58. God is always at work in our suffering.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. {1 Peter 4:12-13}

Especially when we’re in the midst of suffering, it can be hard to see and understand how God could ever transform it into something good, let alone something we could come to thank Him for, but that’s why there are examples of this very thing recorded in the Bible: that God is always at work in our suffering, even if we can’t perceive it at the time. And not only that, but He often fulfills our greatest desires through our suffering in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

Let’s take Stephen, the first Christian martyr, as an example. Saul was intent on stamping out what he saw as the heresy of Christianity by persecuting the early church. So when the Jewish Sanhedrin gave their consent for Stephen to be stoned, Saul oversaw his execution and then went off on a rampage against the church, dragging off both men and women and putting them in prison. And the book of Acts says that when that happened, all the believers scattered. They ran away as fast as they could. But they couldn’t keep quiet. Those who scattered went about preaching the word wherever they went.

Now, what do you suppose was Stephen’s greatest passion in life by the time he was martyred? If you’ve ever read his stirring speech in Acts, you’ll know that it was to make sure he told as many people as possible about Jesus.

But Stephen’s life was cut terribly short through this act of violence and injustice! Because of this tragic suffering he encountered, Stephen’s greatest wish was never realized... or was it? The event that so many at the time probably thought marked the end was, instead, just the beginning. For God turned the circumstances of Stephen’s martyrdom into the occasion to spread the Good News to the entire Mediterranean world! Stephen’s death was like lighting a fuse under a gospel bomb that produced an explosion that set the world on fire.

God was not only at work in Stephen’s suffering, but when you consider that Stephen’s whole passion was to share the gospel with as many people as possible, God actually used the circumstances of his death to fulfill his greatest wish in life. And not only that, but He eventually turned Stephen’s executioner into the greatest champion of the Message.

Unbelievable! If this is what God is like, how can our response to suffering be anything but rejoicing? Imagine how much more bearable our suffering might be if we remembered that God was working behind the scenes in ways we can’t imagine, usually fulfilling our greatest desires through the very circumstances we’re seeking to get out of!

If you want to dig deeper—
Psalm 34:19
John 15:2
Romans 5:3-4
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
1 Peter 2:21