Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourself flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
. . . So don’t feel sorry for yourselves . . . God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. . . .This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. (Hebrews 12:1-3;7-11 The Message)
” . . . anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
The willingness to suffer for our faith is perhaps the most challenging and least-emphasized aspect of the Christian life, at least in the Western world. We welcome the strength, the peace, the comfort, the hope that is found in our new life in Christ. We welcome all these things especially in the midst of our suffering, but we don’t welcome the suffering itself.
If Jesus’ first words of teaching had been, “Come to Me and suffer with Me,” how many would have eagerly stepped forward? But at the right time, He made it clear to the large crowds following Him that they should count the cost before they signed on (Luke 14:25-35; Matt 10:38-39). He also promised a reward unobtainable by any other means: eternal life. (Mark 8:34-35; Luke 18:29-30; John 12:35).
The rest of the New Testament is replete with references to suffering as part and parcel of life in Christ. Here are a few:
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. (Phil 1:29)
I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings . . . (Phil 3:10)
Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory. (Rom 8:17)
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2Cor 1:5)
If we love Jesus and have His heart, we will suffer because we see those around us rejecting Him, ignoring Him, disgracing Him — and suffering for it. Whatever the “normal” suffering that comes in our personal circumstances, our knowledge of God and His will for us causes us to suffer because we see those around us headed for the abyss, through ignorance or defiance.
What does the cross teach us about love?
- Love brings meaning and joy to life. It also brings suffering. The more we love, the more we open ourselves up to suffering with and for those we love.
- Authentic love includes a willingness to suffer. Parents who choose to have children don’t welcome the prospect of birth defects, or life-changing disabilities, but are willing to endure anything for the new life they cherish.
- Mature love is clear-eyed and doesn’t wear rose-colored glasses. It sees things as they are, and themselves as they are. Those who love maturely know that without God, they can do nothing.
- Love that has been trained by Christ has an eternal perspective that changes everything. It sees beyond the pain of Good Friday to focus on the astonishing joy of Resurrection Sunday.
Whatever suffering our training for the Kingdom involves, it will evaporate like a mist in the Sonrise!