It’s come home to me that giving is often the fruit of hardship. That was one of the main themes in Finding Hope in Hard Things. Through the hard things that we face, God shapes us into givers, for that’s what he is. There is a relationship—though we want to deny it in our spirit—between suffering and giving. Let me unpack this a bit.
When things are going well for us, it’s certainly possible to give. Nothing is holding us back . . . except the inner desire to stay well. Think of your own experiences for a moment. Recall something good that’s happened to you lately. It could be receiving a gift from someone else, or having success at work, or enjoying the deep acceptance of another person whom you love. Do you have something in mind?
Now, ask yourself this question: What changed in you as a result? It’s probably hard to think of an answer. When we receive a gift we like, we may have some gratitude, passing like a breeze over the hills. When we have success at work, we might be encouraged with a comment from someone else, or perhaps we gain a bit of confidence. But that, too, is fleeting. And if we enjoy the deep acceptance of another person, that’s wonderful. But it may not change us very much. We enjoy it, and maybe we thank God for it, but it often ends there.
My point is this: We don’t tend to change very much when we experience pleasant things. We stay the same. We’re sail boats on a pond without any wind. We drift. And don’t misunderstand me. It’s okay to drift on the water sometimes. It’s good to enjoy the blessings God sends our way. But the blessings we receive don’t seem to have a history of pushing us to give to others.
Suffering and hardship, in my experience, have great shaping power. It’s true that you can remain the same in suffering; you can even regress and become worse—more self-centered and tight-fisted and cold. But suffering also does what our blessings don’t seem to do: reveal the passing nature of this life and call us to a deeper longing for communion with God that outlasts the pains of a punctured creation. Suffering calls us to give because it shows us what’s worth giving: everything. We don’t get to keep anything forever anyway. If we can’t hold on to anything here, if we’re going to have to give up our very lives eventually, then why are we so fixated on holding as many blessings as we can carry, balancing a billion gifts in our arms as we stumble through the ordinary hours?
You see, what keeps us from giving is often the illusion that we can hold on to everything we have. When we suffer, that illusion shatters like a glass on the kitchen floor. We realize with painful clarity that we can’t keep everything, that we don’t get to stay here forever, that it is more blessed to give than to receive because giving is what outlasts all else.
Many people (myself included) have a very hard time with this truth. Biblically speaking, it’s clear to me that we’re called to live a suffering life because that was Christ’s life, and we follow Christ. That’s one of the many reasons why I’ve loved reading and practicing the lessons in Paul Miller’s J-Curve. Our moments and our days are not truly about growing in wealth and comfort. They’re about growing through suffering, through little “deaths” each day in which we sacrifice ourselves (our ambition, our pride, our desires) so that others might experience the resurrection life of Jesus. That is the Christ-path before our feet each morning. We’d like to walk a different path, and many of us do, but that’s not the path that Jesus walked. We are meant to suffer with him in order that we might be raised with him (Rom. 6:4;Phil. 3:10).
Before you lose the smile on your face, remember that this is actually good news. The gospel is the good news of God. Why? Because none of us can walk the path of ease and comfort forever anyway. We’re all going to experience hard things because we live in a broken world, filled with imperfect people. Maintaining the course of ease and comfort is an exercise in frustration. It’s not going to happen. We’re going to experience suffering. And if that’s the case, isn’t it good news to know that the God we serve not only loves us enough to suffer with us and for us; he also will use our hard things to make us more like himself? Isn’t it encouraging to know that the hard things we face always have a brighter purpose than meets the eye?
Everyone else in the world can look at hard things—at anxiety disorders and cancer diagnoses and COVID pandemics—and try to flee. They run away. They avoid. They try with everything they have to evade suffering. And when they can’t (and they always can’t), they can easily turn bitter. But we run toward and through suffering with hope, because we know that God’s up to something glorious. We feel the pain. We’re not stoics. We weep with those who weep. And yet we don’t grieve and lament in the same way that others do. We walk straight into suffering with our eyes fixed on Christ, who sympathizes with us in our suffering and calls us to die and rise with him.
I guess what I’m saying is just an echo what Paul Miller has already written, that the good news of the gospel isn’t just believing in Christ, in what he’s done to save us from sin and selfishness. It’s also becoming like Christ. Many people want to believe, but they don’t want to become. Suffering is what makes us become like Christ. In short, there’s a clear biblical relationship between suffering and giving. When we suffer, we become more like Christ, for we die and rise with him, and Christ is the self-giving God. Suffering is bound to make us givers because it’s bound to make us more like Christ.
If you’re interested in reading more about this on a personal level, check out Finding Hope in Hard Things: A Positive Take on Suffering. That’s where I unpack how God has shaped me through my father’s early death, my anxiety disorder, and my ongoing struggles with self-doubt. If you’re suffering right now (and you probably are in some way), take heart. Christ has not only overcome the world (John 16:33); he’s also promised to shape us as we walk through it, by the power of his own Spirit.
Like this post? You’ll love The Book of Giving!
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