So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 NLT
In my youthful Christian enthusiasm, the thought that suffering and service belonged together was unimaginable. I thought Christian service provided the opportunity to show how good God is and also allowed me to show God just how good I was! It was a marriage made in heaven; my time filled with deeds of eternal value, stories of how God reaches out to people through the Church’s wellintentioned acts while I grow in grace through “sacrificial” service. Mere mythology with little truth within its substance.
Paul shares his own challenges to the Thessalonian believers in pursuing his call.
My early swagger was soon knocked as I discovered God’s way was not a path I’d designed for myself. There must be a difference between suffering and “severe suffering”. I don’t know that I’ve experienced the latter. Yet, those visiting the Oratory tell stories that bring tears to my eyes. People share of brutal divorces, unanticipated tragedy, sickness, loss and grief. This is not anything I initially expected, or really observed, in my first twelve years as a Christian. I preached and prayed for individuals but was blind and deaf as far as human tragedy was concerned. I was aware of global crises, yet from pulpit to pulpit I preached my message and remained blissfully unaware of the depth of pain my congregations experienced, silently and most often alone.
It is difficult to talk or write about suffering. Unlike joy that gathers a crowd in celebration, suffering empties the room. Turbulent events in my own life taught me to cry and introduced me to loneliness. It was traumatic but it provided a door into a new understanding of myself and the gospel. The life of Jesus reveals the nature of suffering. It is one element in Christ’s discipleship school. Paul speaks of its ability to forge character, resilience and adaptability within the human soul.
Do you yearn for a life free from suffering and trial?
Help me to follow you, Christ, in the way of the cross. Please give me fresh strength for today’s journey.