Sharing in suffering


"I want to know Christ—yes, to know the ... participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death ..."

- from Philippians 3:10

Remember, the goal here is knowing Christ. 

Suffering is the place where relationship goes one of two directions: it is either permanently forged or permanently ruined. Paul wants a deep relationship with Christ, so he wants to be looped in on Christ's suffering.

Christ suffered greatly: disappointment, rejection, persecution, betrayal, abandonment and, ultimately, death.

But Christ's suffering was not for nothing. His suffering was redemptive, missional and intentional. He suffered as he pursued the mission of God in our messy world. He ran toward - not away from - the mess.

If you are going to be with him, you will suffer too. To be on mission with God is to expose yourself to risk: relational, emotional, financial ... perhaps even physical risk.

But your suffering in the pursuit of the kingdom of God is not in vain. If we turn toward Jesus and not away from Jesus in the midst of the suffering it can serve in two ways: first, it can be a part of God's work of redemption in this world. And second it can be the fire that forges deep intimacy with Christ.

Now, as a quick aside, when Paul writes about participating in Christ's suffering, he isn't glorifying suffering. To paraphrase Tolkien, good may come from evil but evil remains evil.

When we think about God and suffering, we often think about God's presence in the midst of our suffering. What's he doing? Is he here?

But Paul runs in the opposite direction. He wants to participate in Christ's suffering. He's asking to "get in" on the work of grace that brought new life to the world, and he knows that includes risk and suffering.  When we do this, it has a transforming effect.

How has your experience of suffering for the sake of God's kingdom influenced your intimacy with Christ?

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I just thought of something else. I have tried to share about God with my 63 year old brother and he has slammed the door in my face. God does not exist, he says. Don't pray for me, he says.
Well, I am praying for him. He thinks all Christians are delusional.

Jesus both exemplified and commands us to be willing to suffer for others gain. The difficulty in "dieing to self" as well as the failures in living this out has been the single best teacher in my life revealing just how incredibly humble and self-sacrificial true love is. That God is, by his nature so humble and self-sacrifical is incredibly humbling and drawing. This is a King I desire to serve and give my loyalty to, a brother and friend I want know, emulate and be with. The difficulty also necessitate my reliance on him for guidance, strength, wisdom, ect.. and even more so when he is calling me to suffer for the good of someone that I have less then fond feelings toward. There is nothing that builds trust and faith more then stepping out in it when it is most difficult. I love the story of Peter getting out of the boat. You gotta hand to him! He got out of the boat! And he experienced Jesus' power in a profound and personal way the others didn't.

Thanks for sharing that, Karen. I appreciate how the Lord redeemed your suffering for good purposes, even as I share the sadness that came with it. Looking back over my own life it does seem that God has often done his "best work" in me in the midst of suffering.

I think that Paul's desire to participate in Christ's suffering is another layer or level of thinking about suffering that I hadn't yet really engaged with until we were working on this post.

I think the good news we can trust is that in Christ all of our suffering (our own and how we've sought to participate in Christ's) will be gathered up and used for our good and his glory. That's quite a relief.

I did not grow up in a Christian home. I did not believe in God until I was hospitalized for 3 months 40 years ago, severely depressed. Then again, for 3 months the following year. I knew that there was no hope for me and that I needed God and began seeking Him. If not for the suffering, I would not have found God.

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