Suffering and the School of Christ
This is Jesus' invitation to all his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Let me translate what Jesus is saying to us. Hey guys "This is not going to be easy and that's OK."
Being a disciple is learning from a teacher everything about life. It's learning how to think differently. It's learning how to act differently. It's learning what you should start hating and loving differently by following your master. In Jesus' day, you could even tell who a disciple's teacher was just by watching him in a crowd.
One of the greatest lessons that disciples learn in the School of Christ is how to think differently about suffering. These are some of the hardest lessons for us as Jesus' followers, yet these lessons are for our good.
One reason is because they cut against our worldly idols of ease and comfort. We believe if my life is hard and not always easy than something must be horribly wrong. When Jesus is telling us that this suffering is actually beautifully right. In fact, suffering is more of a blessing in disguise that we need to thank Jesus for teaching us.
These are some lessons that I have learned from the School of Christ:
1. Suffering Doesn't Surprise God
If I was honest, my first feeling when I face suffering is being inconvenienced. I hope that's not too honest but I am guessing you can be there too. Suffering often breaks into our sunny and comfortable lives and blows up our idols of ease and comfort.
Even though our trial or tribulation might surprise us, it doesn't surprise God. All of suffering is part of God's good plan for the Christian. It's never punitive for the Christian. It's never a punishment but always discipline for our good and his glory.
Suffering is not a surprise to God, it's his servant. The heavy burdens of labor under the hand of Pharoah were actually God's sovereign hands orchestrating it all. The death of Lazarus was not Jesus being lazy and letting his friend die. He was wanting all the people to see his glory. Even the cross was not a detour in God's plan. It was the road mapped out for him since before the foundation of the world to bring salvation to sinners.
2. Suffering Doesn't Slow God Down
Sometimes I feel like suffering is hurting God's plan. I feel like the Lord is really working in my life through reading his word, meeting up with men for discipleship, or sharing the gospel with a friend at work and then . . . the stomach bug.
In my heart, I am thinking "Lord, there is NOTHING good that can come from spending the next 3 days in the bathroom!" You can probably feel the irritation in my soul.
Suffering never slows down Jesus though. In fact, the way that God accomplished his greatest good and displayed his greatest glory is through the brutal suffering of Jesus on the cross. This was not comfortable for Jesus. This was not the easy, comfortable, and painless life that we all idolize. And to Jesus' disciples they even thought that he should never die. This was not the path they planned for the Messiah. Yet, the suffering of Jesus was joy for Jesus because it was the perfect will of God.
The Lord has been teaching me slowly that slowing me down with sickness is his good grace. My daughter getting Type 1 diabetes is not in the way of his glory. My father spending a week in ICU is God's tool for stirring my family's trust and love for Him. These are not easy lessons for us but they are good lessons for a disciple in the School of Christ. They are not distractions from God's good work, they are his good work.
3. Suffering Doesn't State How God Feels About You
There are many times when I feel like suffering is God saying something about me. Have you ever felt that way? Like suffering is God telling you that he is displeased with you. Like he is giving you consequences for your lack of faithfulness in evangelism or your shortness with your kids. "Lance, you can't get your act together and I am frustrated so here is a trial."
One morning, I was meeting with the Lord and he spoke a better word to my heart. I was reading Matthew 3 about the baptism of Jesus and the Father says over Jesus "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." In one simple statement, the Father declares Jesus identity as his Son, his deep love for him and his complete delight in him.
The very next verse we read "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." Wait, huh? If Jesus was really loved, why lead him into the wilderness. If he really had the Father delighting in him, why would he allow him to be tempted by the devil?
Listen to me closely, suffering is not a statement about how God feels about you. The presence of suffering doesn't mean that God is mad at you. And the absence of suffering doesn't mean that God is pleased with you. If we gauge how God feels about how little or how much we are suffering, we need to see that we are believing in the prosperity gospel.
God loves you because of Jesus. Your suffering as a son or daughter is because he loves you. His aim for your life is not to make your life as easy and comfortable as possible. His aim is to make you like Jesus. So be glad as a disciple that you have been enrolled in the School of Christ. These lessons are not always easy but they are always good.