How to Persevere in Suffering

“Horatio G. Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer. He and his wife, Anna, were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because of Horatio's legal career and business endeavors. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of D.L. Moody, the famous preacher. In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords' only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.

Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest -- DL Moody needed the help. He was traveling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer 'Ville de Havre' across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read: "Saved alone."

On November 2nd 1873, the 'Ville de Havre' had collided with 'The Lochearn', an English vessel. It sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up.”[1]

Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Have you ever felt utterly alone? Have you ever experienced an intense distance from God? Have you ever cried out to God day and night for relief and heard only silence? Have you ever felt the rejection of those who were supposed to be your closest friends? Have you ever felt hopeless? Have you ever wanted just to give up in the midst of your suffering? Have you felt forsaken by God?

In our fallen world, we are going to experience suffering. Our suffering may be physically. We may hear the awful words of cancer from the doctor. We may have to deal with daily chronic pain. Our suffering may be relationally. We are hurt deeply by those who we love. We may experience the chronic pain of constant belittlement and ridicule. Our suffering may be financial. It may be that after countless applications and interviews, you have not received any call backs and you are struggling to pay all your bils. In our fallen world, we will experience suffering. As a congregation, we have many in our midst that are suffering. You may not be suffering now, but you will one day. So how do you persevere in suffering? Our text this morning gives two principles that I believe our foundational to help us persevere in the midst of extreme suffering. The first principle: Entrust Yourself to God’s Past Faithfulness.

 Entrust Yourself to God’s Past Faithfulness

Look back at verse 1-2, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” Can you feel the anxiety of his soul? Hear him, “Why have you forsaken me?” Abandoned me, given up on me, and completely deserted me? I cry out to you day and night and you are not answering my prayers. You are far from saving me and far from my words of pain. The pain is severe. The emotional turmoil is crushing. Have you been there? Are you there now?

So in the midst of this extreme anguish, what does the psalmist do? He reminds his soul of the past faithfulness of God; His past faithfulness to others. V.3-5, “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” The psalmist was comforted in his affliction by God’s faithfulness to his forefathers. They cried out to God and were saved. They trusted and were delivered. They trusted and were not disappointed. This should be an encouragement to us. There have been others before us that have walked through the same pain we are feeling and have been delivered by the hand of the Lord Almighty.

We struggle more when we isolate ourselves from others. We struggle when we believe that no one else can relate to our struggle and pain. But know this, there have been others who have been in extreme suffering who have trusted in God and were not disappointed. One of the challenges of suffering is that its intensity makes us feel that our suffering will never end. But this text should show us that is not the case. Look to the examples of those around us who have persevere through suffering as an encouragement that you will be able to persevere as well. Those of you who have suffered greatly share how God showed you grace in your affliction.

But the affliction is still great. Listen to verse 6-8, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him since he delights in him.” So now we see more of direct cause of the suffering. The psalmist is being scorned and despised. He is being mocked and insulted. The mockery and insults are because of his trust and devotion to God. He is calling out to God, but there God is not answering his prayers. He is silent. And the silence of God is only intensified as people are pointing it out. “You trust in God than why won’t he save you? Ha.” This suffering is intense and the soul is in anguish. Can you relate to this? Have you experienced this degree of suffering? What does the psalmist do?

Verse 9, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” The psalmist is not only comforted by God’s past faithfulness to others, but to himself. God has been faithful to you. The psalmist reflects on his own life and how God has been faithful and gracious to him since birth. He says, “from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” The psalmist is strengthened in affliction as he remembers God’s past faithfulness to him. We do not only have to look at others, but we can look back at our own lives in how God has been faithful to us. CH Spurgeon says, “We receive, perhaps, ten times as many mercies which escape our notice as those which we observe.” Make it a practice to observe how the Lord has been merciful to you. I see this often when I talk with you. There are many hospital and home visits in which I hear a common refrain, “The Lord has blessed us. He has been so good to us.” So when I walk in to see a suffering Winnie McKee, or a suffering Dot and Carroll Greene, what I hear is about the faithfulness of God. God has been faithful you. God has shown you his grace in past. Entrust yourself to him. He has been faithful and he will be faithful.

