Everything I’m reading at the moment seems to point to the necessity of Christian suffering. It’s not a message I’ve been seeking. In fact, I keep trying to post it back.
I turn the pages of the bible. I put on a different song. I pray, ‘Ok God – but not for me. Not now and frankly, not ever.’ This week I even picked out a book entitled ‘Joy’ as an antidote. (It turned out to be about the joy that comes only through suffering).
Ok God, I say. How about this. I’ll write the post on suffering – but for someone else. A reader facing trials. But not me.
I’m not built for hardship. I sweat the small stuff. I’m weak, scared of everything and easily overwhelmed. How am I supposed to deal with real pain, when a missed appointment stresses me out? On so many levels, I’ve never known it. Never faced a firing squad; never been persecuted for my faith. I’ve got a higher standard of living than my parents ever dreamed of; I’m living the dream.
And yet – sometimes it feels hard. There are battles – both in the home and outside. Battles in relationships. Battles to master my thoughts; battles to speak truth to my heart. They’re not front-page headlines. They’re not shipwrecks or beatings. But they’re there – whether I acknowledge them or not.
It seems like the best way to avoid trials is to deny their existence. That’s what the enemy does. He tells me, ‘this isn’t suffering, (so you don’t need God’s help). This isn’t hard, (compared to what others face). You’re weak (and you need to try harder). You’re pathetic (and not a real believer). You want comfort? Look to distraction, busyness, sex and shopping, self-improvement and stuff. When that fails, give up.
Here’s the irony – when I pretend there’s no struggle, I meet it and I crash. But when I expect hardship; when I lean on God and his promises; I find fresh strength. The very scriptures I’ve been avoiding are the only ones who offer me comfort. They remind me that there’s treasure in the darkness – treasure that cannot be found in the sun.
In God’s hands, here’s what suffering can bring. Maturity and wholeness, (James 1:4). Treasure that’s more precious than gold, `(1 Peter 1:7). Righteousness and peace (Hebs 12:11). Perseverance, character, hope (Rom 5:4). Restoration and strength (1 Peter 5:10). Comfort, (2 Cor 1:3-4). The crown of life (James 1:12). An eternal glory (2 Cor 4:17). A knowledge of Jesus (Phil 3:10) that nothing and no-one can take away (Rom 8:35).
‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’ (2 Cor 4:17)