The situational difficulties you face are the contexts that reveal your heart, which is how your faith and obedience are purified. These relational and situational challenges are also your opportunities to follow Jesus in the Christian’s call to suffer.
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Though a “call to suffer” does not bode well in your evangelistic endeavors, there are two (not one) gifts that God gives each person at the point of their regeneration. The first is salvation, of course, and the second one is the “gift of suffering.” Paul said,
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29 (ESV)
This “second gift” can be such a problem in the believer’s life that it can hinder his growth in Christ. The purpose of suffering is not to make your life miserable but to teach you how to trust the Lord rather than rely on yourself. Self-reliance–a form of unbelief–is your biggest nemesis.
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. – Hebrews 5:8 (ESV)
You may want to read:
- Mind Mapping: A Detailed Study in Self-Reliance
- Three Things to Know When Life Does Not Make Sense
- God is Incrementally, Purposely, and Systematically, Putting You to Death
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (ESV)
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This anti-American message that teaches you to die to yourself (Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20) is one of the primary means of grace the Lord offers to create an other-worldly reliance on the one and only Superpower. Though the message of death is unnerving at first glance, there are many biblical precedents, including God’s intentional crushing of His Son.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief. – Isaiah 53:10
Your Call to Suffer
Occasionally, someone will ask me to help them understand God’s call on their life. While I do not know all that the Lord has in mind for them, I do know He has called every Christian to suffer.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
The Steps of Jesus
- He committed no sin.
- There was no deceit in his mouth.
- When individuals reviled Him, He did not revile in return.
- When he suffered, He did not threaten.
- He always entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:18-25 (ESV)
Granted, you will not be saving anyone as Jesus does, but you are called to walk in His steps, which is a path of suffering. The good news is that as you fail to suffer as perfectly as He did, you can confess those failures while continuing on with His death march (1 John 1:9).
Joining Suffering to Your Relationships
It is interesting to me that Peter put his “suffering passage” just before his “marriage passage” and joined the two sections with the conjunction “likewise” so you would know they are connected. How cool is that?
His point is clear: if you don’t have a right view of suffering, you will not be able to live well with your spouse–or anyone else. Without a sound theology of suffering, you will more than likely sin against your spouse the first time he/she does not meet your expectations.
A sinful response to a failing spouse is the exact opposite of how Christ’s responds to you when you fail (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Matthew 18:35). You cannot overstate the need for a sound theology and application of suffering in your life.
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:1-7 (ESV)
Purpose for Paul’s Suffering
Could it be, like Paul, that the good Lord brings certain individuals or things into your life so you can learn the obedience that the Hebrew writer talked about? (Hebrews 5:8–he learned obedience through what he suffered.) Learning obedience was without question the purpose of Paul’s suffering.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
Paul’s last sentence in v. 10 is the key to your best life now: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Call to Action
- How would you describe your practical understanding of suffering?
- How do you need to change your view of suffering so you can learn obedience through your relational or situational suffering?
- Have you found strength in your weakness like Paul or do you resist the weakness that suffering is supposed to bring into your life?
Also published on Medium.