Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Suffering in Perspective

What sort of picture does the word 'suffering' bring to your mind? Victims of the Haiti earthquake? Persecuted Christians in China, India, or North Korea? A hard day at work? The death of a loved one? Loss of a job or financial security? Chronic sickness?

Whatever the case, usually our mind does not conjure up a pretty or desirable situation in life. For most people, suffering is something to be avoided at all costs. It's something we shield ourselves from, taking great care that no unnecessary risks are taken that might jeopardize our comfortable situation in life.

This attitude reveals what our perspective is about Christianity. It is a preoccupation for my salvation, my comfort, my well-being, and my eternal security. It is a life that says, "Yes, Lord, I'll follow You, but please just don't ask me to do anything that hurts. Or at least, nothing that hurts a lot. Grant me peace, joy, and fulfillment in all I do, and bless my efforts in these ways I've decided to serve You."

Most of these people are successful in reaching their goals, particularly those who are born into a blessed country, such as America has been. It's fairly easy to glide through our life on this earth with no huge hurdles, obstacles, or sacrifices. Saying the right words at the right times, tolerance for sin, and a friendly demeanor will go a long ways. "Carried to heaven on flowery beds of ease" is their motto, and they are not ashamed to both live it and verbally proclaim it.

Though this sort of life is possible for a few, many are shocked when someday they are thrown into unchosen, and unavoidable suffering. Tragedy may strike at any time, and it's then that many are forced to seek God in a new way. Some describe these experiences as wake-up calls, and can later testify with gratefulness to the refining God did through their experience. Others walk away disillusioned, bitter, and angry that a "loving" God could allow them to go through such unthinkable calamity.

What is God's heart in this? Why does He allow suffering? What exactly is suffering? What should be our attitude toward it? In what ways do sacrifice and suffering tie together?

Recently I finished reading a book called 'The Overcomers' by Richard Wurmbrand that examined many stories of persecuted Christians around the world, and the thing that stood out to me the most was the attitude of these Christians toward suffering. They not only rejoiced in it as we are commanded in James 1:2, but they embraced it, and even welcomed it as a privilege. They had the minds and hearts of soldiers, and were not shaken when hard things came their way.

I believe much of this came from their perspective on eternity. Their goals were set not merely on their own temporal happiness here on earth, but on the Kingdom of God and the souls they were so desirous to bring in. When weighing those things in the balance, those eternal rewards were found much more precious, and gave them the ability to rejoice and thrive in some of the humanly worst situations imaginable. I do believe they counted the cost, but were able to count what we consider terrible suffering and sacrifice as a blessed privilege.

The world is watching during the times of our deepest agony and they are wanting to see if our Christianity works all the time. Are we going to waste these opportunities for God to be glorified, or will be let those heart-wrenching times be the platform to shout forth the goodness and all-sufficiency of Christ? Most importantly, are we willing to be used by God, however He chooses for the advancement of the kingdom, even if it hurts?

The Christian prays for fuller manifestations of Christ's power, and glory, and love to him; but he is often not aware that this is in truth praying to be brought into the furnace; for in the furnace only it is that Christ can walk with His friends, and display, in their preservation and deliverance, His own almighty power.

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