February 23, 2013
READ: Romans 5:3-5
Pain. We take pills to ease it, hold prayer meetings to heal it, develop strategies to avoid it and think up philosophies to explain it. We rarely, however, consider suffering as part of God’s plan for our lives.
Classic spiritual authors take a different approach to suffering. Take the 17th century monk Brother Lawrence, for example. Lame in one leg and acquainted with illness, in The Practice of the Presence of God, he says: “I have been often near expiring, but I never was so much satisfied as then. Accordingly, I did not pray for any relief, but I prayed for strength to suffer with courage, humility and love. Ah, how sweet it is to suffer with God!”
“The heart is stretched through suffering, and enlarged,” wrote renowned Quaker teacher Thomas Kelly. He believed that suffering helps us feel God’s burden for a world in pain and encourages us to respond.
Or let me give a more recent example. In 1967 a diving accident left Joni Eareckson Tada a quadriplegic. She told me this during a radio interview: “Christians sometimes want to erase suffering out of the dictionary. [But] if you read the Bible, you’ll see that it is often God’s best tool to make us more like Jesus.”
There’s nothing wrong with visiting a doctor when we’re sick, and we should pray when we’re ill (James 5:13-18). But Brother Lawrence, Thomas Kelly and Joni Eareckson Tada discovered something deeper about suffering: God wants to use it to transform our character (Romans 5:3-5), make us mature (James 1:2-4), give us empathy for others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), prove our faith (1 Peter 1:7) and make us like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). “How sweet it is to suffer with God!” are the words of people who can rejoice in suffering (Romans 5:3), because God’s purposes in it are their priority.
When suffering comes, do you get angry at God or seek His purposes in it? How have you experienced God’s presence through suffering?
How have you been placed in a situation where following or honouring Jesus came with a price? How does Jesus’ example make it easier for you to follow Him?