Why does suffering have to be connected to calling?
Four reasons come immediately to mind (though this is not an exhaustive list):
- We suffer because we are image bearers
- We suffer because we sin
- We suffer because we are being equipped
- We suffer because it is ordained
Let’s dive in.
We Suffer Because We Are Image-Bearers of Christ
That fact that Christ suffered means we must suffer as well.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 ESV
Christ suffered because he came to redeem a broken world and a broken people. We suffer because we live in that broken world and we are the broken people.
More than that, think back to the reasons for our joy. Two of them are adoption and inheritance. When God adopts us we become his children and we gain an inheritance. That inheritance includes “every eternal blessing”, but it also includes his vision (the world redeemed) and his mission (making disciples). There are great beauty and significance in this vision/mission but there is often great suffering.
Christ-like suffering can come in the form of martyrdom; or of clinging to his provision when all else is falling away; or trusting in his goodness when loved ones struggle, when dreams are crushed, when trials are ongoing, when life is overwhelming or disappointing, etc.
There is perhaps no greater testimony than reflecting the image of Christ when suffering is assaulting our lives.
We Suffer Because We Sin
When we sin, we are disciplined in order to restore our intimacy with Christ. Often, the consequences of sin bring suffering into some aspect of our calling.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11 ESV
Many years ago I worked with FamilyLife, a ministry of Cru. I remember asking Dennis Rainey, president and CEO, how to tell if suffering was the result of discipline or equipping. While I don’t remember his words, I remember his main points: “You can’t always know” and “Does it really matter?”.
I was okay with “You can’t always know”, but I was taken aback by “Does it really matter?”. The explanation was golden – whether disciplining or equipping, Christ uses suffering to make us more like him.
It’s good to examine our lives and be sensitive to sin, but don’t get so caught up in an extensive post-mortem on discipline that you lose the transformative work of Christ in the present. Learn from what the Lord is working to reveal and run with the work at hand. Be transformed!
We Suffer Because We Are Being Equipped
Suffering trains our hearts so that we may accomplish our callings. This is not a discipline issue, but rather one of equipping and preparing us for the days ahead.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4 ESV
As mentioned above, this is a work of transformation. Rather than spending time deciphering the “why”, spend time praising God for his work in your life and asking for the grace and wisdom to live in a way that better reflects his image.
We Suffer Because It Is Ordained
Perhaps suffering is ordained because of its value to us in the first three reasons above. And yet perhaps there are many more reasons – some we may discover in our lifetimes and some we’ll discover when redemption is complete and we are fully in Christ’s presence. So we live with a bit of mystery for now.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . . not frightened in anything by your opponents. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. –Philippians 1:27–29
Suppose you were watching your favorite team play their biggest rival in the championship game. Both teams are playing for all they are worth. The rivals are strong, fast, and frighteningly intense. How joyful and encouraged would you be if you could turn to the back of the program and find out that your team would win in an amazing way?
In the same way, Scripture describes an epic race. Sometimes it appears that the enemy is winning and sometimes that Christ is winning. Our opponent is strong, fast, and frighteningly intense. But when we turn to the closing chapters of Revelation, we discover that Christ wins the race and that all of suffering turns to joy…forever!
One final word on both joy and suffering:
Joy and suffering are inseparably linked and of great eternal value. The Lord brings them into our lives as we need them and for his great purposes. Embrace both. Waste neither.
© Mark Dawson 2016