Voluntary & Involuntary Suffering

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…

Philippians 3:10

If we want to know the power of the resurrection of Christ then we must chose to participate in His sufferings. This means that to the extent that we are willing to voluntarily suffer, is the extent to which we’ll operate in power and authority in that area of our life. This is a Kingdom principle.

When we empathize with and serve people, we will often find ourselves suffering with them in different ways. This is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we fast and contend in prayer for a breakthrough, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we sacrifice for others, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we stand for truth in the face of people mocking and slandering us, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we participate in the sufferings of Christ in this way, we will find that our ministry and our prayers will carry more resurrection power with them.

It’s not that we are “paying the price” for greater power. It’s that Jesus already paid the price on the cross so that sons and daughters of the Kingdom would be able to operate in greater resurrection power. Romans 8:11 says, “…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” Jesus already paid the price, so our job is to identify with Him in His sufferings. The result is resurrection power.

Voluntary suffering is different than involuntary suffering. In this world full of sin and brokenness, we will automatically face involuntary suffering (accidents, illnesses, financial issues, relational issues, hardship, etc). Involuntary suffering is useful too but just in a different way. While voluntary suffering produces power, involuntary suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

James put the same idea this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

So one way to look at it is that while voluntary suffering empowers the gifts of the Spirit, involuntary suffering (handled well) empowers the fruit of the Spirit. Voluntary suffering God uses to make us more effective. Involuntary suffering God uses to make us more solid.

Comfort and Mystery

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
    Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
    human beings who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
    who stretches out the heavens
    and who lays the foundations of the earth…

Isaiah 51:12-13

So often we comfort ourselves by using the tool of “comparison.” We feel like we are struggling financially and so we compare ourselves to someone with less and say, “At least I’m not that poor.” We feel like our career has stalled and so we compare ourselves to someone who got fired and say, “At least I have a job.” This is often how we comfort ourselves when we are facing a hard time.

But using comparison to bring comfort has an ugly side to it. When you are the one completely broke, when you are the one who lost their job, when you are the one with a terminal illness, comparison only leads to more despair. Far from bringing comfort, comparison brings feelings of deep pain and hopelessness.

God makes it clear that He alone is our comforter. We need to take our pain to Him and let His presence exchange our sorrow with joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “…you will fill me with joy in your presence…” It’s in the presence of “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles“(2 Corinthians 1:3-4) where we find comfort and a lasting joy that can’t be taken from us by hard circumstances. Comparison can never do this!

The Lord recently revealed something to me in regard to mystery. We humans tend to be hypocrites when it comes to what mystery we’re comfortable accepting. We ask questions regarding the mysteries of pain and suffering but never ask the same questions about our blessing and provision. We don’t wrestle through why we were born into a country with freedoms, a strong economy, job opportunities, clean water and sanitation. We know it is a mystery as to why we were born here and others were born into countries with none of these things. Yet, we accept this mystery often without a second thought.

However, we love to ask “why me” when we get an illness, or have a financial crisis, or troubled relationships. We embrace the mystery of blessing just fine but can’t bear to embrace the mystery of suffering. If the answer to the question “why was I born into a middle-class family in the one of the greatest countries in the world” is above my pay grade, then certainly why my friend got cancer is above my pay grade. Both are mysteries and both are beyond my understanding. To accept one as mystery and demand answers for the other is hypocrisy.

The healthy response to suffering in our life is to take our grief and our pain to the Lord. We take it to Him and allow Him to comfort us. When we think we have to make sense of it and figure it all out, we step out of our role as trusting sons and daughters of the Father. Embracing mystery and trusting the Lord with things that are beyond our understanding is a part of living in a broken and fallen world.

What mystery in your own life is the Lord asking you to trust Him with?

What do you need to take to the Lord to receive His comfort?

Faith Testing

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1: 2-4

There is something that happens to us when we face trials. If we don’t give up, we get stronger. It is a testing of our faith to pray for something or someone over and over and not see the answer we want. Our faith is being tested. We know that this testing will build in us a perseverance–an endurance–that will make us mature and complete. When we feel like nothing is happening visibly, we can be sure something is happening in us. God is giving us gifts that we can’t see yet, but they are there.

It’s like training for a marathon. Someone could come back from run after run and be discouraged because they feel so badly. Their legs are sore and their body feels weak. If they didn’t realize that this is the natural process of a body getting stronger, if they didn’t realize this is how runners build endurance, then it could be discouraging.

But if they don’t give up, they will find that they’re able to run longer and longer distances. The thing that feels painful and discouraging actually becomes the source of strength. It is the training runs, day after day, that are the foundation of running a complete race on race day. The painful training runs are what ensures that a person lacks nothing on race day.

The testing of our faith does the same thing. But the testing can’t do its work–it can’t accomplish its intended goal–if we give up. If after a few runs a person stops running, the pain never accomplishes the goal of giving them endurance. If we quit after a little testing of our faith, we don’t allow the testing to give us the gift of persevering faith. We don’t allow it to increase our maturity.

Scripture says of Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross…”(Hebrews 12:2). And so when we find joy in our trials, we are imitating Jesus. We are identifying with His suffering. And the apostle Paul talks about our participation in the sufferings of Christ. He said:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:10-11

When we face trials of many kinds it is a way we participate in the sufferings of Jesus. And when we participate in His sufferings, we make available to us the opportunity to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.