Why do many of us look upon the struggles, the challenges and the suffering that surface in our lives as if they have no place in our life narrative?
Or why do we think we’ve gained the attention of some kind of malevolent force when bad things happen?
And if we are in the center of a cataclysmic storm of problems and afflictions, why do some of us consider this time in our lives to be unwarranted?
We never asked for tough times.
We don’t request hardship.
We don’t invite disease.
We don’t wish for worries.
We don’t encourage betrayal.
We don’t ask for failure.
No ever asks to suffer, do they?
Yet, as followers of Christ, our life journey may be an arduous one.
Paul understood this truth. He was a suffering minister. There is no doubt that this man devoted his life to Christ and endured a very challenging ministry career. Look what Paul requested in regards to suffering and his life narrative:
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regards to Christ’s affliction, for the sake of his body, which is the church” New International Version, Colossians 1:24.
Or said another way:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” New American Standard Bible, Colossians 1:24.
Paul highlights something profound. The church, the body of Christ, is called to suffer in His name. It is not that Christ’s saving work on the cross is insufficient. It is enough; now and forevermore. What Paul implies is that Christ followers have the divine privilege to experience suffering for the cause of Christ. By devoting our lives and our work to Him, we share in Christ’s joy and His suffering for the sake of the Gospel. We identify with Christ as we grasp a greater regard and a greater empathy.
This is why Paul rejoiced in his trials and why he was at peace with his suffering. He understood the cost and counted the afflictions worthwhile. The suffering He was graced to experience brought him intimately closer to his Savior and Lord.
What an amazing response!
Paul rejoiced and was glad to experience every pain, every setback, every disappointment, every betrayal, and every other type of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. I can’t imagine it was fun. I can’t imagine it was easy. I can’t imagine that he liked it all that much. However, Paul discovered the peace and strength of Christ that he needed; to endure.
We need Christ’s peace and strength to endure our struggles as well; no matter how long our problems continue.
The challenges we face bring us all the more closer to our Savior and all the more closer to understanding the meaning of His sacrifice. This is the unique gift we receive from our suffering; the gift of peace, strength and grace that are unlocked at no other time in our lives.
Friends, I know that some of you are experiencing some of the greatest challenges of your lives. Some of you feel you are under tremendous attack. The physical and emotional strain is great. Your struggles are difficult and have stretched your faith like never before. You are suffering. I know that you want healing, want joy, want another chance, want something better, want forgiveness, want peace, and want resolution.
For the first time, I have a better grasp of what Paul means when he writes, “”Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regards to Christ’s affliction, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
When we open the gift of suffering and affliction that arise from various places and various forms: life circumstances, wrong choices, decisions from others, disease, and/or persecution, the package contents reveal Christ Himself.
We find His comfort.
We find His joy.
We find His peace.
We find His acceptance.
And ultimately we find His victory!
The abiding Presence of Christ and His triumph do not come easily to us. The unwrapping process may be slow and heart wrenching. Life is complicated. There may be many layers of suffering to unwrap. However, the pain we endure is a significant and often necessary aspect of our journey in Christ to truly identify ourselves with Him, discover His amazing love for us, and conform to His purpose.
Paul was willing to fill up his body and his life with the suffering necessary for the cause of Christ and His glory. He knew Christ would overcome and bring victory through every hardship. He rejoiced at the prospect.
The question remains.
Will we allow suffering to be an integral part of our life narrative and allow it to bring us intimately closer to our Savior?
The cost is great. However, the ultimate reward we receive, will be like nothing we have ever known.
Don’t be afraid. Let’s open the package!
Photo by Ron Guest of Flickr