Some of my favorite verses in the Bible are when the Apostle Paul encouraged and comforted his suffering brothers and sisters. Often ministering and writing to new believers who were going through significant hardships, Paul himself endured great suffering throughout his life. At one point, he even made a list for the church in Corinth:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)
Most of us have not and will not experience suffering to that extent, but we will certainly go through trials in our lives. Whether it’s our health, relationships or finances, there are times in all our lives when we simply can’t avoid pain. How do we handle these difficulties? Where do we turn when our world falls apart?
Thankfully, Paul models the answer through his ministry to the churches. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Yes, the same man who endured the list of trials above described suffering in this life as a “light, momentary affliction.” When I’m going through hard times, I’m not sure I naturally choose words like light and momentary. How can Paul describe a lifetime of hardship as momentary? I think we get a clue in something he wrote to the church in Rome, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18).
The reason Paul could experience so many trials and difficulties and not give up on his mission (or his God) was he had a deep understanding of eternal reality. Paul understood how short this life is and how very long life in heaven will be. This was so real to him that it affected the way he lived. If affected the way he chased and obeyed God’s call on his life and it affected the way he processed each and every difficulty that came along.
Regardless of what came, Paul had eternity stamped on his heart. And as far as I can tell from his writings, he never lost this perspective. I don’t know what you’ve been going through. Perhaps you’ve been going through a season of discouragement and suffering. If so, hear the words of Paul. Consider the weight of glory that is yours. Study and think deeply about all that waits for you in heaven. Ask God to increase and deepen your faith in the coming world of ever-increasing love and joy. It may not take the sting away, but it will help you endure knowing there is a day coming when all stings will be cast away once and for all.
As Samuel Rutherford once wrote a suffering member of his church, “When we shall come home, and enter into the possession of our Brother’s fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, then we shall look back to pains and sufferings and then we will see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory. Our little inch of time-suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome-home to heaven.”
Let us look to the God of all comfort in our dark moments and never forget we will soon trade in our light, momentary afflictions for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.