“Suffering is clearly designed by God not only as a way to ween Christians off of self and onto grace, but also as a way to spotlight that grace and make it shine.”John Piper
In 1 John 3:16-20, the apostle John explains that Jesus was the one who showed us what real love was by suffering for those who are suffering. He then prods us, to love the same way – one of which, is sharing our material possessions with those in need, which, allows us to “shut down debilitating self-criticism“. Piper explains this as weening ourselves off of ourselves, so we can be freed to spotlight God’s grace.
While this is not to be our motive for sacrificially loving our brothers and sisters in need, it is likened to a fruit that is matured in us. By loving those in the midst of their pain, and abiding in Jesus, our own worries are dissolved and the grace of God is magnified.
“I never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering. I come to believe that He suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For He knew that there is no life without suffering.”Alan Paton/Cry The Beloved Country
Whether we are going through this personally, or coming alongside another, this idea of suffering, which everyone must endure, is the path to life. Mother Teresa says suffering is a gift because it teaches us to be like Jesus. Suffering drew the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years to merely touch His robe, and she was freed. While his family suffered for him, it also allowed God’s glory to be displayed through the raising of Lazarus. If we are not in it ourselves or surrounded by it, we should be seeking it out. “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it” (Luke 9:23).
“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart, I wrote to you with many tears, not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the depth of my love for you.”2 Corinthians 2:4
Paul showed his love by suffering for others. Just a few verses after this one, he encouraged the Corinthians to pour love onto the repentant sinner who had been excluded from the fellowship. If you are wanting to take a deep dive into suffering, you may want to go to the prisoner, or any of today’s lepers of society; the ones begging for forgiveness but unable to find it. In doing so, we can save someone from drowning in their own guilt and instead, bring them hope. When we show compassion, we share in the sufferings of others, just like God has always done with us.
“In all their troubles, He was troubled, too. He didn’t send someone else to help them. He did it himself, in person.”Isaiah 63:9
When the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years reached out for the hem of Jesus’ robe, He asked “Who touched me?” When she confessed it was her, she was embracing her suffering. She was admitting in public her weakness, and her risky behavior. By crossing over the line of acceptable behavior and risking reaching out to Jesus, she was given Divine Power.
He then told her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!” Living healed and whole with His power meant that she could now take more risks of faith. She could now cross over more lines of “culturally acceptable” behavior to embrace others who were sufering.
When we reach one hand out to the sufferer with the power and love that comes from the other one that is grasping Jesus, we are living the cruciform life.
Unsplash photos by Ben White & Dennis Oliveria