Devotion from Pastor Steve

For it has been graced to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine. Philippians 1:29–30
The Bible spends a lot of time addressing what to do in difficult days. That makes sense because if you were an illiterate, subsistence-wage, day-laborer in a pre-industrial society on the cusp of leech therapy, most of your days would be difficult. It turns out, if you are a well-educated professional in the information economy in the city with the most advanced medical center in the world, some of your days are still going to be difficult. Randall O’Brien says, “God had one Son without sin, but no child without suffering.” C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our comforts, but shouts to us in our pain.”
Suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition. I think a good deal of what the Bible does is help us rightly frame our suffering. One day Jesus’ disciples noticed a man who had been blind from birth. They asked Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) The disciples thought suffering was a consequence of sin. If someone was suffering, either that person must have sinned and is “suffering the consequences” or perhaps the sin was so bad the consequences spanned generations. Jesus explained, “neither this man nor his parents sinned, this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3)
Sin does have consequences. (The wages of sin is death. Romans 6:23) Sin does bring suffering. But not all suffering is a result of sin. Some suffering is just the result of living in a fallen world. And, according to both Jesus and Paul, some suffering is part of the “grace” of faithful living. On some days the highest compliment Jesus can pay you is to permit you to share in His sufferings. That was what was happening to Paul as he wrote this letter from a Roman prison. Paul did not want to be in prison, but he was committed to faithfully live out his assignment.
For a soldier, the best assignment is often the most difficult one. Paul, as a good soldier for Christ, realized God had entrusted him with a difficult assignment. Paul did not ask, “Why is this happening to me?” but, “How can I use this to let Christ shine through me? How can I let God show through me, so that even in the worst of things and times God can do the best of things?”
My wife Missy had a life lesson in that spirit watching her mother, Melinda. Melinda was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis when Missy was about 16 years old. Melinda was not big on asking “Why?” She was big on pressing on. In her daily endurance of things debilitating and dependence-forcing, Melinda offered a witness to the power of faith, hope, and trust. Her life was not a long exercise in denial, it was an enduring exercise in trusting that what she needed God would provide. It was claiming a word from Deuteronomy 33:25, “as your days, so shall your strength be.” She did not have all the strength she might want, but she did have all the strength she needed, day by day and year by year.
These are difficult days. As you face them, I encourage you to ask not, “Why is this happening to me?” Instead ask, “How can I let Christ shine through me in this thing I am facing? How can I be an agent with my freedom and power of letting God bring the best of things from the worst of things? How can I trust in the ingenious mercy of God in this thing and so find peace?”
Suffering is not optional. Framing our suffering as an opportunity for grace to work in us and through us is. And that framing can make all the difference in how we live our days.