‘For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’ Phillippians 1:27-30
If you know about the apostle Paul, you know that he endured tremendous suffering. Paul said in Corinthians that he faced peril every hour and death every day. Just imagine literally facing death daily. Can we imagine that, those of us who have never faced it at all? Can we imagine it coming anywhere near to us when we live our lives daily in great comfort and convenience? What does facing death look like and how do we picture it while our bums are deep into the cushions of our couches watching Netflix?
I have recently had a great urge to pursue justice wherever I can. It will sound very silly and very much like I am a tattle-tale but whenever someone is doing something unfair, unjust, hurtful or unkind around me I speak out. Recently I have been cursed more than I have been in years because I called people out when they were trying to walk through the barriers of the train without paying or press the stop button on the escalator for fun. I almost went as far as to stop a young boy from getting away from the police after he assaulted another guy but I thought, wait, what if I get hurt?
This is a small example of a bigger point: we don’t suffer for what is right because we are afraid of what might happen to us. Paul could have stayed in his position of authority where he would have been very comfortable, but instead chose to follow Christ and take on a great heap of endless suffering. He even said, ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.’ He was saying that if he only followed Christ for the rewards he would gain during his life on earth, he would be the most pitiful person, having a life that was filled with hardship and pain. He admitted that his life was pitiful, if looked at under the assumption of life being finite, comprising of only our time on this earth. I would admit as well that my life feels pitiful sometimes. I would NEVER compare my suffering to Paul’s but following Christ requires me to commit in love to relationships that hurt, to give up things that I love in order to serve Christ first, to forfeit wealth and thrills where I need to in order to be generous and serve others in their needs. Sometimes I wish I could not care, that I could just enjoy the things I enjoy and seek my own happiness and dreams. But most days, I am pursuing excellence in Christ, which is the opposite if pursuing my own gain.
God has been speaking to me so much about suffering, either to prepare me for what’s to come or to enable me to be more fearless in the things I already face. The greatest revelation He has given me is from the verses above, that ‘it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him’. I have known for a while that faith is a gift and that the fact that I believe so strongly in Jesus is something I need to daily get on my knees and thank God for. Faith is such a great gift. Having faith is like being given special goggles that allow you to see far more dimensions, to see God in everything, to see hope in every situation and it’s a cloak of courage to keep you from feeling fearful in all situations. I will never take ownership of my own faith. It’s the second part that shocked me and it’s the thing that turns a lot of people away from God.
God has granted us suffering aka suffering is a GIFT! Pain is a gift. Hardship is a gift. Why are we so wired to believe the opposite? Why are we wired to want things to be easy? Why, even when we turn to God, we just want Him to grant us all of our wishes and make our lives perfect? Why are we pursuing perfection and happiness if suffering and faith are more precious gifts? Why is suffering not on any of our gift registries? I think we’ve got it wrong all along, at least I have. I know now that’s why I have felt dissatisfied and empty even in the moments where I felt like I had a lot of what I wanted and was doing what I wanted, and wasn’t having to struggle for it.
Suffering can come in many ways: suffering through developing better habits, suffering through growing a business, suffering through loss or illness, suffering through strained relationships, suffering through persecution, suffering through wars, suffering through poverty and destitution. All of these sufferings are not created equal by any means, but they are all ways of feeling pain and all require endurance, hope and faith to get through them. The character that is required for greatness and for impact on others can never be formed without suffering. It happens to all people.
‘Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life,’ said author Susan David in her Ted Talk. Whether you are Christian or non-Christian, discomfort and suffering are gifts because they lead to what we ultimately all want, which is a meaningful life. I believe that a meaningful life is a one where you have a flourishing and intimate relationship with God that prepares you for eternal life with him. My life on earth is meaningful but as I mentioned it is often more pitiful than meaningful. But the fact of the matter is that no-one can escape the beauty and purpose of suffering. We must all come to see it and understand it as the precious gift it is as much as we would consider a child a gift. When I see qualities of the human race reflect the key qualities of God I know that those qualities are what are built into us as part of His beautiful design. So basically, pain and suffering and comfort are extraordinarily important and purposeful because God ALWAYS intended them to be.
God ALWAYS intended suffering to lead to His glory, which ultimately will lead to our greatest satisfaction. When God is most glorified, we are most satisfied. Therefore, suffering is an key ingredient of great satisfaction.
Suffering is a key ingredient of great satisfaction.
Yes, I repeated it. Because we need to repeat it.
Put down the book that lists ten ways to a happier life because I guarantee it won’t mention suffering. Instead, write this on your fridge: ‘suffering is a key ingredient of great satisfaction’.
And go, go now and suffer in joy. Rejoice in your suffering as Paul always did in his (which will most likely be far greater than yours). Rejoice in your hardships as they are gifts under your perennial Christmas tree. Be courageous and fight for justice. Don’t give up on your business idea or in trying to change the status quo at work. Keep pushing for excellent health and habits in your life and the lives of others around you. Love fearlessly in the face of hurt. Get back up after loss and embrace life’s next challenge. Get up, go out and help those in need. Persevere through illness and continue to love and be a light to those around you. Speak out against unfair treatment of yourself or others. Preach the gospel with great faith and boldness.
Suffering is a gift. Don’t turn it down :)