Over the past few weeks my friends experienced a tsunami of suffering. A friend’s wife died without warning, another’s 19 year old son was killed in a motorcycle wreck. A friend was in a head-on collision, while another experienced a horrific injury in a bicycle accident. A friend had 25% of his congregation quit without warning, and another had to close a campus he poured his heart into. Others faced financial crises, health crises and relational crises. Some of my friends are weighing whether they can even continue in ministry. These are all people deeply committed to Christ and the church, who’ve sacrificed most of their adult lives for the sake of the Kingdom. This doesn’t feel like the peak-to-peak life of triumph I hear many Christian pastors and writers espouse. My friends have read the books, been to the conferences and applied the keys for success, and yet they suffer. How do we reconcile the Good News of the Gospel with the harsh news of reality? This weekend my pastor focused on a portion of Philippians I usually skim over while I focus on the joy, rejoice and admirable thinking parts. In chapter 3 Paul says,
I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
Philippians 3:10-11 (NLT)
I’m all about the first part of the passage, I definitely want to experience the mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead, to see the sun to stand still, to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. I want my family safe, my friends happy and my finances secure. If I’m completely honest heaven on earth is what I really signed up for, suffering isn’t really in the game plan. Paul, however, sees suffering as a pre-requisite to resurrection power. He says; “I want to suffer with him.” He sees no contradiction between sitting in prison awaiting possible execution and experiencing joy. His knows his best life now may end as lion chow, and he’s ok with it. He simply presses on to finish the race and receive his heavenly prize. Paul’s perspective gives me hope for my friends. I wish family members didn’t die, there weren’t horrific accidents, there was no heartbreak in ministry. But I know my friends are experiencing resurrection power in the midst of their tremendous suffering. Not in spite of suffering, but because of suffering. Ernest Hemingway said it this way:
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
I don’t know if I’ll ever join Paul in wanting to suffer with Christ, but I hope I have the wisdom and perspective to know that the mighty power of God doesn’t protect us from suffering but preserves us through suffering. It may not sell books or grow churches, but real resurrection power sustains us through real life.