Christians suffer. It is the normal experience of this life although for some reason we can still be taken by surprise when it comes.
I have just returned from New Word Alive
. It has been a week of great teaching and encouragement but I confess one of my greatest joys is catching up with old friends now scattered across the country. This year I was struck again by the suffering that many have faced. They have had different struggles: living with ill health, post natal depression, childlessness, redundancy, relationship breakdowns in families, conflict in churches, loneliness and isolation. Being Christian has not provided them with immunity from hardship yet in talking and praying with them they demonstrated perseverance and a quiet joy in their gospel hope.
As a believer stands firm in the face of hardship it strengthens not only them but the church as well. It has been a huge encouragement to me to watch these faithful brothers and sisters seek to continue to serve Christ and testify to their love of him. In their trials they have been working out what it means to be godly in their various situations and for some that has meant huge personal sacrifice. We need to watch the example of those we know who are truly following in the steps of Christ. Take note of them, learn from them and pray for them.
I know that some fear that Christian conventions create a triumphalist atmosphere and make people dissatisfied with their everyday situations. Word Alive could fall into that trap but instead with its focus on realistic biblical teaching it manages to provide a time of refreshment and equipping for the on-going journey of the Christian life. It is like stopping for a short while at an oasis knowing that the journey through the wilderness will begin again shortly. However we cannot stay put at an oasis we have to continue on our journey. Suffering will come in all kinds of ways and all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:6) but we rejoice in the living hope of an eternal inheritance.
I came away from Word Alive this year struck again by the fact that these are wilderness years not just for my friends and me in our tough situations but for all believers. 1 Peter is very clear that suffering now is the normal Christian experience but we can cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for us and makes us strong. I am rejoicing in the hope of the gospel and seeing Christ’s power in the lives of my brothers and sisters – it might look weak but the gospel is truly powerful.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
1 Peter 5:10