Suffering. It’s a difficult and unpopular subject that’s rarely tackled in the pulpit or on Christian radio, and that’s because it’s unpleasant–let’s be honest; none of us want it. We don’t want to experience it, we’re happy when we don’t experience it, and we don’t particularly want to hear about those who are experiencing it because it makes us feel uncomfortable, and reminds us, “That could be me!” No; suffering isn’t a topic that draws crowds to church. Yet it is the example of God’s faithful suffering through the ages–and even now–that draws souls to Christ, and because it is a part of the Christian experience we need to know what God says about it.
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” (II Corinthians 1:5 NKJV)
The first–and most unwelcome–fact we need to know about suffering is that if you have resolved to follow Jesus, you will suffer for Him. And it is not if, but when. Why can I assert this with conviction? Because the Bible says that, “Everyone who wants to live as God desires, in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12 NCV) Because Jesus Himself warned, “…Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows…” (John 16:33 NLT) Because the early church was told, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22 NKJV) Maybe not today, maybe not non-stop, and our experiences may be different and in differing degrees. But we all eventually reach a crosswalk–many such crosswalks, more than likely–at which we have to determine whether to obey Christ and suffer, or disobey and not suffer–and we will make a decision that will either bring glory to God and shine in eternity, or of which we will be ashamed when we stand before Him at the end of our days here on this Earth.
The second thing we need to know about suffering is that God uses it to perfect us–to make us into the people He wants us to be. If the Father made Jesus “who knew no sin” “perfect [or complete] through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10); if He accomplished what He intended through the suffering of Christ–how much more will He work on us sinful and imperfect human beings to accomplish in and through us what He desires, and ready us for eternity! Suffering turns our hearts to God, and teaches us to call out to and rely on Him. Even the psalmist agreed that, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” (Psalms 119:71 NLT)
The third thing we need to know about suffering is that as we participate in the sufferings of Christ, as we submit to the work God is accomplishing in us through the pain, it is Christ Jesus Himself who consoles us–“our consolation also abounds through Christ.”
Think of all the misery any of God’s people have ever had to suffer through–how could any of them have gotten through even a part of it apart from Christ strengthening them?!” Corrie ten Boom in the prison camp, her father and sister who went to their Lord through the doors of the prison camp–who died in the camps, saints who have had (and still today do have) everything taken from them–their lives, even the lives of their children–I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV) is their claim! Jesus, and only Jesus, is who consoles and strengthens us so we can persevere.
The last thing we need to know about suffering is that we should embrace it. This might be controversial and some might even reject it–and I won’t go as far as to suggest we should seek it out–but we know that as we submit to God through our experiences, our “light and momentary troubles” are absolutely, definitely, and certainly “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Our suffering, which really truly hurts now, is doing good in us for eternity! That is why, rather than resent or abhor the pain, I should recognize it as the tool of blessing–albeit a painful one–that it is.
The danger with not recognizing these truths about suffering is that we can become complacent in our faith and expect for ourselves what even our Savior did not experience! He came and was perfected through suffering, yet we expect to arrive to glory not having suffered at all?! It is suffering, furthermore, that strengthens Christ’s body; the church persecuted in China is growing robustly while what remains of the body here is languishing away in amusement and comfort, if not outright sin. No, persecution and suffering–while highly unpleasant–strengthen and invigorate faith. So, how should we respond; what should we do?
1) We must pray that God would strengthen and prepare each of us for what lies ahead–for what is coming for us individually in our own personal walk heavenward, and for what might be coming to the church corporately in future years.
2) We must keep foremost in our mind these two truths: that what matters above all else is that we “gain Christ, and are found in Him” (Philippians 3:7) as we knock on heaven’s door; and that we need only “be faithful until death,” and then Jesus will do the rest–He “will give…[us] the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10)!
3) Lastly, we must do as God’s people in other parts of the world, and history past, have done and still do; we need to stop fearing physical suffering and death so much, and what mere human beings can do to us–as if this life were all there is! We must not only reignite in ourselves a passionate and unquenchable love for God, but also take seriously to heart to “…not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…[but] Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 NIV)
Dear Lord Jesus,
You are the Author and Perfecter of my faith; all is of You, and for You, and through You! Please work in me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory–to Your glory!! Amen.