Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4 ESV.
Lets be honest, how many of us leap for joy in the middle of a painful situation we are going through? How can a person count it all joy when they are experiencing something that they would not wish on their worst enemy? I am not going to pretend to have the market cornered on this age old question. I have wrestled with this question as well as this scripture as much as anybody has. I want to be able to look past the soggy mud filled ground into the lush green pastures that lie ahead. Sometimes though, I find myself getting stuck in the mud, unable to pull myself up long enough to see two feet in front of me.
I've been married to my bride Debbie for over 25 years. Like most couples who have hung on to each other and to Christ for this amount of time, we have had our share of both high and low times. We have known laughter and like our Lord, we have been acquainted with much grief. (see Isaiah 53:3) Anything that is going to last the test of time in this world had better be built on a secure and solid foundation. This is a universal theme for any successful partnership, organization or venture of any kind. Trust, honesty, communication and a commitment to endure suffering together are all hallmarks of a successful marriage.
Lets face it, suffering is not a sexy subject that most of us like to engage in. And it is certainly not a topic that we embrace and kiss on the cheek. Nonetheless suffering is a topic that the New Testament is not timid or shy to dive into. The fellowship of believers has done well over the years in teaching and promoting the importance of worship, prayer, bible study and breaking bread together. These four things are not only important principals but they are imperative lifestyles for a believer to saturate themselves in. But the theme of enduring trials and suffering well has not been a staple of our faith like these other qualities have been. This needs to change if we are truly interested in becoming more like our Savior.
Scripture speaks loudly, clearly and continuously about our need to kiss suffering on the cheek. The following scriptures are just a taste of what the New Testament has to say on the subject:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4 ESV
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ. 2 Tim 2:3 ESV
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Tim 3:12 ESV
God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps. 1Peter 2:21 GWT
I think it would serve us well to begin to consider suffering well, as one of the most Godly things we can do. Not only do we need to do a better job embracing suffering in our lives, as a Church we need to do a better job enlisting it as one of the pillars that we teach others.
There is no way around it, suffering is not optional. It is not a multiple choice question that we choice to fill in it's circle or not. The sooner we realize that, the quicker we can take suffering by the arms, embrace it into our lives and kiss it on the cheek. If Christ is our example in everything, and He is, then why don't we want to follow the example we read in the book of Hebrews? In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered. Hebrews 2:10 NIV. The end game of this suffering we read about in these verses is the same end game the apostle James wrote about in chapter one of his epistle. The goal, the finish line, the cherry on the top is to be made perfect or complete.
It is the the inner transformation of a life where human qualities get swallowed up by the divine nature. It is like the shedding of old, scab filled skin and being wrapped in a new garment called the life of Christ. These new clothes will never be part of our wardrobes without a commitment to endure suffering and kiss it on the cheek.