One day, Peter pointed the finger at Jesus and said, "No Lord! You will never suffer this way." He was telling Jesus that he would not allow him to go to the cross, suffer and die.
I think I understand why Peter rebuked Jesus. I think I know the emotions that were going through his head: how he didn’t want to see his friend hurt; how he knew Jesus didn’t deserve to be arrested; how he didn’t want Jesus taken away from him. He didn’t want the pain. He couldn’t bear the thought of how he would suffer watching his friend, Jesus, go through all that.
I think I understand all of that because I act the same way when it comes to suffering. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to suffer. But I do. And so do you. And the problem with suffering is that it doesn’t go away, really. One problem is solved and the next one comes. We make it through one trial only to head right into another trial.
But the greater problem of suffering is that you and I spend so much energy rejecting it. We spend our energy complaining about how terrible it is when God intends suffering for our good. Paul says it this way in Romans 5, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings.” God tells us there is actually joy in suffering. There is joy because God is improving us.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, something about rejoicing in the midst of suffering sounds wrong. When was the last time a woman in labor praised God and rejoiced that she was in so much pain? But we need to make sure we correctly understand this word “rejoice”. The word translated “rejoice” has less to do with the emotion of joy and more to do with how we respond to something. When your child walks for the first time there is joy, but you also go and tell people your child just walked. You brag about it. That’s rejoicing. Rejoicing is boasting and taking pride in something. And often it does involve joy. But it’s not so much about joy but about taking pride in something and talking about it. And so when Paul says to rejoice in suffering he doesn’t necessarily mean to be happy about it, but to boast about it.
So that means it’s possible to be sad about suffering and yet at the same time boast about how good it is. And that becomes easier to do when people see how God uses suffering to improve them. Suffering teaches perseverance. That’s the ability to stand up under heavy trials. And perseverance builds up a person’s character. When a person holds up under heavy suffering and doesn’t give up hope in God they pass the test, so to speak, and they become stronger in their relationship with God. And that stronger character leads a person to hope more and more in God’s blessings. And that hope doesn’t disappoint because God has poured his love into believers’ hearts through the Holy Spirit.
You may not be joy-filled about suffering, but with all the good that God wants to accomplish in your life through suffering, it does give you something to boast about. You can boast about God’s love.
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