas and serve the poor and needy. To say that He wanted our hearts in the right place more than He wanted us living overseas was a new concept in my mind.
Another thing she said that changed my life was that Father is so passionate about being number one in our hearts, that He will do everything in His power to rip those idols out of our lives so that all that is left to do is run and fall down at His feet. It finally occurred to me in that moment that Father had used the suffering in my life to make me fall more in love with Him, not to punish me. It doesn't necessarily mean He caused the suffering, but it does mean He used it to build my character. It means He didn't come with a horse and chariot to whisk me away from the suffering before I could experience it. He knew it would come to me, and He knew He would be with me through it all. He knew that I would come out looking a little more like His Son, bit by bit. I was serious about knowing Him, so He was serious about making it happen.
When you think about all the heroes and heroines from Scripture, do you think about all the suffering they endured? Abraham, Moses, Rehab, Noah, Joseph, David, Daniel, Mary. And of course the most important One of all, Father's Son! If anyone deserved an easy life and ministry, it was Him! But quite the contrary! Father's Son lived a life of suffering. He was hated by many, deserted by those He loved, and eventually tortured and killed. Can you imagine if these things happened to a famous pastor or leader in this day and age? Would we consider him successful?
Now whenever I experience suffering, instead of pounding my fist into the air asking why Father would allow such an atrocity, I picture the life of Father's Son and ask myself, "What did He experience in His life and ministry? Am I too far above Him that I should not suffer as well?" It somehow gives me a fresh perspective on the trial and I have the courage to press on.
But I would also like to add that I do believe we experience wonderful blessings in this life when we obey and serve Father! I have a million blessings in my life that would take hours upon hours to write about. Blessings I can hardly believe have come my way. But my point is that the believer shouldn't add up their prosperity versus suffering to determine their standing with Father. Blessings and suffering come to the believer who determines to live a passionate, radical life for Him.
1 and 2 Peter are amazing books of Scripture to read about suffering. Peter basically explains that we shouldn't be the least bit surprised when trials come our way. And early in my life I had been surprised. But not anymore.
If you experience blessings from the Lord, then praise Him! And if you experience suffering, rejoice in this as well, for you are looking a little bit more like Him through it all.