The Success of Suffering

You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it! – Psalm 22:23-31

The Psalms have served as the prayer and hymn book of the Jewish people since ancient times.  The Psalms were at the center of Jesus’ own spiritual life and formation.  Since the early days of the Church, Christians have continued this tradition of singing and praying the Psalms as a part of their own devotional life.  When you find your own well running dry or do not know what to pray, open the Book of Psalms as your guide!  Thankfully, the Lectionary calendar gives us one Psalm a week for our meditation and reflection.

Sometimes scripture is best digested in small portions, one verse at a time.  In today’s reading, I cannot help but return to these encouraging words: “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

The Lenten season reminds us that new life is always preceded by death.  Growth comes from suffering and struggle.  The good things in life come when we are willing to wait for them and cut out all the non-essentials that get in the way.

Suffering is not something we tend to seek out for ourselves.  If most of us are honest, we would likely run from suffering at every chance.  However, those of us who have truly experienced the joys of spiritual life know that suffering comes whether we seek it or not.  Suffering is a part of life.  How encouraging to be reminded that our God does not leave us alone during such times but that his face is ever upon us and he hears our cries for help!  God even uses the inevitable suffering of human life to draw us closer to him!

The good news of that promise is how this Psalm ends: “Future generations will be told about the Lord.  They will proclaim his righteousness to people yet unborn, for he has done it.”  In short, the suffering we face in this life will not end our lives or those to come after us.  Life goes on and suffering makes us stronger.

This Lenten season, as you consider how God might long to take you through a season of loss so that you might truly find your new life in him, consider these words from Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894):

“It must be realized that the true sign of spiritual endeavor and the price of success in it is suffering.  One who proceeds without suffering will bear no fruit.  Pain of the heart and physical striving bring to light the gift of the Holy Spirit, bestowed in holy baptism upon every believer…”