“For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:5)
The denominational executive tossed and turned as he tried to sleep the night before the big annual convention of pastors and church leaders. Thousands usually turned up at convention, but how many would come this year? He really had no idea, as he had jettisoned the whole registration process to make things simpler and save time and money. He had also ditched the usual line-up of big-name speakers, feeling led instead to have the pastors and leaders share their hearts with one another and trusting that the Holy Spirit would raise up people to speak and encourage the group as they felt led. And if that weren’t enough, he had kicked the big-city convention center to the curb and organized an old-fashioned camp meeting out in the countryside.
As he lay there thinking about what the next day might bring and second-guessing his decision-making processes, it all seemed like a huge gamble. “Lord,” he began to pray quietly under his breath so as not to wake up his wife, “Why did you ask me to do this thing? I know it was you – the vividness of the dream, the certainty in my heart, the confirmations – I know it was you but I get this feeling I am going to be out there nearly all alone on a platform in a pasture with room for thousands of people all around but only a few dozen will show up. I am going to look like a fool…”
As he continued to pour out his heart to the Lord, he found comfort in Him as he was reassured that God was in the whole thing. After all, why else would any man in his right mind stand up in front of the convention body in Hawaii, of all places, and announce that the Lord had given him a dream and that the convention theme for the next year would be “Sharing in the Sufferings of Christ” and that they would all be in tents on Midwestern farmland? Sure, the registration was practically free and donations would be given to help the poor, but would people come if the theme was suffering and there wasn’t a list of exciting attractions and fancy hotels? Would they come for the sole purpose of meeting with God and one another?
“How many will come?” he thought. “How much money will we raise for the homeless in Haiti by giving them what we would have spent on hotels, meals, and nationally known speakers? Will people come? Will they give? And most importantly, will they really get what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ, to endure hardship so that others might be blessed?”
That last question was the one that tugged at his heart. Suffering for others in the name of Christ is rarely spoken of in many churches in the United States anymore. Topics like sharing in the sufferings of Christ, being like Him in His death, living without worldly attachments as He did, or picking up your cross to follow Him have fallen out of favor in many pulpits.
"Sharing in the sufferings of Christ is neither an affliction nor a burden; on the contrary it is where we find true happiness, eternal joy, and everlasting peace."
“Why don’t we talk about those things anymore?” he thought. “Is it because we are afraid that if we challenge people to live for Jesus they will quit coming to our churches? Or is it because we don’t want to live that kind of lifestyle ourselves? Could it be that we don’t want to make the sacrifices that would be required it we were to take the teachings of Jesus seriously? Do we care more about ourselves and our own creature comforts than the people in the world around us? Are we like the fat and happy ‘cows of Bashan’ (Amos 4:1) who cared more about food and drink than about issues of justice and mercy?”
All of a sudden he knew the answers to his questions and he knew why the Lord led him to have the convention at his friend’s farm. The sparse surroundings, the fasting instead of feasting, the hardships of living in tents instead of hotel rooms and sitting outside in lawn chairs instead of ballroom chairs, all these things would weed out those who weren’t serious about connecting with God and their co-laborers in the Gospel. Those that were just after a good time would stay home while those who were serious about God would come.
Peace flooded the executive’s heart as he realized that whatever happened and whoever came, God was in it and He would bless their time together and that would be enough.
But what about the rest of us? What about you and me? If next year’s convention was in a pasture and fasting was encouraged, would you go?
Or, perhaps more to the point, when God brings the opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ, are you willing? Can you do it willingly with joy in your heart or does your heart fill up with hatred and bitterness towards those who are causing your suffering? Can you forgive those who are crucifying you in the same way that Jesus forgave those who crucified him? Can you love those who mock and ridicule you for being like your Savior? Can you stand up under persecution when you make a stand for justice or righteousness?
God brings opportunities to share in Christ’s sufferings into the lives of His followers on a regular basis whether we like it or not. The world is full of people and situations that bring pain into our lives and we have the opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ. It is a privilege to lay down our lives for others, forgiving and loving as Jesus did and ultimately experiencing the peace and joy that Jesus did. We live like He did and become like him in death so that we might be like Him in the resurrection. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ is neither an affliction nor a burden; on the contrary it is where we find true happiness, eternal joy, and everlasting peace.
So when suffering for Christ comes your way – and it will – embrace it as God’s hand at work in your life. Don’t let anger or unforgiveness war against your soul but instead forgive those who have hurt you and love them anyway. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, lend to those that ask, give to those in need. Love everyone – even your enemies and especially the brotherhood of believers – and you will be blessed abundantly as you become more like your Savior as you share in His sufferings.
Let’s Pray Together: Lord, I confess that sometimes when I have opportunities to share in Your sufferings I shirk back and am unwilling to be inconvenienced or to pay the cost of helping someone out. Or when I have been hurt for the sake of the Gospel or for serving You, I don’t forgive them but instead become filled with anger and bitterness. Forgive me Lord. Help me to be like You. Help me to live like You did, dying to self and living for God. Fill me with Your peace and Your joy as I embrace You and forgive these people who have hurt me that I lift before You now… (Continue praying as you feel led…)
Scriptures to Study: Romans 5:3-4: Not only so, but we[b] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 8:17-18 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 also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Phil. 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, Phil. 3:10-11 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Col. 1:24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 2 Cor. 1:5-6 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 2 Tim. 1:7-8 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.