Within the last couple of years, I’ve come to realize something that has eluded me somehow for my entire Christian life. For more than 15 years, I did not realize that, as a follower of Christ, I’m called to suffer.
It’s expected of me.
God never says, “I want you to suffer.” I believe our suffering pains Him, just as the suffering of Jesus did. But this truth is implied throughout the New Testament. Followers of Christ will suffer.
A couple of examples:
Luke 9:23 – Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (This verse is about sacrificing ourselves more than suffering, but suffering is implicit in the act of taking up a cross and walking to our deaths.)
Romans 8:17 – Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Paul’s entire ministry is marked by imprisonment, sacrifice, danger, and suffering – as he points out here.)
There are many more, but these were two of easiest to use in this context.
We are expected to suffer for the cause of Christ. Scripture assumes that – when we live as followers of Christ ought to live (i.e. as Christ lived) – we will not be comfortable. When you accept Christ, you accept suffering.
What does this mean for American Christians? Let’s face it. We don’t suffer for the cause of Christ in America. We are not persecuted. We are not in danger because of our faith (yet). In fact, as I have mentioned in this blog before, security (financial and physical) is arguably the primary goal in the life of the American Christian (just as it is in the life of American non-Christians), and it is an achievable goal. At least our idea of security is. Does this mean we’re missing something integral to the experience of being a child of God?
Yes, I believe we are, myself included.
So, what do we do about this? Move to a foreign nation where Christians are hated and persecuted and killed? This may be God’s call for some of us, but true followers of Christ are needed in this nation just as much – if not more – than they are needed in nations where the Church is forced underground. There is vibrancy, a depth in these churches that is sadly absent in most American churches. As some have observed, we’re a mile wide and an inch deep.
I believe a good first step is to find a way to share in the sufferings of those who suffer for the cause of Christ.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
Matthew 25: 34-40
I believe we are correct in referring to anyone in need as one of “the least of these.” However, I think an even more correct (if that’s possible!) application is to apply this to our brothers and sisters in Christ, since the King in the parable does so (v. 40).
My personal not-quite-complete application: Help your fellow Christ-followers who are sick, hungry, thirsty, lonely, hurting, or imprisoned for the cause of Christ. Give money, food, drink to the poor. Help out a struggling church at home or abroad. Go to the Voice of the Martyrs Web site and check out some videos and stories about the persecution our siblings are suffering at the hands of those who hate Jesus. Invest your time, your money, and your heart in them. If you can’t think of an organization to support, investigate some of the ones I’ve linked to.
Above all, don’t just read stories or watch videos about someone’s suffering. Do something.
They are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. In this way, so can we.