“New year – New me”, is the popular caption for Instagram photos right now. The beginning of a new year can make people take stock of their life. It can be a time where people set new goals for health, fitness, family, or career. I’ve noticed that “new years resolutions” and goals are often about improving one’s quality of life. They are goals intended to gain, grow, and enjoy life. If that sounds exactly what you are looking for then I’ve got the perfect resolution/goal for you; suffering.
Yep, you read that right – suffering. Before you label me as sadistic or insane give me a few more paragraphs to lay out why suffering is valuable.
If you are breathing you have experienced suffering. Often, those painful experience can cause us to ask hard questions about God. But pain is a blessing. It’s just a messenger. Its job is to draw our attention to a bigger story. Physical pain, for example, is designed as a warning to a caustic issue underneath. Painkillers only numb the pain, they do not cure the problem. Imagine a world without pain sensors in your body. Your body would burn, bleed, and fall apart without you noticing. Like a true friend, pain tells you when you need to get help.
We naturally want to live pain-free. Even the people who espouse the “No pain, No gain” motto would not apply that to their life outside of athletic achievement. No, when it comes down to it we don’t want the hardship of broken relationships, lost jobs, failed endeavors, the death of loved ones, or persecution. However, hardship is exactly what we need to help us grow.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
What do you lack? Strength? Peace? Provision? Companionship? Opportunity? The pathway – the solution, is hardship. Fitness, health, or career goals are all valuable areas to strive for improvement in. But, perhaps you are a follower of Jesus and truly want to know Him deeper this year. You want to grow in your faith. While it is true that the life of a disciple of Jesus brings peace, strength, hope, joy, and full life – it does not come by way of comfort. Suffering is the currency of communion with Christ. Paul the Apostle, who was no stranger to suffering, writes it this way, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings..” (Phil. 3:10)
I want to know Christ more deeply because in Him is the fullness of life. So often we try and achieve a full life outside of Jesus. Or even worse, we try and get a full life out of Jesus by doing all the religious things we know. You can’t get a full life out of Jesus, you can only have a full life with Jesus. Far too many people believe that the gospel is about what we can get from Jesus to make our lives better. They assume that the gospel is a spiritual handout to improve their life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not us asking Jesus into our lives but rather Jesus asking us into His life.
There is a unique place that only suffering can take you. It is a place of perspective. Some will take pain to the place of bitterness and self-pity. Jesus saw it as a necessary stop along the way to glory. He endured it, and the endurance brought about the completion of God’s will. It is the cross that gave timeless meaning to suffering. It is the example of Christ that offers purpose for the pain. Suffering should lead you to Jesus, and Jesus always leads you to glory.
So, on your list of hopes for 2019 perhaps suffering and hardship will find it’s way on there. I want to commune with Christ more deeply. For the joy set before me, I echo the passion of Paul. With Jesus pain is never wasted. Persecution is never pointless. Suffering is never the end. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)