Suffering belongs to us. It’s part of what we own as believers in Christ. Not that we have to suffer but that we get to as part of our forming discipline. The apostle Paul shows us the beauty of suffering in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 8:16-18 “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
In Philippians chapter 3, Paul describes to the church at Philippi that his own desire is to experience a suffering for the sake of Christ so that he can also attain the resurrection from the dead. Paul seems to have digested the likeness quotient - to be like Christ and to live in Jesus, to walk in His way is to be willing to suffer as He suffered. Obviously Paul knew and we know that we cannot suffer in the very same way because we can’t process anyone’s salvation paperwork and we cannot save humanity, but, can’t we preach and defend the word? Can’t we agree that our faith is a declaration to uphold the word and to be willing to die for it? The word is Jesus and Jesus is the word. John chapter 1 tells us that the Word became flesh. To me, this means that the Word is alive and that there is no difference between God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Word. Our suffering serves a purpose; to promote the saving grace of God. Who gets to rise without first dying? What motivates a person to walk in faith and to serve the Kingdom cause if we don’t first recognize that suffering is a meaningful part of our journey?
So, when I’m reading a book (or essay) like this one and the writer promotes pain like it’s a good thing, I begin to wonder if they had a pitcher of margaritas for breakfast. If you don’t back it up I’d really rather not hear it. So, for the sake of supporting this argument, I don’t mind exposing some of my sufferings that have led to my passion for the Kingdom and my desire to help lead others to the hope that is in Christ and embrace the suffering that comes with it.
Even though my father is still alive, I have spent the majority of my life fatherless. A passion for the fatherless arose in me and led me to advocate for orphans. Over my lifetime, I’ve been abandoned by two of my best friends. The rejection and pain opened my eyes to the needs of others to live in close relationship with one another. As a result, I am a much better friend than I used to be and this translates into the strengthening of bonds. I know how to choose my community and I better know how to honor the communities that also choose me. I’ve been broken free from the chains of greed and learned how to be generous. I’ve overcome divorce with a new opinion of marriage, love and commitment. And while there are numerous other examples from my 46 years (obviously far too many to mention) I’ve also been well acquainted in my inner circles with depression, addiction, death, wayward children, abortion, deceit, and fraud. And I would walk it all again for the sake of Christ. I would live it again to attain the resurrection from death into an eternal life, and to bring along some friends, enemies and strangers.
When God chose Saul to be renamed, to be given a new identity in Christ, He had a purpose. Saul was a Jew who had vehemently denied Jesus as the Messiah and fought with determination to ruin him, but God had a different plan. God revealed himself to Saul and gave him the mission to preach the word among the gentiles even though Saul had been made famous for crucifying believers.
In Acts chapter 9 we are given the story of Saul’s conversion and his new name, Paul. In his travels preaching against the gospel, Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. His encounter would rock his world and change everything. Powerfully, Jesus would give Paul his new assignment and make him into the primary author of the New Testament. The Lord chose Paul, (Saul), the man who had fought most violently against Jesus and reshaped him into the leading voice for Jesus. And in this process, Acts 9:15-16 says the Lord proclaimed “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
I have pondered this a bit …. “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” This may not be theologically sound - I really don’t know …. But I almost wonder, did Paul have to suffer because he had first inflicted so much suffering against the very people that he had opposed? Because he had so ferociously brought on the suffering of others that he now had to suffer equally? Or did Jesus want Paul to have a clear understanding of the ways Jesus had suffered for the gospel? And just exactly what kind of suffering?
I do believe this, that there is no such thing as wasted pain. Suffering and trials are meant to shape us to be more like Christ and ultimately to serve His kingdom purpose. Pain isn’t something that we should abhor, reject, dread or begrudge, because it is a component in our faith journey that has the potential to be the very most transformative. I’ll admit that it’s no fun. I’ll even admit that pain has the potential to derail everything. The key isn’t to avoid it, but to be open to finding gratitude and joy in the midst of the trials because Jesus is in the middle. He is right there and He is the Prince of Peace. He is constantly present in the heart of the believer. His Spirit is dwelling in our innermost depths and He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him. These are promises that He is made. He WILL heal our broken hearts. He WILL restore our joy. He WILL use our trials to mature our faith. And at the end of our final breath, He WILL bring us home.
Suffering is a form of fellowship with the Lord. It connects us to His mission. It unites us with His purpose … to bring us all out of suffering.
Heartache breeds compassion. Suffering breeds mercy.
Let us let love suffer.
Lord of all creation, only You know. Some of us already understand this facet of faith but many do not. I pray for them, Lord, that you would powerfully move to stir their hearts and minds to know that you are real and to believe that you are the provider of peace in the midst of our trials. Give them that peace, Lord, so that their knowing will run deep and their hearts will never turn from you. Use our suffering to Your glory. Help us to know that our pain is never wasted. In Jesus, Amen.