Not a catchy title tonight.
But suffering is real on planet earth.
If you’ve lived here any length of time, chances are that you will have tasted some suffering at least, in some variety. All of us have pain, or will have pain, as we travel through life. It’s what we do with it that matters.
Some people go through large amounts of suffering, chronically. Others not so much. It can seem unfair, from a distance or up closer. Yet for those who are called, according to God’s purposes, we know that in all things -yes all things, God is working for our good.
Yet suffering is part of the package.
‘But why so much to some?’ You might ask.
Tonight my heart is heavy for Mozambique, in Africa, which has just been hit by yet another atrocious natural disaster, this time Cyclone ” Kenneth”. Hadn’t those people been through enough? I personally would think so. But I’m not in charge of planet earth – thank goodness.
Last week I wrote quite challenging, perhaps provocatively, but ultimately very deliberately, about knowing more of the resurection power of Jesus Christ in our lives, if we call ourselves his followers. I wrote of our challenge to offer the world around us – the broken,hurting, messed up but beautiful world – an encounter with our creator, through our very lives and beings.
I was led to think very much last week of the verse from Ephesians 3:10, and this week I’m centred upon the part of it which mentions ‘sharing in his sufferings’.
Back in 2006, when I had just moved to Bradford, West Yorkshire (England), where I lived and worked and studied for a year, I had my little car broken into with a brick the very first week I arrived. (A hearty welcome to Bradford). My expensive car stereo (that came with the car when I bought it) was stolen. I was shocked and quite shaken by it all. Forensic police eventually came to take finger prints from the car but no one was ever caught for the crime. It was a notable evening and first weekend in Bradford.
The very next morning, after the incident had happened, I was walking down the road near where I lived (walking, because I couldn’t drive my car), when a text message came through from a friend back homein Northern Ireland. It contained that verse to encourage me. It jolted into my spirit like a bullet and struck me like never before. Ephesians 3 verse 10. Did I really accept the call the share in the sufferings with Christ as well as seeking out the positive, desirable, “nice” bits about following Jesus? I wrestled with it all and have meditated on it inwardly ever since.
Fast forward to now, and today even, and as I have battled my way through much adversity in these last 13 years since that incident, I am freshly,humbly challenged to accept the fellowship of sharing in the sufferings, every bit as much as the power of his resurrection. The sufferings and glorious miracles go hand in hand actually – which is not something you will hear or read very much from the front of churches (and certainly not anywhere else!). Like I said at the beginning, suffering doesn’t really yield a catchy title or draw in the crowds!
It is in bearing the cross, and picking it up daily, (whatever our “cross” may be) following Jesus anyway, we start to grow more like him. We start to bear more of his image. We start to bear more of his fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. Or at least that’s the goal. I don’t know about you, but I feel even worse when I mess up so much when I already know I’m struggling. But God tells us his grace his been released sufficiently for us so that his power is actually made perfect in our weaknesses. He grows honey in the dead parts of our lives. Even and probably especially, in darkness.
So what about the sufferings of those who don’t believe in Jesus? Those who don’t believe in our Christian God?
I don’t have all the answers, nor do I feel any need to try to have, especially right here. I’d encourage you to keep asking questions. Questions are the only way to get answers. (God can handle our questions, it’s Christians and often church leaders who can’t!).
More and more I’m becoming more comfortable with mystery. Something most Protestant churches I’ve been anywhere near aren’t seemingly very comfortable with.
But to go back to last week’s question of if God is so good and Jesus really rose, perhaps the question one might ask this week is, ‘Why is there so much suffering in the world?’ Or “why is there so much suffering in my life?” you might be asking, and in those times of genuine asking, even wrestling, personally, these days I find myself asking ‘Why not me?’ After all, there is so much suffering in the world, and in this broken, fallen world Jesus said we would have trouble, but tells us to take heart anyway because he has overcome the world. So why should I not suffer? Why not?
Of course suffering is crap. Whatever variety it comes in. It’s hard. There’s sorrow. Theres even tears. But we can suffer in such a way that it actually brings us closer in our faith, and more connected spiritually, rather than take us away from spirituality and God.
(But don’t forget as well, not everything is from God. Not everything is to be tolerated. Not everything is heaven sent (but everything is heaven used – if we let it be). There’s God, but there is also the enemy. If you catch what I’m saying.
So I hope this helps someone tonight or this week.
Suffering with a Christ-like attitude and way is a powerful, impacting thing.