Suffering as a Journey: Understanding the Process

There is so much suffering going on around you right now that goes unaddressed because we're afraid of facing ourselves and each other. Jesus told us we would have crosses to bear, suffering to endure. Hebrews 12:2 says: "Looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God"

When we suffer in the flesh we're done with sin. Using the The Message translation, 1 Peter 4:1-2 reads, "Since Jesus went through everything you're going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you'll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want." When I see myself manipulating my circumstances or justifying my fix that is when I know I know all I am trying to do is get my own way! I might find my fix in a new dress or new accessories when I am feeling despondent. I might find my fix in a bag of potato chips when I am feeling out of control, or in slamming a door when I am feeling angry, or reading a junk magazine when I am feeling hopeless. That's where a much needed call to a loving trusted friend breaks the cycle. And, I find my peace at the cross. I find my peace in facing what is bothering me deeply, feeling the pain and discomfort, calling my friend, praying about it, and leaving it at the cross.

Keep in mind, suffering is only a process. It is not the end. The result is being done with sin. The process of suffering is what brings me out of my sinful place and into a place of freedom. We don't want to hear about suffering, but we do it every day and need each other to lighten the load. Galatians 6:10 (amp) tells us to bear one another's burdens and troublesome moral faults! Through our afflictions we learn obedience. (Ps. 119:71 - It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.) This is what brings joy! You will usually change before your circumstances do.

The bougainvillea plant is one of my favorite plants. It's a beautiful bush with an extravagant display of lush flowers. While living in Florida, I bought two of these plants and potted them in white containers and placed them on either side of my front door, facing east. I chose them because I was tired of replacing the flowers in the pots every four months, so I tried something a little more permanent, especially since I don't have a green thumb. The bougainvillea blooms a beautiful fuchsia pink flower. But, the only fuchsia blooms I saw on those branches for three years were the ones that were there when I first bought the plants. And they certainly weren't permanent.

After the third spring, I finally gave up, but I didn't discard them because they weren't dead & I am tenacious. The landscaper said they needed to be in a sunnier spot. So I moved them to the end of the pool facing west. And sure enough, within two months, one of them started to bloom, then the other! Hurricane Irene howled through the following October with gale-force winds ravaging our property, those two bougainvilleas, and another 12-foot tall 15-year-old bougainvillea in the back yard. In spite of the advice given by a nursery owner to "get rid of them all and start over," I once again chose to keep them and give them another chance. I left alone the two near the pool and had huge supports put around the old bougainvillea which must have lost thousands of flowers.

Within the year, all three had more gorgeous fuchsia pink flowers than anyone would ever be able to count. When I mentioned this to the landscaper one afternoon, he remarked off-handedly that he had seen a lot of plants struggle to make it. And in all his years of working with plants, the plants that were damaged the most and really struggled and had to fight to survive ended up blooming better and became the prettiest, strongest, and hardiest plants. (1 Cor. 3:6-7 - I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.) This is what God is doing for you! God gives you the increase as you carry your friend's cross. Even the bougainvilleas live the cross life! They have to suffer and lose everything before they flourish!

KP Yhohannan is the founder and international director of Gospel for Asia. In his book The Road to Reality he writes in his chapter "Real Faith Doesn't Come Cheap" the following: "Throughout the Bible, you will find that those who followed God often paid with their lives: In the very beginning, Abel was slain by his jealous brother after he pleased God with a blood sacrifice. Noah was mocked and ridiculed for 120 years as a result of his obedience. Abraham—the father of our faith—sought to serve God and paid a great price. It cost him everything. Not only did he leave father, mother, home and riches, but he didn't even know where he was going. He gave up his rights to the best pasture land when he let Lot choose the well-watered plains of Sodom. But the Lord had promised him that He would be his reward and that was enough for Abraham. He wanted God more than anything this world had to offer. Later, God fulfilled His promise and gave Abraham a son, but then He came back and asked him to give up the boy. If God had asked for 50,000 sheep or 10,000 rams—anything Abraham had—it would have been given without question. But this really hurt. God was asking for everything, and still Abraham held nothing back.

"All but one of the New Testament apostles were martyred. They walked in the steps of the Master to a death like His, on their own crosses. Others were beheaded. Jesus said that a servant was not above his master. In light of all this, I ask a simple question: When did God change His plan and offer an easier method to live for Him? Are modern evangelicals the only Christians in history to experience the power of the living God without paying a personal price? No, I believe that God's ways are still the same. There is still a cross for each of us. There is still a path of suffering and sacrifice for every Christian who wants to manifest Christ."

KP Yohannan is not talking here about a down in the dumps self inflicted martyrdom. He is talking about dying to yourself, your own ways, the willingness to suffer through the temptations that constantly try to bind us to self will instead of giving up our personal desires. He is talking about wanting God more than anything the world has to offer. The greatest way I have learned to suffer through my own temptations and stay connected in the Body of Christ is through my loving trusted friends who carry my cross for me when I can't do it alone.

It is through suffering we find those precious people God has put in our lives to be given the honor and title of friend, who walk alongside us through the storms of life that threaten our very existence. Lean into those friends when the winds come and allow them to lead you to the greatest friend you'll ever know—Jesus.