Recently I was feeling bad about feeling bad. As in, I noticed myself really hurting about a few things, feeling stressed, but I felt guilty about it. I thought that if I truly was content in God, I wouldn’t be as bothered and pained by those circumstances as I was. My last post on this blog was about when your cup overflows and the hope and promise that comes with that, so this entry felt ironic to write when I first started it: I thought, “If I truly am content in God, why am I hurting so much right now? If I truly love God more than I love convenient circumstances, why are these current circumstances breaking me down so much? Maybe the growth I thought I experienced this summer was really just feeling close to God because my life was easier and more restful than it normally is.”
That guilt came on hard. I always want to be doing what’s right and truthfully, I was embarrassed that I’d fall for a lie that I was in a better place spiritually, only to see I’m still ruled by my circumstances. But it took me a minute to realize that wasn’t the case. One night I was thinking about this and I realized I was failing to accept that I can be sad, stressed, in fact deeply pained by things of this life, and still be content in God above all. God’s word says—in fact, Jesus said with His own voice—“In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV) but the important part is what comes immediately after: “But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Jesus’ acknowledging of our pain indicates His understanding of those experiences and a deep empathy towards His beloved children as he is a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). The latter half of John 16:33 takes the admittance of coming pain in this life and resolves it with Jesus’ overcoming of the world—an overcoming so great that no matter how much suffering we endure, it won’t overtake us.
But sometimes this assurance doesn’t always help us when we’re in the middle of it. Not being able to receive an “immediate” peace or resolution of pain upon thinking of things like Jesus’ overcoming of the world can sometimes feel like a cop-out, or like we must not love Him enough if that “didn’t help.” However, if Jesus expected us to not react at all during suffering because He doesn’t consider suffering to be a plague to us, He wouldn’t have mentioned it. By acknowledging that in this life we will experience it, He assures us He knows how difficult it is for us, how impossible it sometimes feels, and He doesn’t expect us to just walk through suffering like it doesn’t have any ability to hurt us. Have you ever shared your heart with someone and felt better just because they’d listened, understood, prayed with you, and checked in on you after? This is exactly what Jesus offers with this statement. He listens to our prayers (Psalm 55:16-17), understands our pain (Isaiah 53:3-4; Psalm 139:2-4), intercedes for us when we can’t find words (Romans 8:26), and stays with us always (John 14:17; Matthew28:20b).
But it shouldn’t end there. The addition of “Take heart, I have overcome the world” gives us an invitation to accept a heap of hope Jesus offers, and to find contentment in the assurance of accomplished victory and coming perfection. The use of the phrase “world” also implies suffering’s root in sin—it allows a double-sided view of suffering: on one hand, we are convicted to examine how our sin affects other people and how others’ sin has hurt us, and find Jesus as spotless—not a God who turns a blind eye as He lazily and apathetically allows real suffering and does nothing, but one who in His compassion for us has rushed in to rescue us from our own failings despite our deserving the opposite.
Contentedness in God and His plan doesn’t look like coasting through life on a beach chair with nothing on our schedule. Being in pain because we are affected by sin and suffering doesn’t always mean we’re losing sight of our love for God or searching to satisfy our thirsts with things other than Him. He knows. I was at a prayer meeting this week and, always the collected one and the rare crier, was in utter weeping tears over Ukraine. I simply could not get my words out to the Lord because I was so upset for the suffering and fear these people are enduring. I would never say to one of them that they “just need to be content in their circumstances,” because that is horribly untrue. But that’s what I was always telling myself! While we praise Him through every storm, contentedness is not “I love the condition of my circumstance,” but is centered on the One who sustains through the circumstance (Phil. 4:10-13). I’m sure Paul did not like being brought low—he found his contentedness in God’s promise to sustain and in His work of redemption. Jesus’ words in John 16:33 are a balm to circumstances like these: Jesus sees us in our suffering and knows it just as well as we do, offers a strong embrace to cling to through it, and assures us of our eternal safety once we’ve finished the race.
Isabella is a recent college graduate in the field of music education with a passion for helping kids find their creativity and identity through music. You can listen to any of our Bible studies by tuning in to your favorite radio station, listening to our podcasts on our website, iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, or Spotify, watching us on YouTube!