Lately I’ve found myself often thinking about the topic of suffering.
I used to be very much of the opinion that all suffering was inherently bad, trials meant to pass and caused by the Enemy. This thought has been challenged numerous times in the last year as God reworked my thoughts on suffering.
In light of Easter this weekend I think it’s pretty fitting to be thinking about suffering since Jesus endured the most brutal pain and suffering- not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. A loving God would never wish that type of suffering on His beloved children, right? I mean, isn’t that why He sent Jesus to take our place on the cross? Yes, He definitely allowed Jesus to die on our behalf, but I’m starting to understand now that He also calls us to enter into suffering when we enter into Christ.
Luke 9:23 says, “If anyone wants to be my disciple you must deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me.”
I think it’s SO clear right there in scripture, and yet somehow our comfort-entitled, North-Americanized thought processes cause us to try to justify that we don’t need to endure hardship and suffering. This might be bold of me to say, but I think that here in North America we’ve even allowed the prosperity gospel to subtly sneak into the Church without us being fully aware of it.
How many times have you found yourself thinking about the “blessings” Christ gives us, or that when you accept Christ you receive good things and a ‘pouring out of blessing’? Of course I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to expect blessings, but what exactly are the blessings we’re expecting? And have we bought into the lie that part of God’s blessing is to always protecting us from suffering and hardship…?
In Luke 14 we find Jesus sharing an analogy about a tower being built. He basically says, “If you’re going to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and count the cost and see whether you have enough to complete it?”
Jesus is calling people to follow him in radical discipleship, and He’s warning them to count the cost. Another way he could have said this is, “Be sure to count the cost before you sign up with discipleship with Jesus because it’s costly. I don’t want you to sign up naively and be surprised and disappointed later when the cost is very high.”
When I thought about this I was actually pretty shocked by the implications. Yes, God loves us immensely and desires for us to accept His love and forgiveness, which are His gift of grace. Yes, Jesus died for the purpose of us being redeemed and restored. However, and that’s a BIG however, He desires for us to commit to the greatest possible cost: Being totally sold out to the point of already giving God a “yes” as an answer to anything that may come.
Yes to possibly stepping into ministry.
Yes to fulfilling the great commission.
Yes to sharing the gospel with anyone He asks me to.
Yes to going anywhere He wants me to go.
Yes to leaving anything He asks me to leave behind.
Yes to stepping out of my comfort zone.
Yes to changing my own plans to His plans.
Yes to sacrifice.
Yes to giving up my own will and desires when they conflict with His.
Yes to giving up comforts that become idols.
Yes to suffering for His name’s sake.
I was challenged by the question: Do I share a gospel of good things and prosperity with others? Or do I also invite them to count the cost?
Accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross means also being willing to pick up my own cross and follow Him daily. It’s a call to radical obedience.
I was recently listening to a podcast sermon where Eric Ludy shared some pretty crazy, defining moments of obedience in his own life. He just recently turned 50, and yet could identify 17 “defining moments of obedience” that God had already called him to take since he surrendered his life. He summarized each one of those experiences with five things that they had in common, and I’ve also added a couple things to that list from my own experiences. I want to share them because I think that in a lot of ways our obedience is linked to our suffering for the sake of Christ. Here’s the list of things that each moment of obedience to Christ had in common:
- Pride being chipped away for humility to take its place
- Saying no to something that is (often) easier or more desirable
- Invited into suffering
- Taking away comforts
- End with a greater picture of God’s love, mercy, triumph and faithfulness
- Best decisions ever made
Pastor Ludy had one specific story of when he was in his early twenties in ministry school. There was a strict rule about tuition payments being completed within the first month of courses. While he was fully paid up and his spot secure, another girl in the group hadn’t been able to raise the full funds and would be asked to leave the next day as a result. He felt so strongly that God was calling him to give up his spot on her behalf and even though he wrestled with the unfairness of it, he ended up obeying that prompting and privately giving up his spot for her. God had bigger plans for him and used that moment as the beginning of it all. That was just one of seventeen crazy stories where he had a moment of choosing something that was more difficult, required him to lay down his pride, and invited him into suffering as he obeyed.
I think of how Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, fell to his face on the ground and prayed in agonizing, overwhelming sorrow: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will…”
If Jesus was able to obey and enter into THAT kind of pain and suffering, how much more can I obediently step into whatever God calls me into? How much more can I have faith that in ALL things, God works for the good of those He loves?
