Suffering. Perhaps we can define it as “on-going, maybe even continuous pain.”
Suffering is different from “acute pain.” I remember what it was like to get a cortisone injection in the thumb joint of my left hand (which has since been surgically repaired). Now that was acute pain! It hurt like crazy – but only for a minute. However, suffering is the reason I got the shot in the first place. Prior to receiving that medication, I was enduring constant, on-going, “wake you up in the middle of the night” pain. Even loading dishes in the dishwasher was a struggle.
While I have just described physical suffering, there are other kinds. Consider the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. He was the favorite of twelve sons born to Jacob. Because of the preference shown him, his ten older brothers hated him and in this hatred they sold Joseph into slavery to a caravan headed for Egypt. Joseph suffered in Egypt. He was unexpectedly and severely ripped from his family, never again to see the father who loved him, the land of his youth or the culture he had known. Now he was a lone Hebrew slave in a nation of pagans who did not know his God. What’s more, he was falsely accused of a major crime, wrongly imprisoned and betrayed by many. Joseph was unfairly suffering, all because of the attitudes and actions of others.
However, it was in this dire situation that Joseph lived out the words the Apostle Paul would pen centuries later in Romans 5:3-5. “Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Joseph trusted God and placed his hope in Him – and the Lord orchestrated events such that Joseph became a blessing to Egypt (and ultimately to his own family).
It was this hope that allowed Joseph to see God working all things together for the good of those who love him. Joseph married in Egypt and named his second son, Ephraim, which means, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (Genesis 41:52)
Fruitful in the land of my suffering. That doesn’t always mean the suffering in our lives goes away, anymore than it did in Joseph’s life. But we can draw great hope from the fact that, if we let Him, the Lord can and will make us fruitful in the midst of whatever is happening in our lives.
Most of us probably spend a lot of time asking, “why is this happening?” when something negative transpires. However, in order to be fruitful in the land of our suffering we need to ask, “What does this experience make possible?” Give it a try this week and see what happens. Who knows, God may make you fruitful.