How to Find Purpose Amidst Suffering
If we are guaranteed anything in life, it is that we will experience some form of suffering. I’m willing to bet that most of you reading this have already experienced a variety of sufferings in your life. The question that we must ask ourselves as followers of Jesus is not how do we avoid suffering, but rather how do we find purpose amidst the sufferings that we are sure to experience. In the Scriptures, we constantly see God’s people, and God Himself through the person of Jesus Christ, finding purpose through their sufferings. As followers of Christ ourselves, it is important to reflect on these people and how they used suffering to bring glory to God and advance His kingdom. In this blog, we will walk through Acts 16 and understand how Paul and his companions found a deeper purpose amidst their suffering.
From Prayer to Prison
Have you ever been wrongfully accused of something? It can be difficult to stay calm when someone is making accusations about you that simply aren’t true. I’ve been there, and it is infuriating, to say the least. In Acts 16:16-24, Paul and Silas find themselves in a situation where they are being wrongfully accused:
“Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. As she followed Paul and us she cried out, ‘These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the servants of the Most High God.’ She did this for many days. Paul was greatly annoyed. Turning to the spirit, he said, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out right away. When her owners realized that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, ‘these men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.’ The crowd joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had severely flogged them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to guard them carefully. Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in stocks.”
Imagine being Paul and Silas. Not only are you wrongfully accused by a group of profit-hungry slave owners, but you are severely beaten and thrown into prison. It would be hard not to harbor feelings of anger and frustration towards the situation, the Romans, and God. Oftentimes amidst our own suffering, we harbor similar feelings. As we dive further into this section of Acts, it is important to note the response that Paul and Silas have towards the abhorrent situation they have found themselves in.
I’ve heard it said many times that life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond. This isn’t a Bible verse, but it’s likely that Paul and Silas would approve of the statement, as we see how they respond to their own sufferings in Acts 16:25:
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Hold up. You’re telling me that Paul and Silas were singing worship songs from their jail cells? They sure were. Suffering is something that is completely out of our control. Paul and Silas didn’t set out to be flogged and thrown into prison, yet they were. In the same way, almost all of our sufferings are involuntary. What we can control, however, is our response. Paul and Silas responded with praises to God. They kept their hearts and minds fixed on Christ, not on their suffering. As we experience sufferings in our lives, we have a choice to make: we can either fix our minds on our sufferings, or we can shift our attention to Jesus Christ, who gives us peace, joy, and self-control through the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
The response almost always determines our purpose. If our response is poor and negative, we will fail to find any purpose amidst our suffering. If our response is positive and fixated on Christ, we will always find purpose amidst our suffering, regardless of the severity of our circumstances. We see evidence of this in the continuation of Paul and Silas’ suffering in Acts 16:26-34:
“Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.”
God used the suffering of Paul and Silas to bring the jailer, and his entire household, to salvation. It is evident throughout the Bible that God uses suffering for a greater purpose. Jesus endured immense suffering for the greatest purpose. The response of Paul and Silas set the stage for God to use their circumstances for His glory, and in that jail cell, Paul and Silas found purpose. When our purpose is rooted in the purposes of Christ, no amount of suffering can remove that purpose from our lives. Paul and Silas remained steadfast in the purposes of Christ, their hearts and minds were fixed on Him as they sat in that jail cell, and in the end, their suffering produced fruit that is eternal- the salvation of the jailer and his household.
We may never find ourselves in a jail cell like Paul and Silas were. But imagine for a moment if they had never been jailed. Would the jailer and his household be on the right side of eternity? There isn’t a definite answer to that question, but what we do know for certain is that the jailer and his household are on the right side of eternity because of the response and rooted purpose that Paul and Silas had amidst their suffering. Regardless of your current circumstances, I want to challenge you to model the early apostles. Respond to sufferings with rejoicing and praise to God, root your purpose in the purposes of Christ and His kingdom, and watch how God will use your sufferings to bring glory to His name, change the eternal destinations of lost souls, and advance His kingdom in this dark world.