What is your favorite verse or passage when you are going through a difficult season? When you are in a trial or are afflicted with some kind of suffering, what biblical truths to you turn to? For many believers, Romans 8:28 is a favorite verse: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
In the midst of our heartache, we often cling to the truth that good will come from it. But what is that good we hope for? Sometimes, we think of the good in terms of the physical, earthly, here and now kind of good. As in: Maybe the job I lost will result in an even better job. Maybe this broken dream will pave the way to an even better dream. Maybe this relationship fell apart because there’s a better one waiting for me.
While there are times in our life when we look back on a trial and see how it paved the way to something better in the here and now, there are other good things that result from affliction. And they aren’t material or tangible. They aren’t things we can see with the naked eye. They are internal and spiritual. As such, they have eternal significance.
John Newton is well know for penning the much-loved hymn Amazing Grace, but he also wrote numerous letters during his lifetime. Many of these letters are still published today. His letters point to the grace of God in the life of the believer.
In one letter, he writes about the fruits of affliction in the believer’s life. “Though afflictions in themselves are not joyous, but grievous, yet in due season they yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness. Various and blessed are the fruits they produce.” What are those fruits? Newton mentions a number of those fruits:
6 Fruits of Affliction
Prayer: “By affliction prayer is quickened, for our prayers are very apt to grow languid and formal in a time of ease.” How true is this! When we are in a season of suffering, we are more likely to turn to the Lord in prayer than we are in times when things are going well. In my own life, I find my prayer life deepens and flourishes during times of hardship, for the trial reminds me how dependent I am upon God’s grace.
Scripture: Newton says that afflictions help us understand the Scriptures, particularly God’s promises to us. Many of God’s promises in Scripture have to do with his help to us in times of trouble, and unless we are in a season of affliction, we will not know those promises firsthand. “We cannot so well know their fullness, sweetness, and certainty, as when we have been in the situation to which they are suited, have been enabled to trust and plead them, and found them fulfilled in our own case.” Trials show us more of who God is in his wisdom, power, and faithfulness.
Testimony: Our afflictions provide the opportunity to testify to others of God’s grace. When people see how God has brought us through a trial, God is glorified. Our lives then become living testimonies of God’s mercy and grace and give us an opportunity to share the reason for our hope.
Strength: Newton says that some graces are only revealed through affliction, such as resignation, patience, meekness, and long-suffering. Just as the practice of lifting weights develops our muscles, so too does affliction develop characteristics in us that can’t grow apart from the work of affliction in our lives. “Activity and strength of grace is not ordinarily acquired by those who sit still and live at ease, but by those who frequently meet with something which requires a full exertion of what power the Lord has given them.”
Compassion: Newton also says that affliction helps us have compassion for others who suffer. While we can have sympathy for others in affliction without experiencing such suffering ourselves, it is not as strong as when we have experienced it ourselves. Likewise, suffering helps us know more of the sufferings of Christ.
Humility: Lastly, Newton says that trials and suffering help us see the true content of our hearts. Affliction awakens sins in our hearts we didn’t realize were there. “This discovery is indeed very distressing; yet till it is made, we are prone to think ourselves much less vile than we really are, and cannot so heartily abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes.” Seeing the truth about ourselves produces the fruit of humility.
Romans 8:28 promises good to come through our trials and afflictions. Though the trials are not good in and of themselves—far from it!—God uses them for our ultimate good. Newton’s letter points to some of those good things as the fruit of affliction’s work in our lives. Have you seen any of this fruit in your own life?
 Newton, John. Select Letters of John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2011), pp. 218-221.