Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.
Reading this I immediately thought of a report I read just recently of persecuted believers in China, but it applies equally to believers undergoing persecution anywhere in the world. The reason I thought of the Chinese believers was that one of them was quoted as saying what an honor it was to be persecuted for their faith. This verse doesn’t use the term, honor, but the implication certainly seems to be there. It isn’t easy to receive suffering as an honor! I am reminded of something Peter said: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2) It’s not at all that we are to desire, much less seek, suffering, but rather that we are to praise God for it when it comes, because we know that when trials are submitted to Him, He will use them for our good. (Romans 8:28) There are all kinds of suffering, of greatly varying intensity. Again, something that one person could deal with relatively easily might be almost unbearable for another person, because we all respond differently. Whatever the kind of suffering, we need to remember one of my favorite quotes from Jesus: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Again, as Peter said, we aren’t to be surprised when suffering comes. (1 Peter 4:12) Rather, we are to place our trust in Christ, who suffered unbelievably for us under the scourge and crucifixion, and rejoice in His victory, even before we experience it in the flesh.
I always feel a little strange talking and writing about suffering, because I feel I have suffered very little. A friend recently let us know of incredible emotional suffering they had encountered and are still experiencing, and my wife deals with pain every day from Parkinson’s Disease and a number of other medical issues. I feel I have no room to complain whatsoever! That can make it doubly awkward to counsel people who are focused on their personal difficulties and seem unable to rejoice. However, I am reminded of a note in the Nursing English textbook I use. In the lesson on symptoms of the common cold, after teaching such terms as “runny nose” and “stuffy nose,” it points out that some people, instead of saying “I have a runny nose,” will say, “I am suffering from a runny nose.” Much of the “suffering” I deal with in pastoral ministry seems, objectively speaking, to be on the level of a runny nose, especially when compared to that of those with chronic pain, much less those undergoing persecution. I am to keep that perspective about the “dips” in my own life, and seek to help others gain that perspective as well, but especially in dealing with others, I can’t do it in my own wisdom and strength. However, as Paul testified, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Actually, when Paul said that he was referring to bearing up under his own circumstances, so it is particularly appropriate for this subject!
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the full day yesterday, and all that You enabled us to do. Thank You for the fellowship we had, unplanned by us but planned by You to build up the Body of Christ. Thank You for enabling us to be where we needed to be, when we needed to be there. Thank You for Your plans and schedule for today. Help me not resent a moment of it, but rejoice to be Your agent in every situation, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!