Is culture influencing our response to suffering?

We have each grown up in a culture.

Apart from Christ, culture is the most powerful influence over how we view the world and how we communicate and respond to others. We each belong to several sub-cultures within the American culture at-large, but the term culture is very broadly used in this post. I know I have absorbed elements of American culture because I have lived my entire life in the States. Recently, I was listening to a podcast from a ministry committed to helping people turn their “pain into purpose.” I began to wonder if such a catchphrase captures an Americanized view of suffering.

God clearly has purpose for us in suffering.

Here are two of my favorites,  I pull out in hard times:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.(Romans 5:3-5)

As I listened that day to the advertising of that podcast, I considered my own story of pain and thought, “How in the world am I able to decipher how God is going to show me the purpose of my suffering? Dare I even try to figure it out?” Based on where I am right now in my walk with God, I dare not even try to guess what God is up to with me. My current stance is rooted in a belief that we humans are too limited in our understanding of an infinite God and His eternal story to ever think we have anything figured out! (Job’s friends add some credibility to this thinking.) When I read about the persecuted Christians in Hebrews 11:36-40, they were not trying to figure out their purpose. They were trying to survive.

They were trusting God in the mess, that is all. 

Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

It feels funny to me that a ministry can market courses to help us figure out our purpose in pain. We all need to see suffering through God’s eyes. It is the only way we can survive and learn to thrive again, but only God teaches the lessons on suffering. Though God can bring healing to individuals who can then offer hope to others by sharing their story, how God chooses to use the healing is not always monetized and public.

Our suffering is never a commodity or marketing tool.

There is a trend happening in college applications. It seems like the trauma-based application wins, or that is the perception. (THIS video is thought provoking.) Our American culture seems willing to leverage suffering for concrete results. Our culture likes to figure things out, get answers, grow a business, develop a platform, and has a utilitarian concept of success. I am not sure any of these exist in the Kingdom of God. What God does with our suffering is mysterious and far more than we can understand.

We can only trust Him.

Everyone — that includes you — has a precious story about the life they have led and how God has shown up for them. But is everyone supposed to turn their story into a ministry or book? I don’t think that is the case. I hesitate to even suggest things like starting a blog or podcast, writing a book, or speaking. Though God may ask us to get our story out there, getting the story out is not God’s idea of success unless we are certain He has asked us. What marks success in every case is that we walk by faith in our suffering. In God’s eyes, the story was already beautiful before the glow of the laptop screen illuminated the writer’s face and the first words were typed.

His private work in our lives is usually just that, private work.

Because of the lure of social media that offers space for our voices, some of us can be lending our voices in ways that God does not want us to. I am guessing that few believers in the Ukraine today, for example, are considering how to turn their pain into purpose. As they begin their third year of living in a war-torn country since the most recent escalation, they have struggled to find food, stay safe, and trust God. I wonder how many of us are thinking about and praying for these beautiful unnamed saints, many of whom are turning their pain into purpose through things like loving neighbors, sharing Jesus, and gathering with others for prayer. I doubt any are seeking a platform or certification for service. Rather, they seek God’s pleasure as they live in anonymity in His strength, not having to understand.

Colossians 1:10-12  describes a life that fully pleases the Lord:

  1. bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
  2. being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;
  3. giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Writing, speaking, and podcasts are not mentioned in the list above. Yes, I have done two of the three. None of them have produced any numbers worthy of the world even glancing at me. I have had moments of wondering whether I heard God’s voice to do any of it. Was I really hearing my voice instead? Did I fall prey to my country’s definition of success, or did I do exactly as God asked me and the results are His business? I don’t know, probably a mixture of the two. I am not that good to be immune to the culture in which I was raised. I don’t think any of us are. Though God may call some of us to engage with any or all of these platforms, I think it behooves each of us to make sure we have not swapped God’s definition of success for a cultural definition of success in any area of our lives.

Without intention, we will absorb our culture.

Picture Explanation: (1-3) Someone got to visit one of our favorite places, the Tennessee Aquarium. (4) Two ran their first marathon. I wonder if I will cross the finish line of life like this. They were prepared and did the work. We can take lessons from athletes. (5) I have been thinking about this quote for two weeks. It loses its power on anyone who doesn’t know Elisabeth Elliot, but this is how she learned to live well in suffering.

Online study starting June 4!

Speaking of living a life that pleases God, not our culture: If you are interested in participating in an online One Gritty Blink Bible study this summer, click on the Oaks Ministries link below and send me an email so I can place you on a list to be contacted as online and face-to-face studies are planned. Let’s not just focus on things in this short life, but also what counts for eternity.

Note: No part of my posts are derived from A.I. Thoughts and writing stem from my mind and heart as I process life week-by-week and continue to grow in my understanding of God and how to apply His wisdom to the world around me.

© 2024 by Oaks Ministries. All rights reserved.

5 Responses

  1. Ahhhhh beautiful post, Laurie. “I am not that good to be immune to the culture in which I was raised. I don’t think any of us are.” Indeed. Thank you for giving us a host of deep truths to ponder this week!

    1. Oh, good. This one made me nervous as I shared my wrestling publicly. I am glad it was profitable for you. I miss you and continue to wish you well in all things.

  2. Hi, Friend! What a thoughtful post! There is so much good coming out of social media and people sharing their stories. You have given all of us food for thought, though, about how to handle suffering and how to understand it, and what we ought to do with it. Really a great post!

    1. There is so much good, yes! Was just asking us to check our hearts as I check mine. I hope that was clear. Thank you!

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I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes growth.

1 Corinthians 3:6

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