Knowing Christ is an expensive, challenging, and painful process.
That’s the way counselor Rick Thomas puts it in a recent blog and it’s true:
Knowing Christ is an expensive, challenging, and painful process. It will cost you your life. Do not be deceived about this. Do you really want to know Christ? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected of men (Isaiah 53). Do you really think that you can “know” Him in a detached and unaffected kind of way?
No, never, not in this life.
If you are a person who loves the Savior and your desire is to know Him more deeply, then there is no other choice for you but to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. You cannot and will not enjoy the power of His resurrection until you participate in His sufferings.
He goes on to say that God gives Christians at least two things: salvation and suffering. I agree with him that both are gifts.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake -Philippians 1:29
People need to know this up front. It would be difficult to be a joyful Christian if you are not prepared for what is involved. I am certainly glad I’m learning about this now rather than later in life. One day, I will suffer as a Christian. My life is not perfect now but I imagine it could be much harder. Blessed by God’s word and wise counsel, I like to think I am getting ready for it.
Looking for a Means to an End
As a teenager, my youth pastor was one of my role models. His name was also Mark and I remember him as someone so passionate that he often came to tears on the pulpit. He was single at the time and was very patient in seeking a wife. He eventually married a sweet girl named Sarah and their love for one another was infectious. In 2008, Sarah passed away unexpectedly and Mark experienced pain I hope to never experience. Last week, on the third anniversary of Sarah’s untimely death, Mark took his own life.
Mark would never want anyone to follow in his footsteps yet I imagine many people in the world have done or will do exactly what he did. Mark wanted to end his pain and find fulfillment. I’m sure he’s not the only one. I’m very concerned about this. I know and love too many people to stay silent on the issue of coping with pain.
Suffering and Joy
Christianity teaches that we are not called to end the pain in life and that we can’t find fulfillment on our own. Christians are instead granted suffering so that they can have complete joy and fulfillment. A biblical truth from 1 John is that there is joy and fulfillment when we are in fellowship with Christ, which we cannot obtain without believing in him and receiving the forgiveness of sins. A biblical truth that we learn from Job is that we need to be stripped of our comfort to see our own satisfaction in Christ (if it is truly there). Putting those two together means suffering, which can reveal more of the nature of our fellowship with God, ultimately give us joy. The difficult part is looking past the very real pain of suffering to see the joy of our fellowship. To help us look past the pain, we have to prepare for it and expect it.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. -1 Peter 4:12
Suffer Without Sin
The bottom line is that pain and suffering needs to be expected if you are to live faithfully. In some cases, it needs to be expected so that you live at all.
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. -1 Peter 4:1-2
If you can live with suffering, you can live without sin. Preparing yourself for any and all kinds of suffering will prevent you from choosing sin and will allow you to be closer to God. In the past, I have failed in my suffering by choosing sin. Instead of trusting in Christ, I gave into anger, depression or selfishness as a response to suffering. I hope I never do that again because I am missing out on the joy of being content in my fellowship with God, which is an infinite blessing.
Mark’s younger brother, Doug, had this to say about Mark:
I hope you know that Mark once loved Jesus Christ even stronger than the love for Sarah that he has captured for us with this snapshot of his heart. And those days were the days that I saw him happiest and most fulfilled. I beg you today, please let the sadness of this moment cause you to examine your own journey.
I pray that you fall in love with Jesus Christ so that you may be fulfilled amidst the most painful suffering.