"For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me." Philippians 1: 29-30
I recall the first time I received a grant for my college education. It was a huge source of financial help, and arrived at a crucial time in my studies. When I discovered I didn't have to pay it back, if I kept my grades up, I was over-joyed. It was an amazing source of encouragement, and allowed me to finish my under-graduate work at Baylor University.
The Grant that is mentioned in Paul's letter to the Church at Philippi is no less crucial to the spiritual life of a believer, but suffering rarely proves to be a joyful experience when it first arrives. Still, if the prayer warrior will allow Jesus to make sense out of what they are undergoing, then it will enrich their lives and their love for their Savior like nothing else can.
In the early days of the fall of Communism, Romania was one the last strongholds to crumble under the weight of freedom loving people. I remember hearing Joseph Tson, a refugee Romanian pastor, preach on "The Theology of Martyrdom." Pastor Tson had experienced the fear of persecution and on more than one occasion he had to look into its ugly face. Always arrested in the middle of the night, he would be taken to the intimidating headquarters of the secret police, for brutal interrogation. His persecutors threatened him with death so many times that he finally demanded it be done. They were shocked and sputtered, "We aren't going to kill you. That is what you want. We don't want to make you into a martyr for your cause." Then they exiled him. He had won the battle over the fear of death, and his enemy. He lived to see Romanian Christians freed to worship God in the city squares, as well as in their own churches.
Paul invited his first century followers to embrace suffering as an opportunity to identify with Christ and with him. His challenge is closely related to the persecuted pastor's experience almost 2,000 years later. Some things never change because they are right the first time.
The Grant: "not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake," v. 29
Easy believism and suffering saints are incompatible expressions of genuine Christianity. Today the 21st Century church is in love with the former, and uncomfortable with the latter. Suffering is hard to explain to people who want to hear how they can gain God's best with the least amount of pain.
"To believe" is a verb form of faith. Many people talk about faith as if it was an entity. Faith is more about energy. Faith is the trust, and confidence placed in someone, something, or some belief. It is more than knowledge. It is an investment of ones' mind, body and soul in an enterprise or action. A person may know the dimensions and the purpose of a chair, but until a person surrenders their standing position to a sitting position on the chair, there is no faith being exercised in it, and no rest received from it.
"To suffer" means in a literal sense to have a sensible experience. It may feel like a good or bad one, and actually be either one. It is something that believers will undergo, and it is a necessary part of the spiritual development of a follower of Jesus Christ.
The maturing process to get the right perspective on suffering takes time. When suffering arrives it feels more like being under the thumb of the enemy than being guided by the hand of God.
God wraps some of His greatest gifts in the scariest packaging. What doesn't make sense is not always a source of joy. It takes the Person of Jesus Christ to make sense out of suffering. No one can do it better. Take it to Him in prayer.
Note to self: Talking to people who have no sense of the purpose of suffering is not likely to make sense out it when suffering comes your way. Pray and remember Jesus knows all about it, and has already been through it.
“Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Luke 24:26
The Grant to believe and to suffer is a two-sided coin forged in the furnace of faith, but stamped with the image of Jesus on each side. One side depicts The Crucified Savior. The other side depicts The Risen Christ. Every believer's life should be marked by the hope that comes from an intimate association with both. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!