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Monday, June 4, 2012

Suffering With Christ

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2: 21 NIV).

I finished reading In His Steps last night.  While I can see how the text is a bit dated and some of the subject matter is focused on the big issues of the time, I still would recommend it to modern readers.  The central theme of the whole book is this verse in 1 Peter, which draws a straightforward connection between suffering quietly under unjust treatment and following Christ.  In fact, the author postulates that a Church that is not willing to suffer for Christ is a Church that has strayed too far from its purpose.

This is a very important point to make, and a frequently-sidestepped one in churches both then and now.  It is basically human to desire a life free from suffering.  Most frequently, sin comes as a shortcut to try to avoid discomfort or discipline of some kind.  Then, when our sins have caused us suffering, we come to Christ to find help.  We want freedom from the doom of sin, and in Christ we can find that.  He can help us hate sin, as we grow to love Him more and more, and He can give us the strength to walk away from the old wicked habits as well.

Eventually we find that being a Christian doesn't mean that suddenly everything is peachy keen.  Perhaps unexpectedly, we discover that we must also suffer for Christ, and that realization can create a crisis in our spiritual walk.  What is the payback?  What is the use of following Christ if it hurts so much?  What makes being a Christian preferable to being a non-Christian when both suffer?

These are deep, probing questions that every generation, and probably every individual Christian has asked at one point or another.  I can answer from personal experience with this, since that day when I pledged to let WWJD speak over my entire life.  Here's the simple reason why we insist on following the pattern Christ set for us, even if it's painful: It is right, and God rewards what is right.

I know that seems overly simplistic, but it is the pure and simple truth of the matter.

The problem we have with suffering for Christ is our sense of injustice over the whole thing.  If we aren't careful, we can begin to feel as if we have been cheated out of something of value, particularly that illusive thing called "living the full life."  It can appear to be easier to live as a non-Christian.  They seem to be able to do whatever enters their mind, often without visible consequences.  It is enough sometimes to make our hearts say, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments" (Psalm 73: 13, 14 NIV).

Well, so they seem.  The problem with feeling this way is that we are looking only at the present time, rather than sighting far enough into the future that we see the punishment coming to them.  When we were children, it was easier to take a blow from a sibling when we knew that Mom or Dad was nearby, and watching, because we were confident that justice was certain, and not long in coming.  It can be hard to endure day after day with apparently no justice from God, but it is just as certainly coming.  He has promised and He has been faithful in all of His promises (Deuteronomy 32: 35; 2 Peter 3: 9).

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 73 discussed all of this, and found hope in the promised end of the wicked.  God has allowed such people to feel they are prospering for a time, but their end is sudden ruin (Psalm 73: 18-23).  It is much better to be one of the ones who is still standing, strong and unafraid, when such people get their just punishment.  Why?  Because God will be standing with us.

I'm not saying it's easy.  It hurts.  It does.  I've joined in with Asaph a few times and cried out to the Lord for justice.  I don't want you to think that I'm minimizing your suffering for the cross of Christ.  I'm just saying hang in there, and you'll see.  It is worth the cost!  The burden is not too heavy to bear, because Christ bears it with us.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 29-30 NIV).