I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your sufferings be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down.
- Charles Spurgeon
It seems that I can't get away from suffering. Lately it's been a recurring theme in my reading and listening, and not by my own design. Which makes me wonder if the Lord is preparing me for something. Or maybe He's preparing me to minister to others. Either way, I haven't been able to ignore this providence.
And as I've been reading and listening, I've been thinking about the disappearance of suffering from the contemporary Christian vernacular. It's been lost amidst the dialogue of having your best life and and doing big things for God. It's interesting to me that theologians past (especially the Puritans) wrote about suffering and discipline much more than authors of today. They knew they should expect it. They understood its purpose and importance. We, on the other hand, want to - feel we are entitled to - skip over suffering. We hold to a perpetual belief that God wants to bless us, that He has something better for us. It is indicative of the narcissism that pervades our culture and has quietly crept into the church.
While God does have something better for those He predestined according to His purpose (Eph. 1:11), He does not guarantee us a comfortable life here on earth. Heaven - not Heaven on earth - is the guarantee we've been given (Eph. 1:14). I wonder if our groanings for Heaven (2 Cor. 5:1-5) are motivated more by our own happiness and less by eternity with God. Perhaps that explains the phenomenon of the "Heaven tourism" books. Perhaps people aren't content with relying on what the Bible says about Heaven because they want to know if Heaven is as desirable as they think it should be. Perhaps they feel they should have a piece of Heaven now.
Yet Scripture is abundantly clear that we will not enter into Heaven without enduring trials.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
- 1 Peter 1:19-21
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
- 1 Peter 5:10
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
- Romans 8:16-17
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
- Acts 14:22
We cannot ignore suffering. It will come. If not to us, certainly to those around us. Either way, I want to be prepared. This summer, instead of burying my head in the sand, I'm tackling some hard reading on suffering and ministering to others.
~The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard, by Kara Tippetts
~Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, by J. Todd Billings
~Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life, by R.C. Sproul
~Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, by Paul David Tripp
Not your typical light summer fare. I'm going to refrain from dubbing this season as the "Summer of Suffering" (how depressing would that be?!). In the coming months I'll be sharing tidbits of what I'm learning from this heavy reading, which will be light compared to the eternal weight of glory that affliction is preparing us for (2 Cor. 4:17). If you'd like to read along with me, leave a comment below.