Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
- Romans 5:1-5
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
- James 1:2-3
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
- Mark 8:34
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
- Luke 14:27
“As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
- 2 Samuel 22:31-33
“This is a hard thing. It’s hard because we want to control life. We want life to be painless. We don’t want to struggle.
“We want a ‘normal life.’ The difficulty is that everyone’s deﬁnition of normal is different. In our materialistic society, we are constantly bombarded with images that impose unrealistic expectations upon us. They tell us that in order to be happy we must have this thing, or live in that house, or look like a supermodel, or be married to a supermodel, or live in the suburbs with two beautiful kids and have a marriage with no problems, etc. …
“Many people’s image of a ‘normal life’ is a smooth ride. Hollywood-type ideals leave us believing that a normal life is ﬁlled with excess—that if we have problems, we are abnormal or we did something to deserve them. We fall into the trap of comparing our lives to others, often oblivious to their own personal struggles. For the most part, we see only the surface of others. But underneath the surface, most of them are struggling, too.
“We ﬁnd ourselves on a quest, driving toward the way we think life should be. And when adversity hits or our plans don’t pan out, we sometimes feel cheated, as if this were not normal. Which leads me to the question, ‘What is a normal life?’ ”
- Max Davis, It’s Only a Flat Tire in the Rain
Rev. Max Davis goes on to state that we must embrace suffering and rely on God. These aspects of our struggles make sense of those struggles and tie the Scriptures above together.
Why should we count it all Joy that we have trials, struggles, troubles? Because Jesus told us that we are not His disciples unless we take up our cross and follow Him.
Taking up a cross is not a trivial thing. It is not a pleasant afternoon walk either. It is a path to certain death. First, we are all going to die. But second, Jesus was pointing to the suffering leading up to death.
This is not God telling us to jump in front of another person and take the bullet with the other person’s name on it. It is not a demand that we pack our bags and go to the most desolate and germ-infested spot on earth to spread the Gospel. Those things indeed may happen, but the road of the Christian is not an easy one.
I have made the statement before that if there is no suffering, you might want to examine your life. This may be just as misleading as the previous concept of volunteering to suffer, but an examination of our reactions to different circumstances may be in order. Do we laugh at dirty jokes because we want to hang on to an old friend that is definitely on a different path? Do we refrain from mentioning that we go to church because just saying that might offend someone? When a moral issue is raised that the crowd is clearly in favor of going against God’s Word, do we remain silent or, even worse, agree with the crowd so that we are not ostracized?
The questions could go on. I worked for a company that had a loose “rule” that religious discussions were not allowed. We had Christians, Catholics who claimed to not be Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, and Agnostics all working together. The religious conversations occurred and people separated without fighting. In many cases, they separated from the discussion in a loving and pleasant manner, as no offense was meant nor received. The conversations that led to people hating each other were the political ones, and oddly because the two sides agreed on the issues but disagreed on who to vote for.
But then the company was sold to a European company. Suddenly, having a Bible that was visible on your desk or in your briefcase or backpack became an offense worthy of termination. Backpacks may not look that professional, but it is easier carrying a laptop through an airport with a backpack. And with the new owners, there would be no hesitation in firing an employee who would refuse to do what the boss told him to do on grounds of a Christian belief. Now other religions were frowned upon, but it seemed the rules to terminate were exclusive to Christians. I was laid off due to the new parent’s company shortsightedness toward my worth. I taught customers, at the best profit margin of anyone in the company, and the side-benefit was that the customer realized that our company was experienced with the knowledge and skill to do more work, like a new multimillion dollar piece of equipment that was more efficient and better for the environment than what they presently had – which might leak out during the training I provided in a manner that did not sound like a sales pitch. Mainly, I was honest when I studied their equipment.
But I could have been terminated due to my beliefs. At times in my career, I had people tell me that my beliefs and strong moral convictions made management “nervous.” And I really felt that I had not been proselytizing. I just lived according to what I felt was in my heart, not crossing into the gray areas of life.
But also part of the Max Davis quote is the entire concept of “normal life.” This book was first published in 2001, but the idea of “normal life” seemed to be the buzz words during the pandemic lockdown. When are we getting back to a “normal life?” Little did everyone know, the lockdown may have been a new way of suffering, but it was only in the method of suffering that this was abnormal. Now, wearing masks that have been proven ineffective is common, everyday, “normal life.”
Suffering happens. We need to embrace suffering to prevent a mental meltdown. And without the strength to endure such suffering… Face it! It is impossible – alone. We need to rely on God.
Paul and James both speak of enduring suffering that leads to perseverance. In other words, in relying upon God in suffering, we gain strength. Times may get worse.
I was in a terrible struggle early in my work life. My career was falling apart. A friend knew that behind the smile on my face was extreme pain and suffering. He knew that I was highly productive in what I did, and he knew that I did not deserve the suffering that I faced. He asked me, “How are you holding up?” I used my standard response with a smile, “It’s great. We are doing fine.” My friend then said with a wink, “Good, good! Great! But you do realize that it is all downhill from here. It is just going to get worse.” We both laughed, but down deep inside, I wanted to cry. I thought I already had faced my limit of suffering. But looking back, it got worse, a lot worse, but I never really noticed the increase in stress, pain, and suffering. God was giving me a boost in my pain threshold and my ability to endure suffering on an incremental basis.
The key is that life is a struggle for just about everybody. Ken Davis said in Super Sheep that only two kinds of people can claim that they do not have troubles. Those at the front of the church where everyone files past and says something like “Doesn’t he look natural.” They had troubles, but not anymore. The other group are in padded cells and as they bounce of the walls, they say, “I have no troubles.” They have troubles, but they just don’t realize it.
But those without Jesus have to struggle, and they struggle … alone.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.