Prepare For Suffering
Several years ago, I received some sad news on Christmas morning from a missionary friend of mine. Some believers in the small province where she was ministering, joined with their brethren around the world in gathering together to celebrate the Lord's birth. For most of us, this is a joyful time with friends and family. However, for these Christians, living in a nation that is closed off to the Gospel, there is the constant threat of persecution.
As they were gathering, celebrating, and singing songs of worship, the local officials surrounded the house in which they were meeting and began throwing rocks into the building. Being a poor community in a third world country, the home was more of a makeshift structure and offered little protection for the occupants from the vicious assault. As part of the note I received from my friend asking for prayer, there were included pictures of men, women, and even children who were left bloodied and wounded from the attack. It was heartbreaking to see.
For many of our brothers and sisters around the world, this is what it means to be a Christian. In fact, scripture teaches us that suffering for the sake of the Gospel should be the expectation of all who follow after Jesus. This doesn't mean (as Cody rightly pointed out in his message) that we should pursue or even desire suffering in some masochistic way. What it does mean though, is that we should live in such a way as to be prepared to endure suffering when (not if) it comes. Most of us living in America will never experience physical danger for our faith, but that doesn't mean that we won't experience suffering or loss because of it. So, how are we to think about and respond to suffering?
1. We should (rightly) see suffering as an opportunity to grow.
Because we know God is a good father and that he has good plans and purposes for us as his children, we can (and should) rightly see suffering as a part of his goodness to us. This is why James, in his letter to suffering Christians in the early church writes, "Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds..." (James 1:2). When we understand that God has a purpose in our suffering, then we are able to experience true Gospel-fueled growth in the midst of our struggles. This doesn't make it any more enjoyable for us to experience trials, but it does help give us a right perspective and put us in a posture to learn something from the good God who has decreed that we should go through this refining process.
2. We should (rightly) see suffering as a temporal drop in an eternal bucket.
Suffering is a distinctly human experience. We suffer because we inhabit a world which we were never designed to live in. We were created for perfect fellowship with our Creator. Sin has fractured and distorted that relationship, but not permanently. The hope of the Gospel is that Christ is redeeming all things unto himself and restoring the peace that was lost in the Garden. There is a coming day when all things will be renewed and suffering will be no more. Our hope is not in the here and now, but rather in that coming day. When we rightly live with an eternal perspective we are able to join with the Apostle Paul in declaring our present sufferings (no matter how bad they may be) "light momentary afflictions" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
3. We should (rightly) see suffering as a reminder of our deep need.
Of all the things that suffering does in the lives of believers, there is none more beneficial to us than to remind us of our deep need for a Savior...and for a community of like-minded individuals. Life is hard and the only thing that makes it any easier is knowing that we aren't alone in it. First, and foremost, we have a Savior who suffered in the flesh so that we might experience the riches of his grace. Furthermore, Jesus is not just our Savior, but he is also our Great High Priest who intercedes for us to the Father in Heaven (Hebrews 7:25). How comforting is it to know that the Sovereign King of the universe is praying for you!?! Likewise, as believers, we are called to live lives that look like Jesus'. This means that in the same way, we are called to care for our brothers and sisters and to be diligent to pray for them...especially in times of trouble. For this reason, we can rest in knowing that we are never alone.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 33 - Encouragement Through Suffering?
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How did Paul strengthen converts to continue in their faith?
2. Will every Christian experience tribulation?
3. How does this text encourage you?
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