SERIES-- Suffering: The Pressure that Puts Our Faith in the Open
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.” (James 1:2-5, MSG)
Sure, James. Easier said than done.
That’s always what I think when I hear the above verses. The fact of the matter is, no one wants to talk about suffering much less go through it. And let’s face it: it’s always going to be easy for people who have never walked through your same test to tell you to delight in the fact that you’re being tested. It’s always going to be our first, knee-jerk reaction to say, “Well, it’s easy for you to say, because you’re not
living with this trainwreck of a situation.”
The hard, discouraging truth is this: Suffering is a necessary part of life, and no matter how diligently we try to evade or avoid it, suffering will always catch up to us. Maybe you’ve lost your job, gone through a harrowing breakup, been bullied relentlessly, had your character questioned, struggled financially, or dealt with the death of someone close to you. You can literally fill in the blank with anything; if it grieves your soul and causes you to stress, then you know what I’m talking about.
But as much as I’d like to write James off when he talks about delighting in situations that are certainly not delightful, he does offer a lot of good insight into why we have to suffer and how we can use suffering to minister to others.
The first thing he mentions when it comes to suffering is that it forces your faith out into the open and puts it on display. If it was that way in Bible times, how much more apparent is this fact in our age of social media and oversharing? Today, we can put whatever we’re going through on large-scale display, and that can only mean one thing: when you’re going through a trial, there are more eyes on you than you realize.
When Paul and Silas were in jail, I’d say that situations were dire. They were chained up, locked up, and hours before they had been stripped and publicly beaten. If we’re being honest, some of us would have questioned God for a lot less. But instead of complaining to or cursing God, Paul and Silas chose to sing and pray. In the middle of a hopeless situation, broken and falsely accused, Paul and Silas chose to honor the Lord and praise Him anyway.
That alone is a beautiful thing, but do you know what scripture says that puts this on a whole ‘nother level entirely? Acts 16:25 says that not only were Paul and Silas praising God, but the other prisoners were listening.
When you’re going through the ringer and you’re feeling attacked or cornered, remember that there are people all around you and they are waiting to see how you react when your back is up against the wall. Paul and Silas were in a cell. They couldn’t see any of the other prisoners and the prisoners couldn’t see them, but they were all in the same position. They were all in the same hopeless struggle.
You may not feel eyes on you, but here’s the thing: because we live in this society where putting everything in a tweet or a post is so easy, we cannot forget about those that can still hear you from your proverbial jail cell. Your suffering will inevitably put what you believe to test and push it out into the open for others to see.
And don’t forget, Paul and Silas were worshipping. They were doing the actual work of worship, but when the earth shook and the shackles came off and the prison doors opened, Paul and Silas were not the only ones set free. ALL of the shackles came off. ALL of the cells and doors flew open. ALL of the prisoners were set free.
Friend, who will you set free by staying faithful through your struggle? Who will you encourage when your faith-life is thrust into the open? Who will be delivered with the testimony of how you reacted when you were placed under a little pressure?
I want to take the next few weeks to get into these verses and get real about suffering. I’m praying that through this next series, you will better understand your personal tests and be encouraged to face them, even if you don’t feel so delighted that they’re happening.
If you’re in a jail cell today, please don’t give up. Instead, use this moment to show the world how much you love Jesus and how strongly you believe that He is going to use this as an opportunity for His good. Keep praising Him and trusting Him to come to your rescue. He always will.