Many factors make trials endurable: our own spiritual maturity and coping skills, the support and encouragement of friends, and an active sense of God’s power and presence. But there’s another dynamic that greatly helps: confidence that our suffering has purpose, that God is using the trial to produce something beneficial for us and in us. Knowing there is a positive divine purpose can strengthen our soul and propel us through hard times.
As we saw in our first two posts, God is using our daily hardships to make us more like Jesus. How? So far we have considered the first of our Seven E’s: God wants to use our hardships to enhance our relationship with God.
Today we consider a second: God wants to use our hardships to help us experience a measure of Christ’s sufferings. The Christian facing adversity faces nothing more than what Jesus himself faced in greater ways in his life.
The apostle Paul understood this. In Philippians 3:10, he expresses a threefold yearning:
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”
Think about those desires. “I want to know Christ”—and the believer says, “Amen.” And I want to know “the power of his resurrection”—and the believer says, “Amen.” And I want to know “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”—and the believer suddenly finds that third “Amen” difficult to utter. (I know that I’d be tempted to say, “Lord, how about two out of three?”) All of us want to know Jesus and his resurrection power; few of us want to taste the dreadfulness of his suffering and death.
Jesus’ Suffering and Ours
While not every E applies equally to all trials, this second perspective particularly helps when we face relational hardships. Have you experienced rejection? So did Jesus. He came to his own people and they did not receive him (John 1:12).
Have you felt alone? So did Jesus. Think of his three closest friends sleeping as he suffered in Gethsemane and then all the apostles fleeing from him at his crucifixion.
Have you received mistreatment? So did Jesus. Hear his cry in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Or see his tears in Luke 19:41, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.”
In our first post, I described Clay and Jill, a Christian couple who came for counseling help concerning their rebellious teen. These truths about Jesus helped them in surprising ways. As they read the above passages and reflected on their son’s waywardness, they felt a special kinship in their soul with their Savior. They were able to voice to God, concerning their unbelieving son, a similar lament that Jesus expressed about Jerusalem.
This in turn led Clay and Jill to a new, Romans 8:28-29 perspective about their son’s rejection of Jesus: “Could it be that our son’s unbelief is one way God is teaching us to know Christ and enter into his sufferings?” (This does not imply that God creates unbelief in our children; I have merely observed that God uses such sin to make parents more like Jesus.)
We feel something of Jesus’ heartbreak when those we love refuse our Savior. Clay and Jill now knew some measure of the grief and angst that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit feel when we fail to follow him. Their son had grieved them as they too often had grieved their Savior.
Losses Connect Us to Jesus
I think today of friends I know who have lost their jobs due to an economic downturn, or worse, greedy downsizing or unjust termination. I think of pastors forced to resign and church members mistreated by sinful church leaders. I think of married friends divorced against their will by spouses who forsook their vows to love, honor, and cherish them. I think of single friends who desire marriage but get bypassed by other men and women who use unbiblical criteria to pursue dating relationships. In each case, the rejection, aloneness, and mistreatment parallels in some small way the sufferings Jesus experienced. And to that extent, amid their own sufferings, these believers can draw near to him.
How about you? Could it be that God is using your trial to make you like Jesus by giving you a small taste of his sufferings? How might your relational hardships map on to his?
The Rest of the Story
Join us for Part 4 where we learn that God wants to use our hardships to expose our sin.
Join the Conversation
How has God used a hardship in your life to allow you to experience something of Jesus’ suffering? How have you or others tasted something of the aloneness, rejection, or mistreatment Jesus endured?