The Lord Jesus Christ plainly told his disciples that the Christian life is one that is filled with tribulation, suffering and trials. He also promised fellowship, deliverance, growth, strength and victory through those times. God builds our faith, wisdom and understanding by the adversity He allows to permeate our lives. He is always in control (i.e. Job) and brings us into His power and presence not just through His Word and His Spirit, but also by the experiences that test our character and Christian walk. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul exemplifies this idea in the most stunning way. We admire his grit and spiritual understanding, but would most probably not be willing to consecrate our lives with the intensity in which he displayed throughout the Book of Acts. Here is a catalogue of his sufferings for Christ:
I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. 17 That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. 18 Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. 19 For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. 20 For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. 21 I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. 22 Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? 30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. 31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. 32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: 33 And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. II Cor 11:16-33.
Our Savior clearly marked out the path for this great man of God by shewing him the cost of serving the Most High and receiving an abundance of revelations. The question is - are we willing to pay?
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. Acts 9:15-16.
The problem with the things of life like death and suffering is that we don't always look at these things in the same way that God does. I would like to show you the Biblical perspective regarding suffering as laid out in our New Testament. You will soon realize that our Lord is blessing us with these things that we often detest and reject.
The early church disciples saw the ultimate joy in suffering for Jesus. As worthy servants, their sufferings only motivated them to serve and worship with greater enthusiasm. We too often exhibit the opposite reaction when we are mocked or persecuted for our Lord. We fall prey to being overcome with fear and shame and our effectiveness for Christ is easily neutralized when we suffer for His name.
And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Acts 5:40-42.
We not only suffer for Jesus, we suffer with Him. It is sharing in Christ's sufferings that enable us also to share in His Glory. Even if we were to suffer like our beloved Paul, our suffering could never pretend to compare to the suffering of our Savior. He suffered for us because He loved us. If we love Him, we should glory in suffering for Him. Our suffering in this present evil world and in this brief life will never retain the eternal value of our promised glory to come.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:16-18.
If we could actually chose between suffering or not, my choice would most likely be not. After all, no one enjoys suffering. The pain and heartache that accompany trials often seem defeating and eternal. They seem to lead us to despair and uncertainty and cause us to question why our loving God permits such hardships in our lives. Perhaps if we looked at suffering the way that God does we would realize the benefit of God's blessings. (no pain, no gain?)
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. Hebrews 11:24-26.
The most important example revealed by our suffering is our testimony of faith in exercising patience. Trials never seem to be shortlived. We must prepare at the start of our suffering as if it were to last a good long while. Each moment of suffering seems to last an eternity. It is important to start out in prayer, trusting the Savior to give us faith, patience, comfort and encouragement. We must ask for His will to be done not our wishes, He knows best. He doesn't always deliver us from a trial, but always walks with us through the trial on to the victory side. I like to focus on that victory from the very start. It is exciting to witness God's hand at work in our lives. It is mystifying to observe how he maneuvers our world on our behalf. It is exhilarating to experience the outcome; often beyond our most lofty expectations. Yes, it is possible to have real joy in suffering.
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. 8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. 9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. 10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. 11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. James 5:7-11.
It is the most difficult task of all to endure a trial patiently. Especially knowing that life is never fair and rarely do we think that we deserve it. In fact, no matter what adversity develops in our lives, we deserve to be in hell for all eternity because of our sins. It is only by God's infinite grace that he loved us and saved us by the shed blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ. No matter what we are called to go through; it is still far better and briefer than being in hell. We can never have enough divine lessons in patience. Suffering helps us more than we will ever admit. Why should we think that we are any better than our Savior, who suffered but never sinned?
For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. I Peter 2:19-22.
Our faith and testimony in Christ Jesus is something we ought to value, cherish and protect. The devil is only interested in destroying the things that glorify Christ. We should always be faithful and committed and put the Lord first in our lives. Our Christianity needs to be founded on some foundations that cannot be rocked or shaken by Satan himself. Are you established in your faith? Does it mark and define your life? Are you living for Christ and eternity? Make your foundations sure. Be established by His word and empowered by His Spirit. Suffering is actually good for us and really only lasts a little while. Our faith and foundation in Christ, however, will never tarnish throughout all eternity.
Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
and to all to be sober, watchful, and firm in the faith
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. I Peter 5:7-10.
Ask the Lord to help you to deal more biblically with sufferings and to benefit from them. This was Paul's secret. He was not only equipped to deal with sufferings, he understood the spiritual benefits derived from suffering. He relished the joy and victory from God through his suffering. How about it, are YOU ready???
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. II Cor 4:8-11.