The Ministry of Suffering
The ministry of suffering may be considered as threefold: as it affects ourselves; as it affects our relation to other sufferers; and last and most important of all, as it affects our relation to God.
In Relation to Ourselves
Let us read 1 Peter 5:10, "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you."
Here we see the grace and glory of God brought together for the purpose of cheering and comforting a suffering people. It looks as if in some way the suffering which is for "a while" has something to do with their perfecting. We know that suffering does not perfect the body, therefore the perfecting must be by way of spiritual development. There are graces which need the soil of pain and grief in order that they may be brought forth in us. We can conceive of love, joy, and peace abounding amid a scene of perfect calm, but it is not possible that longsuffering could be perfected under such conditions. Patience is a Christian grace of rare quality and highly valued by God Himself, but patience can only grow in the soil of tribulation.
In Relation to Others
Suffering is given us in order that we may be able to bear the heavenly blessing of comfort to others who suffer. This is made plain in 2 Corinthians 1:3,4: "Blessed be … the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."
The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, but He operates through human instrumentality. It is indeed a blessed privilege to be able to touch with the hand of love and sympathy some suffering member of the body of Christ and to pour the healing balm of comfort into some crushed and grief-stricken heart. But in order to qualify for this Christ-like ministry we ourselves must have been comforted of God. The words spoken may be few, the deed of kindness done may be small in itself, but if the grace of consolation flows in word and deed, and heart blends with heart in sorrow, then the weary sufferer is rested and refreshed as in the embrace of love divine.
In Relation to God
The highest end ever reached through suffering is a prepared fitness and enlarged capacity for the enjoyment of fellowship with God.
He is the God of all grace, the God of patience and consolation, the God of love and peace, a God full of compassion and gracious, longsuffering, plenteous in mercy and truth. These attributes and excellencies are all in God. The entrance of sin into the world has provided the opportunity for their display through the activities of love in the work of redemption.
When the morning of the eternal day has dawned and the cry of pain and sorrow shall be heard no more, then shall we know the full meaning of all the suffering which is meted out to saints of God today. The weight and measure of eternal glory which shall rest upon the redeemed shall proclaim to all the universe the perfect wisdom of God, and the true value of the life of faith, lived amid the sin and woe of this wicked world.
—Condensed from "The Mystery and Ministry of Suffering" by Robert McMurdo