Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…Colossians 1:24
The apostle Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because he knew that God was using them to produce growth in his own life through the experience of receiving divine comfort, which would then touch the lives of those whom he served. Writing to the Corinthians, he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4). Suffering enhances ministry because it produces a common ground on which to relate to others who are in the midst of the same types of trials that we have already experienced and endured.
I can add personal testimony to this benefit. Four of our ten children were born with profound hearing-impairment. One of these four was totally deaf at birth, as well as being cognitively impaired and autistic. I have come to believe that one of the many reasons why God gave us these priceless children is so that the believers in local churches where we serve can witness God’s power being made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Too many Christians have the strange idea that pastors and their families do not have the same struggles that they have, but those believers are wrong. The pressure of hearing-impairment, numerous cochlear implant surgeries, and speech, language, and physical therapy in our children’s lives takes us to a deeper level of dependence on God, which in turn gives our church something it would not otherwise have—an environment in which people are free to endure with one another instead of trying to battle adversity alone. When their minister suffers with them, they are free to grow.
There is no power in our strength, but there is much power in our weakness—God’s power—made infinitely more visible and glorious against the backdrop of our frail humanity. I am convinced that the more trials we endure, the more opportunities God will give us to comfort those who will have to walk where we have limped so that we may dispense the same grace that we received along the way. Jerry Bridges, in his outstanding book Trusting God, offers this insight into the value of suffering:
We can be sure that the development of Christlike character will not occur in our lives without adversity … [God] will not remove the adversity until we have profited from it and developed in whatever way He intended in bringing or allowing it into our lives … God does not delight in our sufferings. He brings only that which is necessary, but He does not shrink from that which will help us grow.
God is the potter, and we are the clay. He will use the pain of suffering to mold us, to remove or smooth out hardened lumps, so that we will be more useful ministers of God’s comfort.