Over the past 24 hours, three people that I care about have conversed with me about how life can be challenging. Each of their stories shared the same motif: life is hard, so, it is what it is. However, the purpose of this post is to share how we must all reevaluate our perspectives surrounding pain and suffering based on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Pain v. Suffering
It would be no surprise to say that pain is painful. God intricately designed the brain to connect pain to an unpleasant triggered response. While there are different kinds of pains (physical, emotional, psychological, relational, etc.), the response is still the same. Sharp or dull, our natural response is to alleviate the pain.
Now, if we observe suffering in its root form, we see a different story. The English version of the word suffer originates from the Latin term sufferre, which means "to bear or endure." And if you break it down even further to the Latin root ferre, you are left with the definition of suffering being not just "to bear or endure," but also, "to bring or to tell."
We have created a classic mixup. Hear me out.
I am a management, not a marketing major; so, l am going to shoot you straight here...Pain is what we feel, while suffering is what we do. Pain can be felt by choice or by circumstance, but suffering has and always will be about choice.
Think of it this way - if you are traveling to Africa for missionary work, you will need a series of injections to keep your body from contracting certain diseases. Now, the level of pain may fluctuate based on each person's pain tolerance, but I'm sure that we can all agree that there is a certain level of pain to an injection, or a series of injections. You are given the following choices: a) receive the shots, b) neglect the shots (and pray that you stay healthy), or c) cancel the trip all-together because of the shots.
Sometimes, we cannot choose whether something is going to hurt or cause us pain. However, there are certain aspects of life that we can choose whether or not to receive that pain. The only way that we would ever elect for pain, in our right minds, is for a cause that we behold as worthy of a certain standard of ours. In other words, we would be suffering, or choosing to bear and endure pain for a little while, in order for something that is better and lasts longer.
Understanding the Importance of Pain and Suffering
Many lessons can be taken away from pain and suffering, but I would like to focus on three for today.
1. Pain and suffering initially entered the world due to our sin. (Gen. 3:14-24)
2. Pain and suffering builds character, which strengthens faith. (James 1:2-4)
3. Pain and suffering teaches us how to pray for the "lost". (Luke 19:10)
If the crux of Jesus' ministry came in suffering, how much more can we endure with him in suffering? Jesus, who was all-man and all-God wrapped into one person, served in suffering, in spite of his divine nature. Don't miss this.
John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
There are three supreme observations about Jesus that we must gather from this verse:
- Jesus was NO plan B. For the apostle John wrote, "In the beginning was the Word."
- Jesus was NO stranger. For the apostle John wrote, "the Word was with God."
- Jesus was ALWAYS divine. For the apostle John wrote, "the Word was God."
If all there was to the Gospel was John 1:1, there would be no sin. This verse declares that Jesus was there from the beginning, he was not alone, and God had already made him perfect. But, due to our sinful nature, a response is necessary on God's behalf for our sake. Thankfully, the Gospel, does not end here.
John 1:3-5, "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
The apostle John gives us this passage to further explain that not only was God there, but he chose to do something. He created things, one of which was life, which John calls "the light of men." Furthermore, John describes this light as one that shines victoriously in the darkness. In essence, John is explaining that though there was sin in the world, God, being the creator of all things, had over-powered sin. Let's continue.
John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
This is the turning point of the Gospel of John. If all there was to this story was a far-out God who was strong enough to save the world but chose not to, we would be pitiful creatures hopelessly abandoned by a powerful, arrogant God. However, that is not the God we serve.
Jesus who, as we said before, was already alive, already there, and already perfect, became the opposite of these in a flash. According to John 1 and John 19, Jesus went from being alive in perfection to dead in sin. Why would he do such a thing?
Our Savior knows the difference between pain and suffering. Jesus knew that the pain of physically dying a sinner's death, even after being illegally marred and publicly shamed, could not compare to the glory of God revealed in the salvation of God's creation. Jesus willingly accepted the price of pain for the suffering of our salvation. He endured that we may endure with him.
As for me, that is the ONLY person worthy of my worship.
I truly believe that this is at least one of the points that God intended for us to be able to comprehend. Once we view Jesus, and only Jesus, as being worthy of our worship, we can embrace suffering. At the end of the day, everything relies on the cornerstone, that is Christ, who came to suffer, that we may suffer with him. We do not serve a god of the dead, but the God of the Living Sacrifice.
It is this gospel truth that reveals the glory of Romans 8 to us. Read the following verses and take joy in the promise that Jesus was forsaken to experience the agony of the cross, so that we would not have to experience the pain of sin and death.
Romans 8:1-4, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."
Romans 8:18-19, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:26-28, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Romans 8:31-38, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Ultimately, the same Jesus who suffered is God (Jn 1:1). Therefore, if God raised Jesus from the dead, he too can use our suffering for his greater purpose. Let us look on to suffering as a plague NO LONGER! For we are not hopelessly bound to suffering; rather, we are free in Christ. For God is alive and he raises the dead.
As we learn about bearing and enduring through pain in our pursuit of suffering, let us not forget the other two aspects of bringing and telling of why we are experiencing pain and persecution in sharing the gospel. To further this aspect, I have attached a list of 9 ways to actively pray for the lost, those who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is by no means the answer, but rather a helpful guide for prayer.
Finally, let us be reminded that Jesus made us into a community of priests that can suffer, yet still seek him in the midst of our suffering. The author of the book of Hebrews declared the approachable nature of the God we serve, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:14-16).
Jesus being forsaken means that God will never forsake us. He is worthy, above all things.
Heavenly Father, we bow before you in awe and reverence of how great and mighty you are. At the mention of your name, kings bow down. Teach us to look to your Word in times of pain and suffering, rather than to fleeting things, so that you may sustain us, and we may share your goodness with others. We thank you for giving us a gift that cannot be destroyed, that is your Word. You have promised us that if we call upon the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior, we will be with you for eternity. Let the eyes of our hearts and minds never lose sight of that fulfilling promise, God. We ask that you would equip us to pray for and present the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know you, though you know them by name. We give you all of the thanks and lift these praises and requests to you, amen.
9 Ways to Pray for the Lost
1. To Have Open Minds - 2 Corinthians 4:4
2. To be Set Free From Spiritual Captivity - 2 Timothy 2:25-26
3. To Have Ears to Hear and Hearts to Understand - Matthew 13:15
4. To Build Faith to Believe and Repent of Sin - Acts 20:21
5. To Have the Will to Respond in Confession - Romans 10:9
6. To Help Witness to Unbelievers - Matthew 9:38
7. To Build Relationships for Engaging Receptiveness - 1 Corinthians 9:22
8. To Acquire Boldness - Acts 4:29
9. To Create Opportunities - Colossians 4:2-3