One day, I was pondering why all the leaders I know with much influence all seem to have one thing in common: They have all suffered much in their lives.
In fact, every one of them has a particular cross to bear, or they have gone through horrendous seasons of pain and suffering that were part of a divine process that made them and continues to mold them into the highly effective leaders they are today. (These challenges can be relational issues with their spouses, children, other leaders, etc., or they can be personal issues related to their spiritual, emotional or physical wellbeing.)
We can read Paul’s own testimony about himself regarding the reason for his suffering in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10:
I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
According to this passage, Paul’s suffering was connected to his leadership ability and great calling, which had to be tempered through his suffering because of our human sin nature that has a propensity to boast about our own accomplishments.
God has to allow pain in our lives to keep us dependent upon Him because all of us are born in sin with the fleshly tendencies to brag about our own accomplishments and trust in our own gifts, abilities and flesh instead of in His grace.
As I view my own life and the lives of others I know personally, I can see how the very things that make us successful are also connected to our sin nature, which has been the root of much sin in our lives.