The psalmist continues to share his suffering, look at verse 12, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of the death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones, people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

We persevere in our suffering by entrusting ourselves to God’s past faithfulness as demonstrated in others and in our own lives, but primarily the number one way we can persevere in our suffering is to entrust ourselves to God’s past faithfulness in Jesus Christ. I am sure that there have been many verses in this psalm that have sounded familiar. They sound familiar because they are familiar. This psalm is a prophetic psalm speaking about the innocent suffering of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. The psalm opens with, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” and those are the same words that Jesus said on the cross. In Matthew 27:46, “46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Now in those days when they wanted to reference scripture they did not use chapter and verse like we do today, but rather quoted the first line of the chapter. In quoting the first line of the chapter is Jesus’ way in bringing the whole psalm to mine. He wanted to show how his crucifixion was prophesied in Psalm 22.

Psalm 22:6-8

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8 “He trusts in the Lord;
let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Matthew 27:39-43

39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Psalm 22:14

“I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.”

Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced[c] my hands and my feet;

Crucifixion disfigured the body as if all the bones were out of joint. The common practice during the crucifixion was the piercing the hands and feet to a tree. The amazing thing is that David spoke in detail about the crucifixion 1000 years before the crucifixion of Christ. Crucifixion was not a common form of execution in the days of David. This had to be a psalm of prophecy pointing us to Christ.

Psalm 22:15

My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me[b] in the dust of death.

John 19:28

28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

Psalm 22:18

They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

Matthew 27:35

35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.[b]

The intense suffering in Psalm 22 is speaking of the intense suffering of the Son of God. He was forsaken by God. God made him who had no sin to be sin[a]for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). He was mocked and insulted. He was beaten and spit upon. He took the punishment that was reserved for sinners like you and me. The greatest suffering the world has ever known was seen on that Cross. And yet the greatest suffering the world has ever known was decided before the foundation of the world. The cross was not an accident, but rather was part of God’s plan from the beginning. Look back at the end of Psalm 22:15, “You lay me in the dust of the earth.” God was the one that was ultimately responsible for the death of the Lord Jesus. Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!!.” Jesus was obedient to the Father for he lived to do the will of Father. Isaiah 53:3-6,10

3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

So how do you persevere in the midst of your suffering? You entrust yourself to God’s past faithfulness in Jesus Christ. God has laid your iniquity on him. He was punished for your sins. By his wounds you have been healed.

Remember two things beloved: First, no matter what trial you are facing, that trial is not greater than your trial as a sinner against a holy God. The greatest suffering has already been suffered for you. The wrath of God against you has been paid. Secondly, we are not greater than our master. Our Savior was persecuted, insulted, mocked and suffered greatly. When Jesus suffered he entrusted himself to God who judges justly (2 Peter 2:23). We must do the same. We do not have a high priest, who is unable to sympathize with our pain, but was tempted in every way and yet was without sin. Hebrews 12:2-3, “2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Your struggle may be great, but you have one to look to that will help you endure. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Number 2 -How do you persevere in suffering?

Entrust Yourself to God’s Future Grace

Not only do we look back on God’s Past Faithfulness, we look forward to the future grace we will receive by his hand. V. 19-21 are the hinge of the Psalm. They connect the present suffering with the future grace. “But you, O Lord, be not far off, O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouths of lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.” Here we see a prayer of deliverance from our enemies. In this section, we see the same enemies (dogs, lions, oxen) listed earlier in the psalm but in reverse order. I believe, this is the psalmist way of showing the total deliverance from all his enemies. Now, we know that the Lord Jesus was delivered from all his enemies, but he was not delivered prior to death. Our Lord was not delivered from death, but unto death. But he was ultimately delivered over death. Our greatest worldly enemy, death, could not hold the Lord Jesus and therefore it will not be able to hold us.

You need to trust in the future grace given to you IN YOUR OLDER BROTHER. Following the deliverance from all his enemies, listen to the words in verse 22-24,

I will declare you name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. 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 disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help.

Verse 24 helps us see the deliverance that God has given. For he, God, did not despise or disdain the suffering of the afflicted one, the Lord Jesus, he did not hide his face, but listened to his cry for help. And because God delivered the Lord Jesus, Jesus will declare God’s name to His brothers. One pastor shares this story:

“Ryan Chapel writes of two brothers who, one day, decided to play on the sand banks on the edge of the river of his home town. He writes that, because his town depends on the river for commerce, dredges often clear the river’s channels of sand into great mounds on the banks of the river. Nothing is more fun for children than playing on these mountainous sand piles, and few things are more dangerous. While the sand is still wet from the rivers bottom, the dredges dump it on shore and piles of sand dry with rigid crusts that conceal cavernous, internal voids formed by the escaping water. If a child climbs on a mound of sand that has such a void, the external surface easily collapses into the cavern. Sand from higher on the mound then falls into the void trapping the child in a sinkhole of loose sand.

