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Victorious Vitality, In the Midst of Suffering

by Theresa Newell on February 27, 2024

As we enter a season of meditating on the death and resurrection of Jesus, the question of suffering comes before us. No other religion has at its center a crucified, depleted savior. As in all things, Jesus shows us the way to take suffering and turn it into “victorious vitality,” as Christian writer E. Stanley Jones calls it. Jones was a missionary to what he called “the suffering continents” of China and India, where he ministered through the early 20th century.

I look around me at the saints in my midst. This week, I listened to a man who lost a son to suicide. He and his wife struggled with their overwhelming grief, then later wrote a book that helps many who are facing the same sorrow. A woman teacher learned she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and felt her life had been taken from her. But then she overcame her wheelchair and turned tragedy into testimony. I read biographies of missionaries and persecuted church brothers and sisters whose sufferings have opened whole countries to Jesus through their faithful witness.

As I thought about these things, I asked, “how should I, as a believer, think differently about suffering than those who do not know Jesus?” For an answer, I knew I would have to look to Jesus and examine the Gospels more carefully for an answer. I don’t see Jesus bowing under the weight of suffering but rather turning it all to victory—up to and including the terrible cross. When it comes to my own suffering, how do I follow Jesus in this? Can I possibly see an attitude change that will align me with his example?

Jesus’ Life of Victory

Jesus was driven into the desert after his baptism, “full of the Spirit,” to be tempted for 40 days. The scripture says he came out in the “power of the Spirit.” Instead of capitulating to the three attempts of Satan to give him shortcuts to avoid the cross, he denied the devil any victory. Instead, he used evil to strengthen and prepare himself to destroy evil.

I read of the man blind from birth. “Who sinned, him or his parents?” Neither says Jesus, but God will be manifest in this man. He makes mud and puts it on the man’s eyes, and the man born blind receives vision. This is a sure sign that Jesus is the promised Messiah according to Isaiah 35:5. This sabbath healing brings further condemnation on Jesus by religious leaders but salvation and healing to the now-seeing man.

Challenged by a lawyer who wanted to publicly embarrass Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus turns the shame into victory. He does so by giving us the lessons embedded in the tale of the “good Samaritan.” I began to see that Jesus used what we could call “calamity” into opportunity!  The Pharisees openly chastised Jesus by the accusation that he “ate with sinners and tax collectors.” The heart of God, perfectly imaged in Jesus, is for mercy for the lost. Rather than becoming defensive, Jesus teaches his audience and us about the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep and goes after the lost one, the woman who looks for the lost coin, and, masterfully, teaches about a prodigal son.  At every turn, I see the victorious vitality of Jesus when facing suffering of all kinds—all the way to the cross—the most glorious of all victory stories. Jesus calls the cross “his glory.”

In my own life, I have learned that the deeper God allows sorrow, loss, and suffering to enter my life, it is to that depth that I can walk in sympathetic understanding with others who suffer similar or different sufferings. Suffering and loss have made me more useful in the hands of my loving Father, though I have so much more to learn. I see Jesus wash the feet of Judas and know the road to maturity runs deeper than expected.

As Richard Wurmbrand wrote in Tortured for Christ (while he was in a literal hole in the ground in solitary confinement in a Communist Russian prison), it was there he said he learned that all he had was Jesus and that Jesus was sufficient. This Jewish believer from Romania survived and later founded Voice of the Martyrs, which has brought prayers and relief to countless persecuted Christians worldwide. Suffering humbled him but gave him a platform to speak into a culture that prizes strength and power. Victorious vitality, indeed!

In this world of suffering and pain, let us ask our loving Father, full of compassion and mercy, to teach us, in whatever suffering we have had to bear or are now living through, to give us wisdom on how to turn calamity into witness for the sake of his Kingdom. The mystery is that believers in Jesus have a suffering God who is with us no matter how deep our suffering is. This reality belongs only to us who trust that we are never alone and that, with his grace, our suffering can turn into his victory!


[A few other books that may be helpful in this season as we look toward the Cross - the only plan to get to Resurrection!]

  • A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship between God’s Mercy and Our Pain by Elisabeth Elliot.
  • Christ and Human Suffering by E. Stanley Jones.
  • The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun.

Tags: jesus, compassion, mercy, hope, suffering, sorrow, victory, glory, maturity, savior, grief, tragedy, resurrection life

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