About Carrie Cecil

Looking Back to Move Ahead: Enduring Suffering in the Christian Life

I have so many notebooks.

So many, in fact, that I could probably dedicate an entire shelf to them and they would still overflow into the nooks and crannies of my home. Whenever I acquire a new one, I always have such high hopes for its contents. “I’m really going to fill this one up this time,” I think. I set aside one for sermon notes, miscellaneous thoughts, a particular book study, and a hobby. The list goes on until I’m found in a mess of faux-leather bound volumes brimming with promise but little else. But once I do fill up a notebook, I’m met with questions of practicality. Do I keep it? Is it just taking up prime real estate on my bookshelf? Do I look back on past notes or press forward with new penning endeavors?

I recently spent some time looking over contents from years’ old notebooks in an attempt to purge. Among cringe-worthy journal entries about empty crushes and college drama, I began to read accounts of struggles and trials, all too painful rejections and spiritual hardships, prayers for relief from suffering and long bouts with depression and anxiety. The truth is, I still struggle with many of those same troubles. And with every new or resurfacing trial, I am faced with the question, “How do I endure this?”

A Worldly Endurance & A Godly Endurance
“Grin and bear it.” “Grit your teeth.” “Just keep moving forward.” These are all common phrases to hear while enduring various hardships. I can’t tell you how many times I have used these very phrases to motivate myself to push through anxieties and difficult times. These mottos seem innocent enough until we compare them with Scripture’s encouragements for endurance. Perhaps one of the most brought-to-mind passages is James 1:2-3:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Do we ever stop and truly “count it all joy”? How drastically different from the “grit your teeth” mentality. Yet another convicting passage on this subject is found in Colossians 1:9-11:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy

Let’s hone in on that last phrase – “for all endurance and patience with joy.” Oh, how often I have endurance without patience. And even more often I have endurance and no joy. When I attempt to grit my way through something, it reveals my idolatry. It reveals my sinful tendency to draw from my own strength and resolve to endure the trials of life. Psalm 103:14 reminds us that we are “dust.” Our strength and rigidity have already been compromised. Paul understands this tendency and so he addresses it: “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Yes, we are commanded to have strength during hard times, but all of this strength is according to God’s power, not our own.

Verses 12-14 of Colossians 1 continues by saying, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The only way we can endure suffering in this life is to look back on God’s grace and faithfulness to us in the past. And what greater act of grace and faithfulness than for God to transfer us out of our darkened state, riddled by sin, and into the kingdom of his Son, where we are clean like that crisp empty notebook. Believer, we are not called to “grin and bear it” when we face hardship, sadness, and suffering. Rather, we are called to have enduring gratitude. Gratitude that the ultimate hardship has been conquered by Jesus at the cross. Gratitude that there will be a day when He will “wipe away every tear ” (Revelation 21:4).

So go back and read through those old notebooks.

And as you read, remember.

And as you remember, worship.

Worship because of God’s faithfulness to deliver you through those dark places in the past and God’s glorious might to do so again and again.