We need to realize that suffering is unavoidable. In fact, we need to be prepared to suffer. While it's true that suffering is unavoidable, misery is optional. We don't have to be miserable when we suffer, it's all in how we choose to see things.
Since the day you said that you’re a Christian, you were put on trial. Non-believers everywhere raised an eyebrow and put your life under a microscope. And you don’t need me to tell you that these people are going to push your buttons. There are preconceived notions of what a Christian should or should not talk about, post online, or do. These people are going to question your integrity. They’re going to question if this “faith” is real to you.
While it's true that our faith should be tested in order to strengthen it and the more outgoing you are with your faith the more you are likely to deal with various tests from people. On the contrary, if we’re never challenged for our faith, what does that tell us about our faith?
Notice in James 1:2, it says, “When you face trials of various kinds” … it doesn’t say IF you face trials. WHEN you face trials, because we all will,James goes on to say, "Consider it joy." I’m not talking about masochism and hoping for pain. I’m talking about having faith regardless of the circumstance. James says you can have joy in the midst of suffering. Suffering doesn't have to produce misery.
I remember my old baseball coaches with the St. Louis Cardinals telling us, "Boys, you want us yelling at you, you want us on your case because that means we believe in you and we think you can be even better! However, if we stop yelling at you and ignore you, you can bet your days as a Cardinal are numbered."
When it comes to suffering as a Christian, often times we wonder how to discern whether it is the kind of suffering that is intended to grow our faith or the kind of suffering that is just plain suffering.
The reality is that at any point in time, you are going to be experiencing one of three types of sufferings …
1. Common Suffering: We’re all human and we’re all in this together. (The Coronavirus is affecting us all.) Some suffering is common to all mankind. No one escapes some kind of suffering on this earth. It's one of the reasons we, as Christians, look forward to heaven where there is no sorrow, no pain, and no suffering.
2. Carnal Suffering: We make bad choices. We bring plenty of suffering on ourselves by the poor and unwise decisions we make. If I ignore my health and eat poorly and never exercise, I shouldn't get mad at God if I were to develop health issues. It reminds me of this verse, "People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord"Proverbs 19:3 | NLT.
3. Christian Suffering: You did the right thing. Now what?
Christian Suffering is where I want to focus today. The book of first Peter can be summarized in three words; Faith, Obedience, and Patience. It’s a story of faith through difficulty, obedience through pain, and patience through suffering. Peter doesn’t shy away from the topic of suffering when he says, “Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world ...” 1 Peter 4:13 | NLT
Peter says there are three positives for Christians when they struggle.
A. It draws us closer to Jesus.
“... these trials will make you partners with Christ in His suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing His glory ...” 1 Peter 4:13b | LB
Notice the word partners. This means you’ll get to know God up close and personal. There’s a special kind of depth a relationship gains when people suffer together. Just ask any war veteran. Suffering together for the right cause is what bonds people to one another. The same goes for families that endure hardships together. There is a bonding that can take place as you recognize you are in this together.
B. God can be seen in our life.
“When people insult you because you follow Christ,you are blessed ... because the Spirit of God is with you.”1 Peter 4:14 | NCV
If nobody ever challenges you, then maybe you’re not living a Godly, Christ-centered life. I'm not talking about all the time, like you're obnoxious so people are constantly upset with you. But, a Christian, according to the Bible should be challenged from time to time because you stand in direct contrast to the values of the world. Remember, you've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything. So, if you're suffering, congratulations, you’re standing for something! You’re standing for Christ! and God can be seen in your life. Jesus Christ was not ashamed to die for you, so don’t be ashamed to live for Him.
C. It means God trusts us. “The apostles (were) happy, because God had considered them worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of Jesus.” Acts 5:41 | GN
On average 100,000 Christians are killed around the world because of their faith every year. While nobody will put you before a firing squad in America, sometimes I wonder if God trusts American Christians. Most Christians want Jesus as long as it’s comfortable and convenient for them.
So often we think God is punishing us when we’re suffering, you need to remember that God is not punishing you He wants to promote you. Trials have a way of purifying us for greater service. There’s a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. That difference is lived out when you go through the fire with Him. If nobody knows you’re a Christian or where you stand on anything, and you’re a people pleaser, you have to realize that you’re not pleasing God.
When the rubber of your faith meets the road of reality, that’s when your faith becomes real. It becomes real for you AND your Oikos (those 8-15 people in your relational world).
Life is really pushing our buttons right now during this quarantine. Coming up on 6-months and let's just be honest, IT IS RIDICULOUS. There is plenty of suffering to go around. Maybe you’re facing all three types of suffering right now and you’re experiencing a stretch in your faith. Take heart, friend! Being a believer in Jesus Christ is not about perfection. It’s about progress. God has not lost sight of you and He is walking through the fire with you.
Stay strong. Stay faithful. And remember that suffering is unavoidable but misery is optional.