I was teaching our Young Adult/College Bible study last night. We were talking about being dedicated to Christ with our lives, our thoughts, and our bodies. The discussion turned into suffering and pain as we read the Scriptures in James 1:2-4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Many who know me already know this, but this will be the first time I commit it to writing. My wife and I desperately want a child. We love the thought of being a father and mother. Over the past year and a half, however, we have experienced two miscarriages. I cannot begin to tell you the pain and the agony that were with my wife and I for so long. I remember the first one was tough – but I kind of felt like I wasn’t as much affected by it as my wife was.
I can remember her crying – wailing, inconsolable…and then it happened again. I was immediately torn apart. I can remember getting home from the OB/GYN and laying on the bed…i hit the headboard so hard in anger that I might have fractured my pinkie. I literally screamed at God. I heard my wife sobbing, and my anger intensified. I was ready to turn my back on my God. I yelled things to my Father that I never thought would come out of my mouth.
I got up, I walked to the living room, and I collapsed in tears…I cannot describe to you the agony in my heart. If you have been through this, especially if you are the wife, you KNOW there is nothing anyone can say or do to make you feel better.
I’m a minister. I can’t be questioning God, right? The community God put me in wouldn’t need that! They had their own problems. However, I did falter in my faith for the next few months. I slacked in marinating and meditating in God’s Word, spending time in His presence, and blatantly ignoring things sometimes.
I tell all that to say this: Last night in class, when the question was asked, “How in the world can we take joy in suffering? What does that look like? What does that feel like?” I froze. Then the question was asked, “Is there a certain way to act in these times? Will God be angry if I don’t ‘suffer’ in His way?” I was literally speechless.
That’s when God showed up. I don’t know what happened. I’m a preacher, so I talk a lot, I’m loud, and I get rowdy when I get the passion flowing. I read that verse in James and then I responded (a total move of the Spirit, by the way) and this is what came out:
What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do you manage? You don’t. It hurts. It courses agony to every fiber in every cell of your body. Is there a proper way to suffer? No. However, I think God put this in James because He became a man. He was the Logos Incarnate. As Hebrews says (paraphrase), “He became like us, got tired like us, felt pain like us, suffered like us, and somehow, some way, He was joyful all the while. Jesus showed us that ‘joy’ is not a perpetual state of “happiness”, but rather a concrete, indestructible, tangible KNOWING that God is there – despite how things feel or seem. God is the one holding you and teaching you that no matter what, He will carry you.
Every time you walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and when we walk outside we are living in that Valley, God is right there. He is the source of comfort, He is the wellspring of Life, He is the food and water our suffering souls craves.
I’m pretty sure that the reason James tells us to “take joy” when we are suffering – when life is falling down all around us…that’s how we’re supposed to live. If you live like your suffering all the time, you will have joy unsurpassed by any drug, philosophy, or medicine on the planet. Why? Because you aren’t the Hero of the story – the story isn’t about you. It’s about God. God is the Hero. We live this life temporarily – short-lived, and just as quickly as it begins it ends and our days are full of mediocrity, boredom, and pain.
When we live like we are suffering, even when we’re not, we will grow stronger and perseverance will finish its work in us! That may not be until death comes, or until Jesus comes back for His Bride, but suffering is what guides us to a closer, more intimate relationship with Christ.
I look back on the worst parts of my life and I can see that God’s hand, though I didn’t feel it at the time, was right there, clutching me tight to Him as we waded through the muck and mire of pain, agony, sin, and life. He never left me – He never meant to have His child suffer – but we live in a fallen world and that is the consequence.
It is through pain that joy is cultivated – but you must CHOOSE joy. It would be great if it were dropped right in your lap, but it isn’t. Its something that you work at, that you nurture, and that God grows.
Live like you are suffering, because when you’re suffering, it is only then that you truly realize that you have nothing to lose.