Sunday, May 6, 2012

How To Cope With Suffering

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of [this] life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel,
2 Timothy 2:3-8 NKJV

While most of us are familiar with what are referred to as the signs of the end, there is one which I often find sort of flies under the radar so to speak, and that is suffering by believers. Now you would think that with all of the examples in the Bible about believers suffering this would not be the case, yet many of us begin to question whenever we experience pain or hardship of one sort or another. I know I have done it, and I'm sure most of you have too because it is a natural reaction whenever something like this happens.

In this passage, Paul warns Timothy that suffering is going to be part of the territory that comes with choosing to serve Christ. You notice Paul doesn't say you “might” have to experience it, or it's “possible” you will experience it, he says we “must endure hardship” if we are one of His soldiers. I know many people who have chosen to serve our country in the military and the one thing most all of them agree on is the fact that even though they chose to enlist, in hindsight they had no idea of some of the things they were going to experience.

Paul not only tells Timothy, and us, what we are going to experience, he also gives us three attitudes we need to possess in order to deal with what will come. He illustrates each of these with an example of three different vocations in order to help us remember the keys to coping with suffering.

Dedication. A good soldier dedicates himself to the cause he serves, and no matter what he experiences he never loses sight of the objective he is fighting for. In any battle, there are two sides fighting against one another, and as a result there are always casualties of war. Some are wounded, some are fatal, but imagine if you will an army made up of soldiers who turn and run whenever there is a chance of suffering. How successful would that army be? We as believers have chosen to enlist in God's army and to serve Him by reaching out to an unbelieving world with the gospel of Christ. Paul says there will be hardship but he reminds us that we should always remember we dedicated ourselves to serve our Lord.

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
Philippians 1:9 NKJV

Discipline. The second illustration Paul uses is that of an athlete running a race. He reminds us that in order to compete we must abide by the rules of the competition. I was fortunate enough to participate as a member of a relay team while competing in college and if there is one race in track where you can get yourself disqualified quickly it's a relay. There are judges everywhere checking to make sure you don't step out of your assigned lanes, interfere with another runner, and you must pass the baton within an assigned zone. I've seen some amazing performances negated by a disqualification and the agony on competitors faces is painful to watch. It seems that Paul is telling us here that although there may be pain while running between the lines, there is even more suffering if we run outside of the lines.

But I discipline my body and bring [it] into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:27 NKJV

Diligence. Finally Paul uses the example of a farmer working his crops to illustrate to us the attitude of diligence. I live in a rural community where farming is still the most important part of the local economy. I truly believe you can't appreciate how hard a farmer works unless you live where you can watch them work their fields. Have you ever noticed most farm equipment comes equipped with lights? You can see farmers working before sunrise and long after sunset every day of the growing season in our valley and you have to wonder sometimes if they ever sleep? They prepare the soil, they fertilize, they plant, they water, they cultivate, they weed, they nurture, and then finally they harvest. Paul rightly refers to the successful farmer as “hardworking”, and it doesn't take a lot of thought on our part to understand what he is trying to tell us. Suffering is going to be a part of our lives as believers and if we are to be successful we must be diligent. If we quit and take the easy road when pain and suffering show up we will never produce a crop.

And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;
1 Corinthians 4:12 NKJV

The question many would naturally ask is if this is all worth it? Satan's master plan is to make the Church ineffective, and the way he does that is by discouraging believers by pain and suffering. Paul's final bit of advice in this passage is to remind Timothy, and us, that the reason we chose this path in the first place is because Christ died and rose from the dead to deliver us from sin. No other gospel can say that, and Paul's advice is for us to never forget what Christ has done for us. Not only did He die for our sins, He experienced more pain and suffering than most of us ever will. If Christ suffered unto death, is it too much to ask that we endure a little pain and suffering for His sake?

Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and [saying], "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ."
Acts 17:2-3 NKJV

Paul tells us that if we make the choice to accept the sacrifice Jesus made for us we will experience pain and suffering. But he also tells us how we can cope with it successfully by adopting three attitudes which will prevent us from the discouragement that accompanies suffering. Remember the soldier, the runner, and the farmer and adopt the attitudes that will help us cope with suffering. Most of all never forget how much Christ suffered for us, and the fact that He is waiting just as we are for the time when we will be together in Heaven, experiencing the victory of finishing the race.

Keep watching.