The key is understanding how to glean the best from such experiences, how to light a candle in the dark rather than just cursing the abyss. Peter’s first letter to a suffering church gives us some good guidelines.
Before I begin I need to say that I am not a masochist! I do my very best to avoid needless suffering. I pray for Shalom and protection every day. The tradition of the Church has sometimes earned a bad reputation for a kind of perverse glorification of suffering coupled with a hatred of the natural body. I certainly do not want to lead you down that path. However, in rejecting the extremes, let us be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. There are some difficult verses in the Bible concerning suffering. What does Paul mean in 1 Colossians 1:24?
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
There can be no insufficiency in the Lord’s finished redemptive suffering on the cross. What is lacking is the application of that redemption, via the mission of the Church, into the world. Suffering must have a purpose, a missional purpose. The lasts posts have dealt with such missional suffering via intercession. This was Peter’s message which he condenses into ten lessons to help his flock understand and cope with their own persecution and suffering.
1) Suffering tests and builds up faith.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7
2) Suffering unjustly is a grace, giving us deeper intimacy with Christ.
“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable (charis – grace) if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” 1 Peter 2:18-19
“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God… If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” 1 Peter 2:20 & 4:15
4) Suffering is part of our calling as we follow Jesus and take up our cross.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21
5) Suffering sanctifies our lives and character – it gives us depth.
‘Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:1-2
6) Suffering is a normal part of the Christian experience – everybody hurts sometimes.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12
7) Suffering, not in the present experience but in the wild faith perspective, calls us to rejoice in our missional communion with Christ.
“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13
8) Suffering releases a hidden blessing and anointing on your life.
“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” 1 Peter 4:14
“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” 1 Peter 4:19
10) Suffering is limited in time but it makes us strong, giving us an indestructibility which fits us for eternity.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11
So, do not lose heart, focus on the invisible, focus on the Lord Jesus.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18