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Earthly Loss Is Heavenly Gain


The Rewards of Faithful Suffering

I feel helpless as I watch and wait with my friends.

Friends with debilitating chronic pain who have no contact with the outside world. Others with all-consuming family situations that leave them exhausted and desperate, with no end in sight. Still more whose lives have been marked by disappointment, by shattered dreams and unfulfilled longings that keep escalating.

As I watch and wait, pray and grieve, I also wonder whether heaven will bring added reward for those who persevere in suffering. Will there be any compensation for those who respond to the loss and the emptiness by leaning into God for fulfillment? Will there be any prize for the sufferer who looks to God for the grace to endure the physical or emotional pain that screams through the night?

Rewards in Heaven?

When I first heard the idea of “rewards in heaven,” I wondered whether it was inconsistent with the doctrine of grace. But then I saw that Scripture is full of references to different rewards in heaven — all of them in response to the working of God’s grace within us.

Among the various rewards Scripture mentions, some will come from the foundation we build on and the work we’ve done (1 Corinthians 3:11–15), and others will be related to our perseverance in afflictions, which are producing unrivaled glory for our future selves. As 2 Corinthians 4:16–17 reminds us, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

Paul didn’t grow weary in his suffering or lose heart, as God was renewing him daily and assuring him of the coming glory. And Paul understood pain: he was brutally beaten, scourged, and stoned; at points he was near starvation; he was continually burdened for the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23–29). Yet he knew that his pain had a purpose.

The Greek word for “preparing” in 2 Corinthians 4:17 (katergazomai) means “producing, accomplishing, or achieving.” Paul knew affliction would bring about or produce something magnificent later on. Suffering not only develops perseverance and character, teaches us to rely on Christ, enables us to comfort others, and refines our faith on earth; it also results in greater coming glory.

Everyday Surrenders

This hope applies not just to extraordinary suffering like Paul’s, but to all suffering that we surrender to God. When we turn to God and not to the world in our pain, when we bless God rather than curse him, when we trust his goodness rather than doubt his love, we store up heavenly reward. It will draw us closer to Christ today and will result in greater glory later. As John Piper says,

All our troubles — all of them — are on a continuum from easy to horrible . . . whether it is a pimple on prom night to the loss of a child. . . . Any trouble, from the smallest hiccup to the greatest horror . . . [has] the potential for working for us an eternal weight of glory, because the issue is this: Does it throw us on God as our help and our treasure and our joy?

The first time I realized the importance of acknowledging and offering every loss to the Lord was in a conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada. We were having dinner, and I noticed how she couldn’t have each bite of food quite as she wanted, couldn’t get her coffee at exactly the right temperature. When I mentioned it, Joni responded, “With quadriplegia, nothing is exactly the way I want it. But it’s all these little decisions, these everyday things I surrender, the choices I make daily, that will one day shine in glory. These will all count.”

While Joni has been through monumental suffering, our conversation reminded me that she faces the everyday choice, just as we do, to turn to God and depend on him in loss and disappointment. From the unexpected layoff before the holidays, to the relentless sickness that confines us to bed for days, to living for years with a cold and disengaged spouse — in all these trials, as we lay them before the Lord and ask for grace to endure, not only will we grow in our faith, but we’ll also store up a reward.

Broken Ankles to Final Cries

God sees all our suffering. He tenderly cares for us in it. He knows every sleepless night, every unspoken hurt, every agony we endure. We are seen, known, and loved by the God who brings purpose to all our pain.

Even seemingly unseen suffering at the end of our lives has a purpose. While this pain may not change our character or be an earthly example to anyone, God is witness. And as he watches what we endure, our faith will glorify him and receive a reward. As John Piper, addressing those suffering in their final hours, would say,

As God gives you the grace to endure to the end without cursing him, resting in him as much as you can, these next twenty hours are going to make a massive, precious difference in the weight of the glory you experience on the other side. These hours are not pointless. . . . They won’t make your character here shine because you are going to be gone. There will be no character left to shine. But as soon as you cross that line from now to eternity, in some way God is going to show you why those twenty hours were what they were and what they did for you. That’s good news.

This is great news for all of us. All our suffering matters. All our losses and longings, as we turn to Christ in them, will produce a reward for us. From a sprained ankle to a life-changing diagnosis, from the daily sacrifices of quadriplegia to the painful last hours of life, none of it will be wasted.

Sorrow Turned to Joy

One of the greatest joys we can experience is the joy of restoration after loss. Both Psalm 126 and John 16 — the two chapters in the Bible that use the word joy most frequently (in the ESV’s translation) — are about restoration. Psalm 126 says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. . . . Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” (Psalm 126:15). And John 16 says, “You will weep and lament . . . but your sorrow will turn into joy. . . . Your joy [will] be full” (John 16:2024).

