Suffering Is Our Teacher

Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray,but now I keep your word.

Psalm 119:67

Mrs. Schmidt was my favorite childhood teacher. Not only did she get me interested in reading books, but I also thought she was cute. Yes, I had a crush on my third-grade teacher! Most important of all, however, her heartfelt love and concern were cemented in my memory the morning she called me to her desk. “Are you okay?” she asked. The evening before (on our way to the school Christmas program) Mom, two of my brothers, and I were in a car accident that should have killed at least one of us. Three of us were released from the hospital the same evening, but Mom stayed through Christmas because of a shattered left arm and hip. During her six-week stay, neighbors delivered numerous casseroles and other meals to feed our hard-working dad and his six children. The kindness of my teacher and our neighbors made a lasting impression on me. Suffering can do the same for us. It is both a teacher and a friend.

The verse above flows from the heart of a man who reaped at least some of the benefits of suffering. Immediately, what stands out to me is the fact that his suffering did not leave him bitter. Instead, he prayed: “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments” (Ps. 119:66). He had tasted the teaching power of suffering and he wanted more. When he “went astray,” God was faithful to send affliction to help him to discern what is good and to motivate him to return to the path of obedience. Instead of being angry at God, he prays, “You have dealt well with your servant” (Ps. 119:65). The psalmist’s post-trial exclamation is worthy of our attention: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps. 119:71). Affliction tenderized his heart, making it more receptive to biblical instruction. He learned from the error of his ways.

Suffering is a faithful teacher. This is a recurring theme in Scripture. Consider more benefits of affliction:[1]

  • Suffering teaches us to be aware of the sustaining power of God to whom we owe our sustenance (Ps. 68:19).
  • Suffering teaches us humility (2 Cor. 12:7).
  • Suffering teaches us that God is more concerned about character than comfort (Rom. 5:3-4; Heb. 12:10-11).
  • Suffering teaches us that the greatest good of the Christian life is not the absence of pain, but Christlikeness (2 Cor. 4:8-10; Rom. 8:28-29).
  • Suffering teaches us obedience and self-control (Heb. 5:8; Ps. 119:67; Rom. 5:1-5; James 1:2-8).
  • Suffering teaches us to become sharers in Christ’s suffering (2 Cor. 1:5; 1 Peter 4:12-13).
  • Suffering teaches us the value of living in Christian community (Phil. 4:12-15).
  • Suffering teaches us to discipline our minds to focus on our future hope in Christ (1 Peter 1:6, 13).
  • Suffering teaches us to number our days so that we present to God a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:7-12).
  • Suffering teaches us how to comfort others when they suffer (2 Cor. 1:3-11).
  • Suffering teaches us to remember that Christ is our highest treasure (Phil. 3:8).
  • Suffering teaches us to walk in the way of truth (Ps. 51:6; 119:17).
  • Suffering teaches us to leave injustices with God, who is the ultimate judge (Ps. 58:10-11).
  • Suffering teaches us to rely on God’s empowering grace (2 Tim. 1:7-8; 4:16-18).
  • Suffering teaches us to give thanks in times of sorrow (1 Thess. 5:17; 2 Cor. 1:11).

Suffering is an essential piece in the Christian living curriculum. In the hands of our wise and good heavenly Father, it serves us well when we listen to its lessons.

Talk to Yourself. Can you say with the psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted”? In your journal, list some of the ways that suffering has trained you to walk in God’s ways mores consistently.

Talk to God. At the end of your list, write a prayer of thanksgiving.

Talk to Others. Get together with a fellow Christian. Read Psalm 119:65-72 together and talk about the benefits of suffering you both have experienced. Then pray through the passage together.

Listen: Jesus Is Sovereign Over Sickness

[1] These examples are drawn from one of my favorite books on suffering written by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes, When God Weeps (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).

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