Friday, September 19, 2008

On Suffering (a devotional)

Sometimes Stint feels like trying to juggle live animals. Just when you feel like everything is under control, the animals writhe around and you lose your balance. There are times when the suffering--whether from homesickness, culture shock, interpersonal struggles on your team or fatigue from doing evangelism--seems unbearable.

On top of that, there's a subtle belief in American Christianity that if we follow Jesus, nothing will ever go wrong for us. It's not a new idea. In fact, in Matthew 16 we see Peter saying much the same thing to Jesus. Jesus shares (in verse 21) that he will "suffer many things" and then be killed and come to life again.

Peter, no doubt with good intentions, pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. "This will never happen to you," he says.

In a famous moment, Jesus says, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men." Jesus calls Peter's philosophy of the future satanic and tells him that he has in mind "the things of men."

I'll be frank. I prefer a life without suffering. Who doesn't? Even Jesus told the Father that his preference would be to avoid the cross if possible (Mark 14:36). But Jesus tells us that we if we live a life of avoiding pain and suffering, we can't truly become like him. In fact, immediately following this conversation with Peter he turns to the disciples and says, "If anyone will come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? "

There will be times of temptation on stint, when you will look at the world around you and think, "Why am I making all these sacrifices? I have Christian friends back home who are making plenty of money and living a life of ease. And here I am, suffering and in pain. What is the point of this?"

Remember, Christ suffered. If we are to become like him, we will experience suffering as well. And remember, too, that Jesus has called you to stint this year. Your friends may have been called to another context or job or place in life this year. Who know what the future holds? But for today, pick up your cross and follow. He has walked this road ahead of us, and he will give us strength to do the things he to which he has called us.

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