Jesus tells us that the joy of finding the lost coin is greater than the joy of never losing it. The joy of finding the lost sheep is greater than the joy of simply staying with the sheep in the pen. And the joy of a repentant sinner leads to more joy in heaven among the angels (Luke 15:7). While no one seeks loss, restoration brings us more joy. For everything we’ve suffered, every loss we’ve endured, every unfulfilled desire for which we’ve longed, our joy will be that much deeper when it is restored and fulfilled in heaven.

And as Jonathan Edwards says,

It will be no damp to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them. For all shall be perfectly happy, everyone shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others. And there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign through the whole society. (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 50:53)

In heaven, no one will begrudge the faithful sufferer’s rewards, because everyone will be overflowing with joy. We all will be fully satisfied, fully happy, completely fulfilled. But some may be larger vessels of happiness, containing more of heaven’s joys, than others. And perhaps the added reward for persevering through affliction will bring this capacity for more joy.

If you are suffering today, whether through a minor setback or a massive tragedy, don’t lose heart. Turn to the Lord Jesus in it, as you ask for grace to endure it. Trust that your struggle is producing an eternal weight of glory that will far surpass your pain. Let God be your treasure even in your affliction. And as you trust him to the end, your reward will be great.


 is the author of Desperate for Hope, a 7-week study on suffering. Vaneetha and her husband Joel live in Raleigh, NC, where she writes at her website, encouraging readers to turn to Christ in their pain. 


Uncomfortable Christmases


Witnessing to Family at the Holidays

It feels like a Norman Rockwell painting. Your family is gathered around a luxuriously set table. A huge roasted turkey makes its arrival. Side dishes crowd the scene. Relatives begin to drool.

Suddenly, the background music veers into an ominous minor key. Your brother-in-law, who has already had too much to drink, announces, “I suppose we need our token religious guy to pronounce some kind of prayer, right? Let’s not take too long on this — the food’s getting cold.”

Everyone turns to you, the lone Christian of the family. Which prayer do you pray?

Choice A: “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Choice B: “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth to save sinners. Thank you that all who receive you as their Savior and Lord can be born again, can have their many, many, many sins forgiven, and can have eternal life. What a great God you are! And thank you for all this delicious food. Please protect us from gluttony. In Jesus’s name. Amen.”

Of course, I’ve exaggerated this scenario. But for some of us, going to a holiday gathering (or hosting one) can be fraught with spiritual tension when few (or none) share our Christian faith. And given numerous trends in our society, the tension may only get worse in the days ahead. Not long ago, most of our non-Christian family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers believed that Christianity and church membership contributed to the well-being of society. Today, many people blame us for all sorts of problems in our world. We’re the bigoted, intolerant, homophobic, gun-toting, anti-science Neanderthals that are dragging our country down, backward, and into decay.

Into such an environment we gather together to celebrate “the holidays.” How do we navigate this terrain? How might we evangelize our family on what appears to be a minefield? It may prove helpful to begin with some internal preparation before we brainstorm strategies for external interaction. In fact, framing the topic through beforeduring, and after scenarios might ease the burden of our endeavor.


Have you been praying for the people you’ll see at the upcoming gathering? If not, it’s not too late to start. If so, it’s never a bad idea to intensify your efforts. Jesus taught the disciples to “pray and not lose heart” because he knew they — and we — would be tempted to quit (Luke 18:1). Prayer takes perseverance, especially when it comes to praying for people who seem resistant to change or closed to the gospel. That’s one reason Paul tells us to “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2).

It’s also good to check your attitude toward your family. Do you love them, or do you find them difficult to love? Perhaps both feelings swarm together. For many, family is the realm where love is assumed but not so often expressed (or, at least, not expressed well). If we’re honest, some of us disdain our family. So at times, preparing to connect with family should include confession of a cold heart. God is the one who has sovereignly placed you in your particular family. Perhaps your chief objection about your earthly family is toward your heavenly Father.

A little self-reflection about your default settings regarding evangelism also can help. Are you pushy when it comes to sharing your faith, or are you an evangelistic chicken? Do you tend to “always be closing” when telling people about Jesus, or do you live more in the realm of the wallflower-witness? If your family dreads seeing you, fearing your questions about their eternal destiny, perhaps you need to consider a less overbearing approach. If you never or seldom broach the topic of faith, perhaps you need to make God’s glory a higher priority than your comfort or family harmony.


Some Christians think of evangelism as convincing others to agree with cognitive arguments and logical propositions. Others imagine evangelism as overwhelmingly emotional. They say that people need to be loved, not argued, into the kingdom. But the Bible sees us as whole persons with both brains and hearts. We need multifaceted approaches to connect with multifaceted people. We proclaim truth and express love. We craft arguments and also embody hope, joy, and peace.

