Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Share in His Sufferings

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:16-17

This is ecstatically good news! God's Word tells us that we are God’s children and as His children we will inherit all that is His (which is everything!), and we will be glorified with Him. But Paul says that this is all conditional on one thing: our willingness to share in Christ's suffering. What a downer. Why would a Heavenly Father who loves us so much wants us to suffer?

Well this is too big of a question to really answer in a few paragraphs, but I have two passages I want you to consider as you seek to answer that question in your own life. The first is Hebrews 5:7-9:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…

Jesus didn't exactly skip happily all the way to the cross. In fact, in the garden of Gethsemane He was so dismayed over His looming suffering that He sweated blood and asked God for a way out (Luke 22: 39-46). In this way Jesus is no different from the rest of us; even He doesn’t get excited about suffering. The passage says that God the Father heard Christ's prayers, but in the end still asked Him to suffer because through that suffering, Christ was made perfect (or complete). His obedience and submission to God’s will was there before He suffered but it hadn't been proven yet. It hadn't been tested. The suffering made His obedience complete. It went from a theoretical willingness to obey during difficult times to actually obeying in a difficult situation.

It's the same with us. We can say that we have completely surrendered our life to Christ, but we haven't proven it until our obedience has been tested. Suffering reveals the true nature of our relationship with the Father. Its easy to say that we are willing to obey. But actually obeying God when it is difficult and painful... when we don't understand why He is allowing painful things to happen to us, that's where the rubber meets the road. In short, God allows us to suffer in order to develop proven obedience in us.

The second passage of Scripture that I want you to consider is II Corinthians 1:8-9:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Paul and his companions were enduring great trials even to the point of fearing for their life, but Paul explains that God allowed it to happen so that they would learn to rely more fully on Him. The simple truth is that most of us are pretty self-reliant. We are able to get through everyday life without having to rely on God very much. We have everything under control. It's only when things get out of our control that we are forced to reach out to God for help. Suffering gives us this opportunity. It is out of our control. It teaches us to depend on the Lord even when we don't understand what He is doing. It teaches us to weather the storms of life hiding in the shelter He provides.

So in the end the question isn’t really “Why would God allow me to suffer?" The better question is "How is God teaching me through this suffering? How is He growing me through this suffering? And how is God going to use it to my good?" (Romans 8:28)

For further reading this week check out…
- Matthew 16:21-27: Suffering has always been a part of the plan for Christians.
- Acts 5:40-42: How's this for a right perspective on suffering?
- Philippians 1:29, 3:10-11: I want to know the fellowship of His sufferings.
- I Peter 4:1-2, 12-14: Count yourself blessed.

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