The news had a report about prescription pill abuse and addiction in our society and one man was asked what he thought the reason was. His response shook me. He said, “Americans in general don’t like to suffer.” Now of course I would venture to say no one likes to suffer but the thought occurred to me that as a Christian I am actually called to suffer.
In the ninth chapter of Acts the moment of truth for Saul, later known as Paul, came when he met the risen Jesus Christ. Jesus stopped him on his way to Damascus to persecute and incarcerate Christians and confronted him about it. He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul at first didn’t even know who Jesus was; but Jesus went on to explain that Saul was in fact persecuting him if he persecuted Christians. As the story progresses Jesus tells, another disciple Ananias to go to Saul and pray for him. He tells Ananias to say, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Later on in Paul’s life he comes to see suffering as part of being a Christian and in fact he embraces it. In Philippians 3 he said, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Paul loved Jesus Christ so much and wanted to know Him so intimately he said, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Did you catch that? He knew that if he wanted to have real fellowship with Christ it meant he would have to sink into the sufferings of Christ. How else could he really “Know” him?
Back to my opening point about the epidemic of prescription drug abuse let me just say I know addiction is an escape hatch. Of course doing drugs doesn’t really get us free of our problems but at least it can ease the pain momentarily, right? The big question is what are we avoiding and what’s the answer? In a word I would say the answer is Jesus! I have found him to be the only real path to freedom but as we can now see going with him is not a life free of suffering, in fact it’s filled with it. So it seems whether we are on drugs or not suffering is simply part of life. The options we have then aren’t whether we suffer or not, but do we suffer with or without Christ.
Today in Sunday School we read Matthew 26:36-46. This is the passage of scripture where Jesus and his disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane praying just before Jesus is arrested and taken to the cross. Jesus knows his horrible future of being spit upon, mocked, whipped, punched and nailed to a cross; so he is justifiably bothered. The scripture says, “he began to be grieved and distressed…even to the point of death.” Jesus knew the pain and torture that awaited him so he prayed and seemed to be wanting out of what the Father had in store for him. He asked three times “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Jesus himself was struggling with suffering and we know he never sinned, so that tells me we too may have moments when we feel distressed and don’t want to go through what God has for us. Because in the end the question is are we going to do it or not. Of course we know He did finally say, “If this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Therefore he was obedient, even to the point of death on the cross.
It seems there are times of immense suffering in life but in this case, like many others, the glory that was waiting on the other side far outweighed the pain. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” Paul himself said, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” You see Jesus and Paul both came to understand something most of us are slow to catch on to and that’s suffering and glory are two sides of the same coin.
Apparently the cross has two sides or functions as well. While the pain, suffering and death is one aspect of the cross; life comes through the other side. The Apostle Paul defined this cross principle pretty well in one short verse found in 2 Corinthians 4:12 He said, “So death works in us, but life in you.” I once heard someone explain this using the illustration of a tree. They said, “Trees take in carbon dioxide from their surrounding atmosphere which is poisonous and somehow the tree processes it and turns it into oxygen.” As a Christian, like Paul, we do our part of taking what is distressful in this world and processing it by way of the cross (death works in us) and releasing it (life in you) for others. Paul said it like this in Colossians 1:24–“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of his body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
In conclusion let me just tell you as one who has used the drugs to avoid suffering and now as one who is joined, spirit to Spirit, with Jesus Christ in His sufferings, the drugs don’t and can’t compare to a life lived for Jesus Christ! He’s so great he takes those sufferings and transforms them into glory not only for ourselves but for others too.