I've posted part of this quote before, but it's from an excellent book on the topic of suffering and I love the teaching and the application from it. From When God Weeps, by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes:
If we had an easy life, we would soon forget that we are eternal creatures. But hell's splashover won't allow that. It persistently reminds us that something immense and cosmic is at stake - a heaven to be reached, a hell to be avoided. Human souls are the battle ground on which massive spiritual battles are being waged. The stakes are enormous. The winner takes all and the loser loses everything. Every day of our short lives has eternal consequences for good or ill. Eternity is being affected. Right now counts forever. Thus, it is only fitting that God should give us some sense of the stakes involved, some sense of the war's magnitude. He does this by giving us foretastes of heaven in the joys we experience, and foretastes of hell in our suffering.
If we are thinking clearly, each taste of hell that we have drives us to reach out toward our unbelieving friends and neighbors. Perhaps we have cancer. Our bodies are racked with pain. The Christian should think to himself, "How horrible that our sins should bring such suffering to a world that God made perfect! But how wonderful that I am going to heaven and will be rescued from the horrible pain I deserve. Yet my neighbor down the street, whom I very much like, does not believe in Jesus. He is headed for eternal pains far worse than I am experiencing now. Lord, give me the courage, tact, and wisdom to reach out to him with the truth of the gospel."
All the while that we are experiencing such pain, these trials are making us more like Christ. They are refining our character and, thus, winning us eternal rewards. As Paul says, "Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Corinthians 4:1). In other words, by tasting a small bit of hell now, our heaven is becoming more heavenly. Our neighbors and friends are more likely to join us there. And our gratitude for our salvation overflows. "I deserve to go to hell," we admit," "but I'm going to heaven anyway - no one has more reason to rejoice than I!"
And twenty minutes of heaven will make up for everything.
When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, p 197
As a concluding comment, Scotty Smith posted a great prayer today on "Accepting the Normalcy of Suffering:"
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Pet. 4:12-13
More than that, 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. Rom 5:3-5
Dear Lord Jesus, this portion of your Word comes like a kiss from heaven; a balm from the throne room of grace; a relief that no man-made elixir could offer. To know that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life actually brings a great deal of relief. For many of us have endured the destructive power of bad theology—various teachings that make Christians feel like spiritual pygmies for suffering any degree of illness, lack, loss, defeat, doubt, economic struggle, emotional duress, and the list goes on. But you tell us painful trials and suffering are not strange at all.
It’s not that I want to suffer more, and I know I can suffer much simply from my own foolishness. But no one wants to suffer in vain or with a sense of being a disappointment to you, or feeling abandoned by you, or being punished by you. The gospel tells us your love for us in unwavering, but pain is an accomplished and effective liar.
Jesus, please help us understand how our suffering can be understood as participating in your sufferings. Your death on the cross was a once-and-for-all suffering—perfectly securing the salvation of your people. However, you’re not a distant, disconnected, dispassionate Savior. You are presently making all things new, and this involves showing up in the messes and madness of life.
Where there is injustice, disease, brokenness, and suffering, you are right there. How do we join you there, joyfully and enter into the costly and redemptive fellowship of the suffering? (Phil. 3:10) Grant us grace for this calling, Lord.
A Day of no more suffering is coming (Rev. 21:1-5)—the day when your glory will be fully revealed—and what a day of rejoicing that will be. Until then, give us all the sufficient, sustaining, serving grace we need now to suffer with you and for you. So very Amen we pray, in your wonderful and merciful name.