Suffering. There’s a fun topic! Do you ever feel like you’re not doing enough of it? Yeah, didn’t think so. Ever prayed for more of it? Probably not. But I would have to answer yes to both.
Lately, I’ve been reading Acts. I haven’t read it in a while, and I have been struck by the suffering the men joyfully underwent. Stephen’s face shone as he set his eyes on Jesus as his enemies threw large rocks at him to kill him (Acts 7). Paul chose to go back to Jerusalem after having been repeatedly warned by several people through the Holy Spirit that while there, he would be imprisoned (Acts 21). Paul went through A LOT of suffering (2 Cor. 11), but continued to do what would bring him more suffering, all for the joy of bringing people to know God.
I also just finished the last chapter in John Piper’s book that I talked about last week, Desiring God, which is all about joy in suffering. He brought up some verses I’ve wanted to avoid most of my life, namely John 15:20: ” ‘Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you, ‘ ” II Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” and other verses such as these. I want to forget about these verses because I haven’t seen this happen too much in my own life. I’d like to think I have been following Christ wherever He’s wanted me to go, but it really hasn’t resulted in much suffering.
It is true that many times I have chosen the harder way in life in order to do what I felt God was calling me to do, but after I read stories of missionaries who have been severely beaten and imprisoned for their faith and how it changed the lives of their persecutors, I wonder about my cush life.
You see, on top of this, I’ve had a taste of suffering in this life, even if it wasn’t for the sake of being a Christian (that I know of; Piper mentions that sickness and other seemingly perpetrator-less types of suffering might be caused by demons wanting to derail us). My suffering was nothing compared to what many have undergone, but cancer and death have taken a significant toll on my family, and I have experienced the pain of it. However, I remember the closeness I had with Jesus during that time, and I have longed for it in times of plenty. I have prayed for that sweet intimacy with Him again, going so far as to ask for hardships if that’s what it’s going to take. It’s worth it. And why not? He’s trustworthy. Look at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. God won’t let us be tossed into the flames without being right by our sides through it.
I don’t want to suffer for the sake of suffering. I only want to be prepared to do what God wants for me so that I will gain the unspeakable joy that comes with closeness with Him, no matter what it costs on this earth.