The congregation Sarah and I were part of for two years while in El Salvador knew suffering more than most. Many were missionaries who served the poorest of the poor and had been working for years, often with much opposition to see change. During a message on Romans 5, the congregation were asked “Who rejoices in suffering?”. There was the normal chuckle in the knowledge that no one does, but, one man said “I do” with an unusual conviction.
At the time I didn’t know much about Samuel, however, I learnt that he was born in Rwanda and lost his parents during the civil war. He was brought up in a war camp, seeing many atrocities and surviving on a meal a day. He’d been near to death many times including motorcycle accidents and held at gunpoint. He started to work for Habitat for Humanity and then British Red Cross, getting an education and a career, and at the time of this message, he was setting up a sustainable orphanage in El Salvador with his family (including 3 children) and was being threatened by the gangs for not paying protection money.
Why was it that a person who had been through so much was able to say with full conviction that he rejoiced in suffering?!
We all suffer in our lives and it comes in many forms: 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed (mental suffering), but not driven to despair; persecuted (emotional suffering), but not forsaken; struck down (physical suffering), but not destroyed”
I have come to believe that suffering can do one of two things:
It can lead us to despair, loneliness and unrecoverable injury…
…or it can be the most powerful instrument for change in our hearts and to witness who Christ is to others.
Christ’s glory and love is shown most clearly at the cross, where he laid down his life and suffered for us. But, suffering was not the end, he revealed his power as he was resurrected and conquered death and enabled new life and freedom from sin.
Samuel’s attitude to suffering, and therefore his life story, would not have happened if he did not do it with God. His story reminds me how even when it’s hard I must choose to walk with God. Through his cross he has shown (and will show to others through me) that Christ suffered in love for me, but that is not the end. Resurrection, freedom and new life will be born out of it.
Although, these words are easy to say, I constantly find myself putting my head down and blocking everything out including God when I have suffering in my life. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”
We are not called to suffer alone but in community. I encourage you to share what you are suffering, ask for support both prayer and physical help. Christ has commanded us to Love one another and this cannot happen effectively if we suffer in silence.
So I encourage you to suffer with God and each other. When suffering is given to him and his purposes, he can do amazing things with it.