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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Suffering

Suffering isn't a topic we talk about too much. Not in church. Not at home. Not even with God.

Most people, me included, if we talk about suffering at all it sounds far more like complaint. Even in prayer. I'm guilty of those "please take this away" prayers and seldom think of thanking God for my circumstances.

Two things shot this issue to the forefront today.

One is my current set of circumstances where it'd be easier and quicker to list the good stuff.

The second is a combination of a Bible verse God wouldn't let me get away from and a story I remembered from years ago.

The Bible verse is 1 Peter 4:19: "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good."

Honestly, I'd rather give up most day than continue to do good when life is a series of tear-stained pillows. But God brought to mind other verses I struggle to understand that run along this same theme.

Philippians 1:29: "For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him."

Romans 5:3-5: "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

I don't like to hear that suffering is according to God's will. But it's all throughout the Scriptures. 2 Peter clearly talks about Christians being called to suffer and follow in Christ's footsteps.

But even when I bow my knee and accept the reality that suffering is part of God’s plan for my life, seldom do I consider it a privilege. Even less do I rejoice over suffering and thank God for it.

As I've mulled all this over today and look back over painful months that stretch years into the past, I had to stop looking back when I considered a story I read long ago.

It was an interview with a Chinese Christian talking about the issue of suffering. She said, "You American Christians pray for God to take away the pain. We pray for God to strengthen our backs."

I'm ashamed and humbled by this woman's simple statement. Way too often I choose complaint over praise. Demanding God to remove my physical and emotional pain over seeking to glorify Him in the midst of the circumstances He's ordained.

I don't understand. I wish God's path didn't include times of hurt and heartache. But He didn't call us to understand.

He called me, and you, to follow.

To trust Him.

To praise Him anyway. Even when it hurts.

I haven't "arrived" to the place where this is natural. But after today, I'm beginning to see my circumstances a little differently. Not rose-colored denial. But looking beyond the reality of pain to an even greater reality.

If we suffer according to God's will and continue to do good, to praise Him in it, He will strengthen our backs, place His footprints right next to ours, and make us more like Him. He even promises this building of character will produce hope.

"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

The choice is simple, not easy:

Focus on pain or praise

Complaint or hope

I pray we'll join together and remind one another to choose praise. To choose hope. And along the way to help carry the ones struggling in their pain, just like Jesus is carrying us.

3 comments:

Rel said...

Thanks for your wise words ~ again! I am with you in all of that! Big hugs from me.

Sally said...

It is all about choosing isn't it?? Thanks for these wise words.

Amy Wallace said...

Thanks for being with me in this! It's such a hard subject to face with God because life hurts. But it is about choosing in the pain to praise Him anyway. I'm still learning, and relearning, and very thankful for the patient grace of our God.

 
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