Friday, June 4, 2010

Suffering? By Whose Standards?

As we turn back to the idea of suffering for Christ I can't help but wonder what some of you must be going through. There must be a reason why the Spirit is emphasizing this point with my readers. I know that in our age of convenience the idea of what is considered suffering for Jesus can be lost in the translation and is often filtered through our cultural experience. Perhaps in North America we consider "name calling" to be suffering for Jesus whereas in India having your house burnt to the ground is suffering. Perhaps in other places like China being jailed for your faith would be considered suffering and in Egypt being stoned by a mob would fit into the same category. Not many of us face this type of severity in our suffering, however, this was the type of thing that was taking place in Peter's day. It was not an organized persecution but instead pockets of localized persecution as we find in the villages of India and China today. Yet Peter writes:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Looks great on paper but can we put it into practice when our property its being confiscated and our children are beat in front of us? Perhaps we have become too far removed from what our brothers and sisters are facing in other parts of the world to understand what is right on our doorstep. Peter tells us not to be surprised because Jesus already told us that the world would hate us, and if it doesn't, perhaps we should be asking ourselves what we are doing wrong. The character of Jesus Christ and the character of this world cannot mix without friction being created and, for the moment, we are out numbered by those without Christ. At one time our governments were filled with God-fearing men and women and our laws met Biblical standards, but that has been changing for the last 30 years and is beginning to escalate. If you have not yet experienced suffering for the Name, you will soon enough. Peter says that when it happens we should rejoice, that we have the privilege to participate in the sufferings of Jesus.

Let's just make sure we are suffering for his righteousness and not for our unrighteousness. Peter emphasizes this once again so it must be an important distinction to take note of:

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:14-16)

I can tell you now that some of you are suffering because of Jesus. Some of you face trials with your neighbours simply because you are a Christian. However, some of you are facing those trials, not because you are a Christian, but because you are a bad neighbour. If you do everything as Jesus would have you do, showing love to your neighbour, along with kindness and gentleness and still they cause you problems and harm, you can be sure you are suffering for Jesus. Rejoice then, because it is a sign that you do indeed bear the name of Jesus. Peter says that you should consider yourself blessed.

Now, for us North Americans, this is a tough concept to grasp. We would rather stand and defend our rights and freedoms. Yet the Word tells us we must be prepared to surrender our rights and freedoms for the sake of the mission. Imagine being one of the disciples who had been arrested without cause and then whipped just to make a point. They did not come out calling for an inquiry. They came out rejoicing that they were considered worthy enough to suffer for Jesus.

I am convinced that until North American Christians raise their pain threshold we are not going to make any further inroads in our culture. Until we are willing to lay down our lives, sacrifice everything for the mission of introducing the love of Jesus Christ to those stuck in the dark, we will never reach the full potential of what our Father has planned for us. He does not want us to serve him in our comfort zones; he is looking for us to get out of our boxes, to go where he sends us and do what he tells us. You may have to learn a new language, gain a new skill or trade, be willing to change diapers and wash feet, wash out bed pains and tend the wounds of children. As long as you are putting limits on your service and the level of "pain' you are willing to face, you are limiting your usefulness to God:

So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19)

However, do not look to go to foreign countries when God is looking to use you in your own country, perhaps on your own street. Sometimes it is easy to suffer for strangers, people who do not know us and who we do not know. It is a different thing to suffer for people who know us all too well, who know our mistakes, our shortcomings, our character flaws. Are you willing to lay down your life for those who tear you down, who criticize you, who reject you and call you names? God has already placed you exactly where he wants you to serve, so do it, with all your heart and know that our reward is coming.