Suffering. That's a word no one is too fond of--I mean who wakes up one morning and says,"I think I'd like to suffer today!" But somewhere along the path of life suffering finds us. It comes packaged differently for each individual, but one day when you least expect it, that package will be delivered to your door. The tag on your package may read with a variety of greetings. It might say,"unexpected financial loss" or"the doctors report says"or"your child is going to turn away from the Lord"or whatever the Lord chooses to write there. But make no mistake, the package will be prepared just for you and it is meant as a gift.
So how do we unwrap this gift? The apostle Paul knew about suffering. His suffering was personal. His thorn in the flesh was difficult and instead of others sympathizing with him, they made fun of him. They fell asleep while he preached. They stoned him and ran him out of town. They threw him into prison, and not just into any cell but down to the deepest, nastiest, scariest part of the prison. They mocked him, they scorned him and they almost beat him to death. Yep! I think we can all agree Paul knew about suffering. But in Philippians, he says something very interesting. He says that his desire is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering. Hmm--Power or suffering--which would you choose? And why put the power part before the fellowship of suffering part? I mean shouldn't it be reversed? First suffering, then power. Apparently the Holy Spirit didn't think so. And it all fits together to make us conformable to his death. Let's really Think about this. How can we face death unless we know that there is life afterwards and how can we face suffering if we do not believe we will have victory over it? Now let's look at this again--The resurrection brings power, but the suffering brings fellowship. So before that package of suffering that we talked about earlier arrives at your door, you need to be thoroughly convinced that Jesus has given you the victory over all circumstances, even death and that nothing can separate you from God's love, provided for us by Christ Jesus. So once we are convinced that we have obtained the power of the resurrection that is the victory, now we are emotionally prepared for the suffering.
So many questions come to mind concerning suffering. Should I desire suffering? Should I run from it or run to it? How do I respond to it in order to gain maximum benefit from the experience? Why couldn't Paul have stopped with the power of the resurrection? Why did he have to go a step farther and bring up the fellowship of his suffering ? The whole thing sounds like a huge decision to me. Choosing the power is not a problem, but the suffering is quite another issue. When you think of resurrection power, you envision the King of Kings and Lord of lords in all of His omnipotence. Who does not want to be in on that?
But there is another side of Jesus. His human side. The side that suffered unbearable pain and torture and humiliation and loneliness. Even our Heavenly Father turned away. Is that why now He asks for someone to come alongside of Him and share it with Him? I heard once that fellowship can best be described as two people in the same ship. Simple, right? But very true. Once again we see a choice. Someone must choose to get into the ship and then be willing to head in the same direction with the other fellow. Now to all of us control freaks, this sounds like a very tricky situation. The question arises,"Who is going to direct this boat?" And I believe the answer from the Lord Jesus is,"I am, if you'll let me." Sounds like a plan! if I take the ships wheel, I will definitely steer towards safe, known waters. Waters that are easily charted. That may sound like a sailors dream, but what is gained from it---practically nothing! If however I let go and allow Jesus to take the wheel, He will move out into choppy waters--seas that have never been navigated before. He will move into rough waves that might cause panic! But if I trust him, just maybe I'll come out on the other side, stronger, more mature, more usable in his kingdom work. And as hard as it is for me to admit it, only the suffering will accomplish this. The power of the resurrection is mine at any given time, it is always accessible. But the suffering end of the spectrum is different--that ship sails at different times over the course of our lifetime. I think it has to be that way--if suffering continued on and on we would faint and perish! However each time we willingly and yes, even joyfully enter into that ship of suffering, it grows us--it deepens us--it causes us to know our ship mate Jesus better and to trust Him more. The suffering brings death to our flesh and the power of the resurrection gives victory over it! So the next time that package of suffering arrives at your door, don't hide in the corner and pretend you're not home. Receive it as the gift it is meant to be, selected just for you. And when Jesus invites you into His ship, enter happily and trust your fellow sailor the Lord Jesus to guide you safely through.