I’ve been praying for suffering recently.
I make sure my prayers are peppered with careful caveats. At the end of each sentence is an asterisk letting God know all of the conditions of the prayer; all the specific areas I really don’t feel willing or ready to suffer. Of course, I get nervous about mentioning these caveats, because with my distorted view of God, I’m convinced that my confession will be the final nail in the coffin that leads God to ordain the exact thing I fear most. Isn’t that how God works? (I have issues).
The point is, I’m praying for suffering.
God and I see suffering a little differently. My view of suffering is that it sucks. God’s view is kind of the opposite. One of us is wrong.
My prayer for suffering is kind of like a trust fall. In trust falls, you lean back because you trust they will catch you, and so that you can learn to trust that they’ll catch you. That’s my prayer. I’m falling backwards, partly because I trust Him and partly because I want to learn to trust Him.
I’m praying for suffering partly because I trust His promises are strong enough to catch me. And the other part of me is praying for suffering so that I can learn to trust that these promises are strong enough to catch me. Here are three of those things I believe and am hoping to believe:
1. Persecution is guaranteed for those who love God. Paul says:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12)
This verse is the kind that keeps me awake at night. It’s the kind that makes me eager to see evidence of persecution in my life. If I even desire to live a godly life in Jesus I will be persecuted. It’s not even contingent on me actually living a godly life. Just the desire is enough to guarantee persecution.
So, when I take stock of my life there are a couple of questions I have to ask myself:
- If I’m not being persecuted, what does that mean?
- Has my desire for a godly life been cannibalized by my desire to be culturally relevant or liked? I may do ‘bold’ things for Jesus, but have I traded in faithfulness in the tiny and unpopular details that would lead to persecution?
I think contemporary Christianity has made it easy for me to profess to live for God and still maintain my own sense of glory. I worry that at some point my desire to ‘live a radical live for Jesus’ began to overtake my desire to ‘live a godly life’. Do I compromise in the small things for the sake of the bigger picture? Even working at a church, I see evidence of places where I have overlooked the details because I’m afraid of being labeled an ‘older brother’.
So my prayer for suffering goes something like this: ‘God, help me to desire to lead a godly life more than anything. And encourage me with the evidence that I truly desire that through persecution.’
2. Righteous suffering is a gift. Paul says to the Philippians:
“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 1:29)
Imagine if someone looked at you in the midst of your suffering and said, ‘Gosh, fabs. You are so blessed! I can’t believe God granted this to you! You don’t just get to believe in Jesus, but you get to suffer for Him!”
In our culture, we’d punch them in the face or call them heartless or in serious need of some compassion. But the Bible calls righteous suffering ‘a gracious thing in the sight of God’ (1 Peter).
What would be different in our lives if we took Jesus seriously when He said that those who are persecuted for His name’s sake are blessed? I’m praying for suffering because I want to taste the truth of that promise.
3. Suffering is the means of our perseverance. Suffering is the way that you and I are going to be kept by God till the end. That’s why James says that we should count it as joy when we encounter trials of any kind. And that’s why Peter says that it’s because of what God does through suffering that we’ll be able to stand before God one day with ‘glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ’.
Peter calls us to fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us that day. I think if our hope was fully on that day we’d want to do whatever it took to get us there. We would pray for suffering, because according to God – that’s part of His sovereign plan to make us blameless for that day.
So. I’m praying for suffering. Cause I want all those things. I want the encouragement that I’m living a godly life, and I want the gift of righteous suffering and I want to finish this race by whatever means necessary.
I believe Him. And I want to believe Him. I do believe. Help my unbelief. Let me suffer because I believe your promises are true. Let me suffer so that I can learn to believe your promises are true.
Famous last words, eh? 🙂