If you tend toward the cognitive side, perhaps this Thanksgiving and Christmas you’d do well to talk about what you’re thankful for, why you’re encouraged about the future, and how you have felt buoyed by the ways you’ve been provided for in the past. You might consider ways to convey care for people: listening more, sympathizing more, and pontificating less. Explore common interests as avenues for further, deeper conversation, which could make room to discuss God’s goodness shown through common grace and general revelation.

If you lean more in the direction of the silent witness, perhaps you should prepare to explain what you believe, and then try verbalizing your faith to one or two relatives who are most likely to converse in respectful ways. To be sure, you’ll find this uncomfortable. Again, perhaps you need to repent of making comfort an idol.


Before the age of social media, email, texting, and other modes of electronic connection (can you remember such ancient history?), holiday gatherings were some of the only times to have substantive conversations with family. If we didn’t broach important topics then, another year or more would pass before we could.

It’s a whole new world now, which does offer some advantages for evangelism. We can continue the conversation long after the family gathering, and some forms of electronic communication might be better than the face-to-face variety. Many people feel put on the spot or backed into a corner when they’re asked about their religious beliefs. Those moments can be so uncomfortable, they resort to dismissing the topic out of hand, changing the subject, or offering mindless clichés: “I think religion is a private matter,” “Well, who’s to say what’s right or wrong?” or “I think all religions contain some truth.”

A follow-up email after a brief in-person conversation may prove more fruitful. First, it’s one-on-one, with no one overhearing. Second, it gives people time to reflect before responding, allowing them the chance to think deeply about what they really do believe.

Many people almost never think about spiritual things. If you ask them about their beliefs, it may be the first time (or the first time in a very long time) they’ve considered the topic. That’s why some resort to clichés, which protect them from deep reflection. But as they sit in front of their computer or look at their phone, with the question you posed waiting patiently before them, they have time to consider a new perspective.

Let’s not forget that considering the gospel unnerves many nonbelievers. When people seriously think about their sinfulness or God’s holiness or Jesus’s uniqueness or the world’s emptiness or their own lack of inner peace, we shouldn’t be surprised if they need space to wrestle on their own before coming to painful conclusions. As C.S. Lewis observed about the kinds of gods in which we would rather believe instead of the real God,

An “impersonal God” — well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth, and goodness, inside our own heads — better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap — best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband — that is quite another matter. (Miracles, 150)

Battle for Family

It shouldn’t surprise us if witnessing to family members seems tougher than talking to strangers or close acquaintances. It is more difficult! Our emotions run deeper with family. We’ve known them longer, and will know them longer still.

But on a larger scale, the family is a favorite battlefield for the devil. He hates marriage, family, and, most of all, the God who calls himself “Father.” God places a high value on families, and they are a high priority for him. If family is a high priority for God, then family is certainly a high priority for the evil one.

So, as we come together for holiday celebrations, let’s not be naive: there’s a lot more going on than just turkey and all the trimmings.


 is a teacher and writer with Connection Points, a ministry that seeks to engage people’s hearts the way Jesus did. He also serves as a Senior Teaching Fellow with The C.S. Lewis Institute.



Children Caught in the Crossfire


The Tragedy of Same-Sex ‘Adoption’

He does not want to go home after daycare. During those hours, he experiences the nurturing care of women — that mothering touch that makes a little boy’s world go round. He cries when it’s time to leave. He stammers to leave the maternal — a second language in which he was born fluent — when he has to go back into the home of two men. The “married” men are openly promiscuous with other men. One pretends to be more effeminate than the other, but effeminacy (the boy knows by experience) is a gross and cruel substitute for the gloriously feminine.

He is trapped with men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:27). Men who did not keep that penalty to themselves. They took the little boy directly from the hospital room to live in the lust-filled, wrath-stamped house of two men despising God and his design.

The little boy clings to his Christian auntie whenever she comes, she tells us, and cries when it’s time for her to leave his house, a house full of testosterone, aberrant desire, and a cheap mimicry of both fatherhood and motherhood. The boy, despite his catechizers, knows the real thing from the fake. He knows what it is to be held by the real, soothed by it, cuddled and made to feel secure in the safety of its arms.

The men who took him are “expecting” their second any day now.

What’s Wrong with the World?

A true story like this should anger us, fracture our hearts, and bend our knees to pray. What is wrong with the world?

What is wrong with the world? Paul gives us an answer in Romans 1:18–32Mankind is at war with its Creator. Each generation has its own way of saying to the Father and his Son: “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us” (Psalm 2:3). Or with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” (Exodus 5:2). Romans 1 takes us behind the scenes for some context to desperate times.

