Suffering and . . . the Reward I Want?

I hate that feeling when life seems a bit like driving a car that doesn’t drive where I want. I have a steering wheel, but for some reason, the steering wheel’s not connected to anything. I spin the wheel in the direction I think is right, and nothing happens, or worse, maybe the car turns the opposite way.

I especially hate it when it feels like God wanted me to do something and I think I know what He wanted me to get from the situation, but it turned out to be completely different. There should be a visible reward at the end of the suffering. (In other words, something that makes me feel like this is all worth it.)

But what about when that doesn’t happen?

I often think that if I go through this, I should be able to get what I want in the end. I think it should be like a trade: “Okay God, I’ll go through this mess, if you give me what I want at the end of it.” In my completely human way of thinking, I say, “If I don’t know why I’m suffering, if there’s no visible reward at the end of it, if the reward isn’t what I wanted it to be, then WHY?” It’s just not efficient to have all that suffering with no product.

But something occurred to me recently. What if that wasn’t God’s point at all?  What if God’s point wasn’t that I come out of that situation feeling successful and like I had accomplished what I had set out to do? What if the only thing He wanted out of that whole experience is for me to come out of it knowing Him better, loving Him more, trusting more steadfastly in His goodness? What if all that other stuff is only peripheral compared to what God actually wanted to do in my life?

In case you wondered, that peripheral stuff is rubbish compared to having a working relationship with the Creator of the Universe. That’s not to minimize the great blessings in this life. I could list quite a few. But those are only bonuses. What He really wants is you to develop a relationship with Him that causes you to love Him, to trust Him, and to be transformed into the image of His Son.

Those are the results He wants from suffering. If he chooses to give tangible blessings with them, great! But those blessings aren’t the point of life, like I sometimes think they are. The point is for my obedience to glorify God, and leave the results of that obedience up to Him.

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9 comments on “Suffering and . . . the Reward I Want?

  1. Anita says:

    ‘A working relationship with the Creator of the Universe?’ Wow, it takes my breath away, because it’s reality, and not just wishful or positive thinking. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. I like this. especially ’cause I can be such a little martyr when it comes to suffering & obedience. Coming out the other end and wondering what the world is wrong if I’m not holding some sort of trophy. But this is all about relationship, and that’s beautiful.
    Thanks!

  3. rjshetler says:

    Yeah. It’s something I really have to work on. I have to to undo quite a few years of thinking about it the wrong way.

  4. Kim Miller says:

    You hit it right on RJ! I heartily agree! Thanks for posting your thoughts! I found these verses and thought they were pretty amazing:
    Romans 8:15-21 The Message
    “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.”

    • rjshetler says:

      I think I remember reading at least part of that in the message translation. That also brings in the thoughts about the afterlife and completes the discussion about suffering. There’s comfort in knowing God, but there’s also comfort in knowing that one day we won’t suffer.

  5. Sherilyn Miller says:

    This sorta hits a tender spot for me…. I am having a hard time coming up with the right words. But Amen, and AMEN!!! And an actual, experiential, relationship with Jesus is just beyond anything I have ever dreamed of, and worth more than anything else. Someone told me recently that sometimes in trying so hard to understand suffering/what we need to learn from it etc., we miss what we could have, the God of all comfort… it was so weird how something in my heart just felt profoundly relieved, relationship matters to God too…

  6. Sheri says:

    Great thoughts!! You are totally right. Thanks for sharing, it blessed me.

    I know this is a post I’ll be bookmarking and reading again. Thank you!

  7. rjshetler says:

    Thanks for the kind words. You all are great.

  8. Great article! I think too often I have the attitude towards God of “you rub my back and I’ll rub yours”. Then I’m shocked that He allows suffering when I’ve given my all to serve Him. Am I willing to receive both blessings and pain from His hand? Even when I can not see how ANY good can come from it? He sees a different picture than I do.

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