Jesus never said that following him means we will not suffer.
In fact, he says the opposite. There are plenty of verses in the New Testament that explain suffering and difficult times can’t be avoided. I’ve heard it said that if we are truly living out the message of the Gospel, suffering will come. Even the earthly consequences of the fall are not simply blotted out by professing faith in Christ. Sorry. You will still get sick. You will still get your feelings hurt when someone says something untrue about you. You may even experience things you never thought you would have to go through. As I write this, I’m following the coverage of the earthquake in Japan. There are believers in Japan living and suffering through this devastation. It’s part of the process. But its not all bad.
The good news is that we are not alone. Our God is a God of love who never leaves us, even when it feels like He has. In my short (almost) 24 years, I’ve have times of trouble when I feel God is not near. My mind knows that he is, but my heart refuses to believe it. I’m sure you’ve been there, too. I think we all have. Going through difficult times gives God a chance to show his faithfulness, as long as we give our faith and hope in Him a chance to prove itself.
I love the Psalms. I turn to them in all seasons of life: joy, pain, suffering, worship, introspection and advice. Its all there, and way more. One of my favorites is Psalm 56. It is David’s continual turning to the Lord in times of trouble. A typical theme in David’s life. I was reading this a few weeks ago and shared three ways that David responded to people trying to harm him, conspiring against him and eager to take his life.
1. Trust in the Lord (vs 4) – Oh, but of course, you know this already… So when times get tough, do it.
2 .Obedience (vs 12) – Whatever calls calls you to do in any season, do it. This can get a little tricky when God calls you to do something you didn’t expect, as is His nature.
3. Giving Thanks (vs 12) – Giving thanks in times of suffering. To paraphrase a line from Greg’s message a few weeks ago, you’re not thanking God for the suffering, you’re thanking him for the joy we have in Him to get us through. Having a thankful heart shouldn’t depend on our current situation, but on the proximity of our hearts to God’s love and mercy.
I like the way Oswald Chambers penned it:
The saint never knows the joy of the lord in spite of tribulation, but because of it. (emphasis added)
I write this in a season where things aren’t particularly difficult. Things aren’t perfect, but my wife and I have it pretty good. The Biblical model of trusting in the Lord, being obedient and giving thanks is just as necessary in times of ease as they are in times of suffering. The truth is that times of trouble will surely come. When they do, I pray we can respond in the way I’ve written here.