A Pattern for Suffering

Suffering is a taboo subject in Western culture. The American dream is kind of the opposite of suffering. If we work hard and pay our dues, we can have an easy life. But the Bible tells us something different. We read stories of Joseph, Job, the apostles, Jesus and we see that suffering comes to those who seem undeserving. What we also see is a pattern for how to suffer well. The choice is ours to accept the reality of suffering and walk through it well. Psalm 22 gives us a fantastic pattern to follow. The first Psalm 22 demonstrates for us is how to lament. 

LAMENT

Psalm 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest.

To cry out to God and lament is somewhat lost on us as modern Christians. It’s simply an intimate and honest plea to God. Part of why we struggle to lament is because we often don’t know what we are feeling. We struggle to identify negative emotions because we would rather avoid them. We would rather bury them down hoping they go away. Other times we don’t want to acknowledge our negative emotions because our pride tells us we shouldn’t be feeling them. We want to think that we are better than that. So we pretend like those emotions aren’t there and we don’t talk to God about them. Getting real with what we are feeling is scary because it can be humbling. 

But lamenting to God is evidence of great intimacy with God. Asking heavy questions that reveal our heart’s cries. This is a very mature thing because it expresses our humility and dependence on God. You’ll notice that as David is feeling abandoned by God in Psalm 22 he is still acknowledging God is his God. The fact that he was crying out to God is evidence that he is still trusting in God. So what does this Psalm teach us about suffering well? First, to suffer well, we must lament.


Lamenting to God reveals spiritual maturity because it expresses our humility and dependence on God.


TRUST

Psalm 22:3-5 But you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in you; they trusted, and you rescued them. They cried to you and were set free; they trusted in you and were not disgraced.

The honest cry of 1-2 is rooted in the deep theology of verses 3-5. David is rooting His trust in God in God’s holiness. A very simple definition of the word holy is different. David can trust in God because He is different. He is not human. He has power over these circumstances, while David doesn’t. David is reminding himself of what God has done in the past. He is calling to mind the covenant God made with Israel which lead to their deliverance over and over again. When suffer we tend to forget these truths. We tend to ignore the Word and we don’t experience the grace of God that wants to meet us in these trying times. Trusting in God doesn’t deny our emotions or circumstances it just speaks a bigger truth. The truth that God can be trusted. 


Trusting in God doesn’t deny our emotions or circumstances it just speaks a bigger truth.


BE REAL

Throughout this Psalm we see David being very real about what he is feeling. In fact, in verse six he even calls himself a worm, scorned by man and despised by God. We should use Psalm 22 as our own when we are suffering, just like Jesus did while he was on the cross. (Matthew 27) By calling himself a worm David is expressing humiliation, an idea that is further developed with the scorn of the enemies. Shaking their heads was a physical gesture often associated with sneering and mocking. As he is praying, in humility, he is pouring it all out before God. All the real, difficult, ugly, emotions of his heart. And God promises that when we are humble his grace will meet us. (James 4:6) So, put the facade away and be real with God. 

What I love about this Psalm is you see a back and forth going on inside of David. First, there is a lament. Then David vocalizes his trust in God. Then back to feelings of abandonment. There is a very real struggle that I think we can all relate to and that is one of the reasons this Psalm is so helpful. 

LOOK TO THE CROSS 

In verses 9-18 we see a depiction of the cross. It shows us the true physical agony that Jesus endured for us. How do these verses help us to suffer well? Because they remind us to look at the cross. Especially in our suffering remind yourself of what Jesus endured for you. Yes, be realistic about what you are feeling, but remind yourself what is authentically real according to God’s Word. Charles Spurgeon said about these verses “Even here in this black spot of grief, we find our heaven while gazing at the cross.” Jesus knows what it means to suffer and is with you while you are suffering. God’s faithful and all-sufficient answer for our suffering is “Here is my Son who suffered and was forsaken for you.”

“Even here in this black spot of grief, we find our heaven while gazing at the cross.” 

Charles H. Spurgeon

PRAY

In verses 19-21 we see David reiterating his prayer. He is asking for God’s strength to quickly help him. He is asking for God’s deliverance from his earthly difficulties. These verses teach us to continually pray through our difficulties. Prayer is not a one and done thing. It is a continual process. Here we see even while he is suffering, David wants nothing but God. The last 10 verses of this Psalm seem like a sharp turning point.  


God’s faithful and all-sufficient answer for our suffering is “Here is my Son who suffered and was forsaken for you.”


REMEMBER 

Remember God is using suffering for our good. Verse 22 begins a new major section in this psalm, shifting the focus from petition to thanksgiving. The shift might indicate that the prayer of verses 1-21 had been answered or that such an answer was anticipated. Thanksgiving was to be offered in the assembly to evoke praise from the people of God. This was the responsibility of anyone whom the Lord rescued so that the entire community could rejoice in God’s acts of deliverance.  

The psalm ends by broadening to the most universal purpose of God’s kingdom over the earth. Israel’s purpose was to be a testimony to other nations so they would bow down before the Lord and serve him. The growth of the kingdom throughout time is demonstrated in the phrase a people yet to be born (future generations).

Psalms 22:31 They will come and declare his righteousness; to a people yet to be born they will declare what he has done.

Nothing, not even suffering, will stop God’s divine purposes. God often uses suffering to accomplish his purposes. So the last thing the suffering of Jesus teaches us about suffering well is that…

Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

The suffering of Jesus brought about our salvation. Our suffering has a purpose too. We may not always know what it is. We may not even get to see that purpose this side of heaven. But we can know for certain that it has a reason. 


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How Do We Navigate Suffering?

THRIVING IN EXILE

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Published by Nick Minerva

Nick Minerva lives in Fresno, California with his wife, Sarah and their four children. He currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Fresno Church where he has been on staff for over 10 years.

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