How Should We Suffer?
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” - James 1:2-3 (ESV)
She was unable to conceal the tear sliding down her cheek. Then, exhaling a deep sigh, she said, “It’s difficult to stay strong when my faith is under attack.”
Contrary to the adage, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me, words do hurt! They can cause extreme pain and distress.
This woman was suffering. She grieves at how her Christian beliefs face ongoing challenge and ridicule. “It wasn’t always like this,” she said.
She’s not alone. She’s not the first one who’s suffered because of faith in Christ. She’s not the only one who longs for a time when following Jesus seemed to be more convenient.
Following Christ is not for the weak.
Contrary to what some well-meaning Christians suggest, following Christ does not give us a free pass from hardship. The candor of Jesus’ message is upfront. He does not assert that following him will be easy, and reminds his disciples:
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” - Mark 13:13 (ESV)
Jesus reminds us that the reason the world hates Christ-followers is because it hated Him first. The way to be loved by the world is to be like the world. But Christ-followers are not of this world. As a result, we can expect hate and persecution (John 15:18-20).
Following Jesus is not convenient. It’s an act of commitment and courage. Like it or not, suffering is an inevitable part of our calling as Christ-followers.
Although I have high pain tolerance, I assure you, I do not enjoy suffering. Who does? So if your faith does not make us immune to hardship, how should we suffer?
If you need some encouragement (or know someone who does), here are five practical steps to discover courage and strengthen your commitment to following Jesus:
1. Allow God’s word to strengthen you.
Are you afflicted? The Psalmist writes: “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Ps. 119:50).
Are you weak? The apostle Paul recognizes that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Are you afraid? Listen to the words of Isaiah:
“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)
2. Allow Christ’s example to inspire you.
Are you tempted? Your temptation is not foreign to Jesus. He’s aware of your struggle. Because he is familiar with suffering, he can help those going through testing (Hebrews 2:18).
Are you in need of comfort? Isaiah gives us an image of Jesus as a shepherd who gathers the lambs in his arms, who gently leads them, and holds them closely (Is.40:11).
3. Allow the Spirit to strengthen you.
Paul was able to rejoice in sufferings, recognizing that the fruit of suffering is worthwhile:
“… but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. - Romans 5:3–5 (ESV)
4. Encourage each other.
Remember, you’re not the only one struggling. As I travel through Eastern Europe, see many who are suffering greatly for their faith. I’m doing my best during this trip to encourage and comfort them, reminding them to draw on Christ’s strength.
You know of people who are struggling. By intentionally finding ways to love, care for, and encourage them, we also find encouragement. Paul reminds the Thessalonians:
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)
Our assurance is in the promise of Christ’s victory.
“For the Lord himself, will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” - 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18 (ESV).
As followers of Jesus, it’s not possible to avoid suffering. However, the assurance we have as Christ-followers is this: we are more than conquerors because of Christ.
Are you looking for a place to receive spiritual direction and encouragement in these challenging times? Please consider joining my mailing list. Each Wednesday you’ll receive my latest blog posts with practical content designed to support you in your life and faith.