Here we learn that fallen man, timid little creature that he is, dares not make eye contact with the Almighty, so he suppresses the truth about God to continue, all too happily, in his filth (Romans 1:18). A popular form of suppression today is atheism. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” — and he does so because “they are corrupt” and “do abominable deeds” (Psalm 14:1). And those deeds do not wear masks and quarantine. Man denies God to practice and continue practicing homosexuality, as one of many rebellious ways, and then adopts children into his perversity.

But the grandeur of this world leaves ruined man without excuse (Romans 1:19–20). He, even he, lives within a masterpiece — God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). The great artist signs his name everywhere to be seen. Man quivers within heights and depths he cannot explore, in a cosmos more expansive than his imagination. Man’s brain (which is hostile to God apart from grace, Romans 8:7–8) surpasses a computer. His cells contain baffling intricacy. And yet his love for sin makes modern man shrug and call himself an atheist. His religion says that all came from original nothingness, from the great I Am Not. Claiming to be wise, he has become a fool.

The old watchmaker analogy highlights the absurdity of explaining nature by mere nature. If that atheist man finds an iPhone in the woods, he will always conclude someone must have left it there. That it was made. Chance did not design it. The passage of time cannot take credit. Though an Apple, it did not fall from a tree. Yet he lives and moves and has his being in the wide world of complexity that towers the iPhone as the heavens above earth and yet he says it all came from impersonal, unintelligent forces. They are without excuse.

Fattened by Sin for Slaughter

Unregenerate men of all sexual professions do not see God because they do not want God. They would pin him up and nail him to a tree again if they could. “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). As criminals want no All-Seeing Judge, so natural man chafes at the God who reminds him that man is no god and is not good. How dare God tell us what to do with our bodies? How dare he tell us what to do with our babies? How dare he tell us what marriage is? How dare he!

So sons of Adam reject God. They do not render him the honor due his name, or thank him for his goodness and mercy (Romans 1:21). Instead, they offer the Almighty insults and spit upon the hand of their Benefactor. As a madman who pulls out his teeth to throw them at the sky because he hates the moon, men harm themselves in their rebellion. They become useless in their thinking, and their foolish hearts are darkened (Romans 1:21). Deny God, and you deny reason, deny sanity, deny goodness, deny beauty, deny life. One becomes a spiritual Nebuchadnezzar — nails grow as talons, he stoops to eat grass like an ox — though he may live in a lake house, drive a fancy car, and be thought charming by this God-hating world.

He is at war with God, and God is at war with him. He is under the wrath of God, a wrath that is just now preheating (Romans 1:18). He has exchanged God for images, and now God gives him over to suicidal sinfulness: to the lusts of his heart, to impurity, to the dishonoring of his own body (Romans 1:24). He bowed before idols and prostituted God’s truth, so God brings him to grassy plains where he will grow fat for the day of slaughter.

Bloodshed of Toddlers

God has given these two men up to dishonorable passions, to commit “shameless acts with men” (Romans 1:27). And then they conspire to adopt what God has forbidden them by nature. And then the delirious powers that be place kids in their “home” to be hit by the shrapnel of this skirmish with God.

And this is what God’s judgment does: Like striking a wasp’s nest, it incites man’s stinging left and right.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:28–31)

Who do these “haters of God” envy? Deceive? Slander? Murder? Themselves, others, and sometimes, children.

Rebellion against God becomes a wildfire. Wickedness is never satisfied to keep to itself; it mutinies. It enlists bedfellows. It stirs up and demands compliance. It slithers and has scales, takes over school systems and adopts children. And it co-opts those who know better: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). These know such sins beg for God’s capital punishment, but instead of imploring them to repent — as love would dictate — they instead applaud them for their courage and “authenticity.”

Flee the Wrath to Come

God’s reality is inflexible. His law is perfect; his rules are true and righteous altogether. The Judge of the earth shall do right, and this is a terror for all here who despised his mercy, despised his designs for love, sex, and marriage, despised his day of salvation, and despised his crucified Son.

Today, dear reader, is the day of salvation — seek King Jesus. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. He has made a way, with his own blood, for you to be received. Are you a vast sinner? Have you murdered, taught false doctrine, adopted children into an abominable union before the Lord? Your wicked life is a wide opportunity for God to display the fathomless depths of his compassion and the eternal power of Christ’s sacrifice to forgive you. The terrorist of the church, the blasphemer of God, and murderer of Christians wrote,

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)

Look to this great example of mercy to give confidence to receive your own. Abundant pardon for abundant crimes. There is enough mercy for all who come.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
     call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
     and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
     and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6–7)

Jesus Christ has a throne of grace for the repentant, and a seat of terror for the impenitent. What is wrong with the world? Man’s sin. What alone is right with the world? Jesus Christ — his person, his redeeming work, and his church of redeemed sinners. He shines in the darkness, and still the darkness has not overcome him.


 is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul with their son and two daughters. 

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