“Jane” examined me closely and then asked, “What if they only came to rob you and not because of your preaching … does it still count?” Whaaaat? It’s amazing what comes out of people when someone is suffering!
Jane said this to me at our kids’ school in the Central Asian city where we were serving with different Christian agencies. I was still suffering from the injuries I had sustained when we were attacked in our home a year earlier. She was trying to do the reward calculus on my suffering. Was I suffering for Jesus? Or was I just suffering? In her mind, there was a big difference and it seemed important to her to nail down which was which. Kind of appalling, right?
But don’t we do that to ourselves? When things get rough in our lives, don’t we make distinctions between suffering for Jesus and just … suffering? When we read stories about missionaries or heroes of the faith, don’t we put their suffering in a different category from our own?
But if we are told to “do everything as unto the Lord,” (Colossians 3:23) it seems to me that “everything” includes … everything! We can offer our suffering, whether physical, emotional or mental, to the Lord and find fellowship with Him who suffered more than anything we can ever suffer. We don’t have to lead somebody else’s life to qualify for the “fellowship of His sufferings.”
I believe that our suffering is redemptive. I believe that your suffering is redemptive. This is a mystery. But 2 Corinthians 1 tells us that, when we suffer, we can be comforted by God Himself. And once we have been comforted in the midst of our pain, we are equipped to comfort others in their pain … any pain. The word ‘any’ is right there in the Scripture.
The Apostle Paul said that his suffering somehow “filled up Christ’s suffering” (Colossians 1:24). That is a mouthful! He wasn’t saying that Christ’s work of redemption on the cross was in any way insufficient. A dear friend from Kenya who has suffered said to me years ago, “I believe that God, in His infinite goodness, left just the tiniest bit of suffering for me to fulfill together with Christ, because He loves me enough to allow me to share in heaven just the tiniest bit of His Glory!” That is kind of mind blowing!
Let me just toss Romans 8:17 on the page in case you are thinking: “That can’t be right!” “… and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
If our suffering, all our suffering, “qualifies,”… despite what Jane thinks … then we are, by our suffering, participating in Christ’s calling to redeem the earth.
I’m not suggesting we don’t cry out to God for relief from our suffering or that we seek out suffering. That would be unnatural. But in the midst of suffering, we need to go to God with the knowledge that He is not only moved by our pain, He understands it, and He is even using it on behalf of the world in a way that is a mystery to us now.
As to how I responded to Jane’s question, I just stared back at her and shrugged. I couldn’t wrap my mind around her question. I knew that my suffering “counted.” Clearly we weren’t being robbed … nothing was taken from our home. But what if we had been robbed? Jesus was sold out for money. Does that mean His resulting crucifixion didn’t “count”? Absurd!
You don’t have to lead somebody else’s life to contribute to God’s work on the earth …whether you are healthy or sick, whether you are depressed or elated, whether you are weak or strong. Do everything, live everywhere unto the Lord. It all counts.
Elizabeth Schenkel has been actively involved in Christian ministry on four continents over the past 40 years. Currently, Elizabeth and her husband live in Orlando, Florida ,where Erick is serving as the Executive Director of Jesus Film Project®. Be sure to check out more blogs from Study with Friends!