Happy New Year or Happy for a New Year?

So, how was your year? Was it everything you hoped for and wanted it to be or was your year such that you are one of those who can’t wait for 2018 to end? I have spoken to more than a few whose thoughts are that 2019 better not be worse than 2018 as it was a year they would rather forget. Here’s hoping to a better 2019, right?

I understand the point. Nobody wants, pain, disappointment, hurt, and/or grief. We all know those experiences are normative in life but having a break from them for a year isn’t too much to ask is it? This mindset becomes a problem though when we begin to live with the view that a pain-free existence is what is owed me by God and thus what I deserve.

The hard truth of the Bible is this: Christians have been called to suffer. No, not in some masochistic, “woe is me”, martyrdom, with an Eyore complex but with the purposeful work of the Lord in our lives and following the example of Christ Himself.

Peter wrote in his first epistle,

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness… (1st Peter 2:21-24)

If we are to understand the role of suffering in our lives and embrace the will of God in the midst of it all there are a couple of points we need to consider.

1) Our suffering as Christians is tied directly to our salvation and our life in Christ.

We must first realize our suffering is purposeful. Suffering in our lives is never whimsical or meaningless. God doesn’t allow or even bring suffering into our lives simply for the sake of suffering. As it is part of the purpose of our salvation we must trust that our suffering is likewise part of God’s plan for us; both in us and through us.

This comes into focus with crystal clarity when we look past our suffering to the suffering of Jesus. He didn’t just suffer on our behalf, He suffered both as an example for us to follow as well as a path in which we are to walk.

2) Suffering is intrinsic to God’s redemptive purposes.

Jesus suffered ultimately so save us from our sin. Peter states that Jesus “bore our sins in His body on the cross”. The holy and sinless Messiah took our sin upon Himself on the cross. In taking our sin and paying our price for sin He took our guilt and God’s wrath which we alone deserved.

LIkewise, the purpose of our suffering is to be seen as redemptive; not redemptive in saving ourselves or others from their sin but yet working with Christ’s redemptive work on the cross to accomplish God’s purposes in us and through us.

If we are to follow Christ’s example in suffering, we must learn to look outside of ourselves and beyond ourselves. In 3:15 Peter encourages his readers to always be ready to make a defense to any who would ask of the hope within them. What would compel someone to ask us about our hope? How we live while suffering! As we follow the example of Christ two realities will flow out of us as we suffer.

First, we will exhibit faith. Peter reminds us in 2:23 that while suffering He “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Jesus was able to go the cross, take our sin and guilt, and suffer the Father’s wrath for sin because He had complete trust in God to judge Him rightly. In other words, He trusted God that His suffering would ultimately end well for Him.

Secondly, we will demonstrate a level of unexplainable joy. The writer of Hebrews in 12:2 wrote, “…who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” Similarly, James instructs believers to “consider it all joy” when we encounter all manner of trials (James 1:2). Joy is different than happiness. God doesn’t expect us to be happy when we suffer, rather, He calls us to be joyful. What’s the difference? Happiness is solely focused on circumstances. Happiness is the absence of pain while experiencing personal pleasure. Joy, on the other hand, is the settled contentment and satisfaction of resulting good, regardless of pain or the lack thereof.

In this way, our suffering works as a platform for the gospel to be proclaimed through us to those who need to experience the saving work of Christ. There is no more powerful a witness than to trust in the midst of incredible crisis and to have a joy amid grievous circumstances because of our settled trust in God’s goodness to us no matter what we may see or feel.

Suffering is also personally redemptive. Suffering puts in the place of continually learning to trust God more and more. As Jesus “entrusted Himself to Him who judges righteously” it teaches us to trust as Jesus Himself had to trust. It also compels us to draw close to the Lord. James continued addressing trials when we wrote, “…if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…” What wisdom is needed during trials? In context it would be two specific things. We need to seek the wisdom to know how to be joyful in our trials and how to have perseverance in our trials. Joy and perseverance, two critical areas of growth we all need. Trials and suffering work to get us there, to a place of God-glorifying maturity and wisdom.

I have come face to face with a simple fact: God loves me too much to keep me comfortably free from suffering. Suffering puts me in position to be and do what He calls me to do and promises to bless me for. By suffering rightly, I am a witness for Him. By suffering rightly, I grow closer to Him. Aren’t those two actions what we all desire as Christians?

No, I don’t want pain, nor do I wish pain upon anyone. I do know though, God will use and redeem the pain He brings or allows for both my good and His glory. I pray that is good enough for all of us.

Here’s to a Joyful 2019.

1 thought on “Happy New Year or Happy for a New Year?

  1. Linda Olson.

    Ouch! But I really do need to be reminded of each point. Thank you for being pointed and not giving in. Now my job is remember this, put it into action and thank God for His mercy and grace. Praying 2019 will be one of spiritual growth. Thank you Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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