This is exactly what happened to these two boys as they raced up one of the larger mounds.

When the boys did not return home at dinner time, the family and neighbors organized a search…and found the younger brother. Only his head and shoulders protruded from the mound. He was unconscious from the pressure from the sand on his body. The searchers began digging franticly. When they cleared the sand to his waist, he roused to consciousness.

‘Where is your brother?’ The rescuers shouted.

‘I’m standing on his shoulders.’ Replied the child.

With the sacrifice of his own life, the older brother had lifted his younger brother to safety.”[2]

The sacrifice of our older brother has lifted us to safety. Hebrews 2:10-12:

10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”

In Your Satisfaction

You need to entrust yourself to God in your Future Satisfaction. Verse 25-26, “From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the Lord will praise him—may your hearts live forever!” I love the imagery that the poor will eat and be satisfied. We are poor now, but we will be satisfied for Jesus will fulfill his vows to those who fear him.

When Ellen and I lived in Washington, D.C. every Thanksgiving we would partner with a large church to serve the poor in the city. The church gave away 20,000 Thanksgiving meal boxes. Each box had a turkey, corn, potatoes, bread, a pie and the gospel of John. We would take the seats out of our minivan and fit as many boxes as we could in the back. Then we would go throughout the city and drop off a Thanksgiving meal to the poor. I can remember seeing the joy on their faces when we gave them their box. Those who were wondering how they were going to provide a meal to their families on Thanksgiving. They ate and were satisfied. The poor will eat and be satisfied. They who seek the Lord will praise Him—may your hearts live forever. Although we are poor, we will eat and we will be satisfied. Trust him.

In Your Worship

You need to ENTRUST YOURSELF to God for Future Grace in your Worship. We are going to suffer in this world, but there is coming a day when we will live in unending worship. Verse 27, “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.” We will be part of the endless throng of people who turn to the Lord and worship him. As Christians, we can entrust ourselves to the future grace that Lord will give us in endless worship. But notice that every knee will bow down before the Lord. We either can do so willingly or we will be forced to bow. There is only one King. Bow before him now and experience satisfaction and salvation, or bow before him later and experience the depth of the suffering described in this psalm. For if by faith Jesus does not suffer for you, you will have to suffer for your sin.

In Your Proclamation

Lastly, Entrust yourself to God for Future Grace in Your Proclamation. I think this is often forgotten when we are in intense periods of suffering. One danger of suffering is that it causes us to become self-centered and focus only on our pain. Pain is very real, but we cannot allow our pain to blind us. In the midst of our pain we must fight for faithfulness. For our pain, may be a spring board for someone else’s faith. Verse 30, “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it.” Future generations will be told about the Lord and serve him. And those who were told of the Lord will then proclaim his righteousness to their future children. For God has done it. It is easy to turn inward in the midst of pain, but can I encourage you to be part of the “they” in verse 31. Proclaim his righteousness. Proclaim what he has done. Listen to Isaiah 58:9-11:

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.

Here those precious promises. Darkness to Light, Gloom to the Noonday, scorched places to a watered garden.


Well, we end, where we began. How did Horatio and Ann Spafford respond to their extreme suffering? After losing much of their fortune and all of their children, how did they respond? Listen:

“When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford's first reaction was one of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, "You were spared for a purpose." And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, "It's easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God."

Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father's voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. "A careful reckoning has been made", he said, "and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep." Horatio then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of his great hymn, It is Well.

The words which Spafford wrote that day come from 2 Kings 4:26. They echo the response of the Shunammite woman to the sudden death of her only child. Though we are told "her soul is vexed within her", she still maintains that 'It is well." And Spafford's song reveals a man whose trust in the Lord is as unwavering as hers was.

It would be very difficult for any of us to predict how we would react under circumstances similar to those experienced by the Spaffords. But we do know that the God who sustained them would also be with us.

No matter what circumstances overtake us may we be able to say with Horatio Spafford...

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul!

It is well ... with my soul!
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”[3]