That kind of faith is easier said than done. I know that. This is still a truth I’m preaching to my own heart daily.
I’m understanding now more than ever before that when God promises to work all things together for our good He really means it. I can trust that God is good above all else. No matter what kind of uncertainty, pain, difficulty or fear is in front of me, God is good. He always works for my good- and that doesn’t mean it always seems like something good in and of itself…His definition of good is different than my own. Difficulty can be for my good. Suffering can be for my good. Challenges can be for my good. I don’t always understand His ways, but I can trust in His goodness.
So going back to that list above… Yes, life with Christ still has difficulties. Yes, moments of obedience often require me to painfully lay down pride and have it replaced with humility. Yes, life with Christ sometimes means saying no to things that are easier, more comfortable or more desirable. Yes, entering into life with Christ means entering into His suffering too. But if I can turn your attention to the last three points, that’s where I would love to leave you with some encouragement.
When we go through testing and difficult seasons God uses that time to sanctify us. His Holy Spirit can work in us, slowly chipping away at parts of us that have yet to be formed into the image of Christ. I don’t know about you, but that’s super exciting to me. I know that when I went through a super difficult and challenging season, God called me to a radical step of faith into full-time ministry and it was totally terrifying for me. There was honestly nothing easy about it. My entire first year was super challenging, and then just as I felt myself getting into the swing of things this year I was confronted with more changes and challenges. But man, if the last two years have taught me one thing it’s that difficulty often produces perseverance and character. God has been purposefully using these seasons to make me more into a Woman after God’s own heart. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Secondly, these seasons give us a greater picture of the faithfulness, love and mercy of God. I had to think of the cross again… it seemed at first as if darkness had won, but instead the ultimate victory was won as Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death and sin once and for all. That time in the days after Jesus’ death had to be some of the darkest, most depressing and anxious days for Jesus’ disciples and family. I think of dark and discouraging seasons that maybe you or I have gone through… could it be that our time of triumph is just around the corner? It may seem as if darkness is winning at times, but there is always triumph in Christ.
I have yet to go through one of these challenging seasons of life where I haven’t seen a greater glimpse into the love and faithfulness of God by the end of it. I’m in one of those seasons right now yet again. I’m convinced that God uses these times so intentionally to teach us greater dependence on Him. The promise in 2 Corinthians 12:9 is not an empty one- God truly promises that His grace is sufficient for us and His power perfected in our weakness. Some difficulties and hardships don’t get resolved or go away quickly. But just because God doesn’t remove the thorn doesn’t mean He’s not using it for our good and His glory. I continuously see evidence of His goodness and provision time after time.
In Proverbs 3 we’re told to trust in the Lord with all of our hearts and not lean on our own understanding…in all our ways that feel reasonable, acknowledge that He is faithful. In all our ways that seem unreasonable, we’re supposed to do the same. As Ruth Chow wrote in one of her devotionals, “The biggest decision you and I face today may not be what we do next, but whom we will trust. It’s not warm feelings and wishful thinking we’re told to put our trust in. We’re to trust in the God who led His people into the desert so they might know the end of their own power and the fullness of His provision. He’s doing the same with us this day.”
Friend, would we praise Him for His sustaining strength in our lives if it were not for reaching the end of our own strength? Would we consider Him enough if we did not find ourselves lacking?
Each day we find ourselves confronted with decisions. Two of the greatest decisions we make each day is whether we will deny ourselves and whether we will pick up our cross to follow Jesus. All else flows from these two decisions- defining moments of obedience. Our day (or month or year) can become less comfortable and more difficult when we choose to obey God’s calls in our lives. But the last thought I want to leave you with is that these moments of obedience or seasons of difficulty are the best times you will ever go through in your life. No, not “the best times” in a way that makes sense in our human reasoning…rather they become the most fruitful, spiritually growing, beautiful times of intimacy with your Saviour that you will ever have. An opportunity for God to reveal His glory, faithfully provide, and sanctify you as you walk together with Him.
Praying you have an incredible and blessed Easter weekend as you also reflect on God’s grace and goodness! Let’s go into the upcoming week with the resolve that you and I will take up our crosses to follow Jesus obediently into the unknown, trusting that He will never leave or forsake us!