Step 9: Suffers With Christ
I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering. (Philippians 3:10)
A: Discovering the Truth
B. Exploring the Truth
Trials and suffering should not catch us off guard. Nor should we consider it strange when we do encounter them. For Jesus very clearly told us we would encounter persecution in this world, simply because we were His followers. In fact, He said if we are unwilling to “carry our own crosses” and follow Jesus (a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief) we could not be His disciple. These are hard sayings, but we must understand that Jesus not only willingly carried Hs own cross; He was nailed to it and died on it for us in order to give us eternal life. It is the promise (His promise, sealed by His blood) of that eternal life that makes the suffering and trials here on earth bearable. In fact James tells us it should be more than just bearable, we should “consider it pure joy,” while Peter said we should rejoice that we “participate in the sufferings of Christ.” These were not idle words or casual observations by mere spectators of the Christian life. Both men encountered their own persecutions because they were followers of Christ that eventually led them to give their own lives as martyrs rather than abandon their faith in Jesus.
But there is more to suffering than “it’s going to happen so get over it” que sera, sera attitude. Much more. For even when “bad” things happen to Godly people, God (in His own way and in His own time) causes them to work out for good. And in the process we are being made over into the likeness of His Son, “an eternal glory that far outweighs” all our temporal pain and suffering. As stated before, Jesus said that in this world we would have persecution. In His very next breath He added, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Because His Spirit lives in us, we can overcome too.
C. Knowing and Understanding the Truth
Trials and suffering are not merely something that we must endure as we look with hope to the “eternal glory” awaiting us in Heaven. For God does not waste any experience that He, in His infinite wisdom, permits in our lives. Some things He will allow, knowing they are necessary for us to become more like His Son, others He will not, knowing that they would be more than we can bear.
So what should we do as we endure the crosses that we are called to bear for His Kingdom and His glory? We can try to understand why we are experiencing painful trials, although there will be many times when the why is not for us to know at the present time. But even if we cannot fully understand why, there are other things that we just might be able to understand and learn from. For example:
- How does this experience identify me with Christ?
- How might my response to this experience prove the genuineness of my faith?
- In what ways might this experience be training me for future service?
- Can this experience teach me to be more patient with God?
- How might my perspective need adjustment as I face this experience?
- How is the experience of God’s faithfulness through past trials helping me to persevere through the current trial?
- What do others see in how I deal with this experience that might be a witness (good or bad) for the Kingdom?
- How can this experience make me more spiritually fruitful?
- Is this experience causing me to dive down into despair or soar higher in my faith
- Through this experience am I relying on God’s faithfulness or worldly “wisdom?”
- Is there something in my life God is correcting and for which I need to repent?
- How can I use my experience to help others in similar circumstances?
As we consider these questions, perhaps we can move from a why me attitude to a why not use it attitude. In any event, we must learn to trust Him and take Him at His word – what we are enduring is necessary and will somehow work out for the good.
D: Weighing the Truth
I do not know how many times I have read the story of Peter’s attempt to walk on water. But for many years I missed a subtle point. When Peter cried out for Jesus to save him from sinking, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him. But it was not until they were safe in the boat that the wind died down. So it is with our walk here on earth. There will always be wind and waves. God is teaching us to walk on and through them. There may be times of calm, but they will never cease forever until we reach Heaven, until we are “in the boat.” Until that time, Jesus is right there (“nothing can separate us from the love of Christ”) to catch us if we are in danger of sinking. He would prefer that we learn to walk in faith, so He continues to allow the wind and waves as each time we are able to take a few more steps before sinking. And as each tribulation subsides we are learning more and more to be conquerors of fear rather than being conquered by fear. You see, trials and suffering are inevitable, but how we respond to them is up to us. How are you responding? Which way are the scales tipping in your life?
E: Questioning the Truth – For Musing On Your Own
1. Would you characterize yourself as someone who looks for the silver-lining in every cloud or the cloud in every silver-lining? Is this the way it should be? Why or why not?
2. Why is it so easy to focus on our troubles and so hard to look beyond them?
3. When we encounter troubles and trials, why do we not have to lose heart?
4. What makes adversity such an effective teacher?
5. If there was a different way than adversity, would God still choose adversity? Why or why not?
6. What is meant by considering trials “pure joy” and “rejoice” that we participate in the sufferings of Christ? Don’t these sound kind of perverse? What is the real point James and Peter are trying to make?
7. What does “My grace is sufficient” mean?
8. Which of the “good reasons” do you find most encouraging and why?
9. Why is it so important for us to fix our eyes on Jesus and how He endured tribulations?
10. According to the verses in Romans 8, what do we know about God’s love when we are enduring trials?
11. What new perspectives (if any) have you gained on trials and suffering in this lesson?