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.

Pregnant

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19

We know that Mary and Joseph would have received ridicule for being pregnant out of wedlock. This would have been a total scandal. And it is easy enough to read this passage and think that it has little to do with us. Yet, God continues to impregnate His people through the Holy Spirit with unbelievable promises. And He often does this in ways that cause a scandal.

When God gives us a promise, there is often a “conception-gestation-birthing” process that we have to walk through in order to get to the fulfillment of the promise. This process can be awkward and embarrassing. It causes a disruption in our life and in the lives of those closest to us. This disruption often causes conflict and misunderstanding.

During these trying times, we are often faced with the decision that Joseph faced. Will we divorce ourselves from this promise, uncertain as we are of its origin and its fulfillment? Or will we see it through regardless of the disruption that occurs? Our answer to this question is everything! It is the difference between a promise aborted and a promise fulfilled.

In order to stick it out and give God our unconditional “Yes,” we will most likely need an encounter with Him–some sort of confirming revelation or experience–that gives us enough confidence and boldness to move forward. For Joseph, an angel appears to him in a dream and told him to marry Mary and name the baby Jesus. The angel confirmed that, “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

Often the level of encounter we have with the Lord confirming His promise to us is equal to the level of opposition we’ll face to see it through to its fulfillment. I want to encourage you today that if the Lord has given you a promise or a word over your life, see it through to completion. Handle opposition with grace and humility, but don’t let it abort the promise.

You may face skepticism, ridicule, condemning words, rejection, and all sorts of opposition. The reason for this is multifaceted. Opposition comes because: 1) people naturally don’t like change, 2) the enemy doesn’t want that promise to come to fruition and 3) the testing will purify you and get you ready to steward the promise when it comes.

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

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.

Everything That Hinders

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

Hebrews 12:1-2

Most Christians understand that sin can easily entangle us as we run our race of faith. Sin wraps like cords around our ankles tripping us up and keeping us from running. These cords of sin must be severed from our life or our faith will limp along unfruitful. Most of us have experienced this reality and know this all too well.

But what is sometimes missed is that there are things in life that are not sinful but can still be a hindrance. The passage of scripture above calls us to throw off everything that hinders. Because these things are not overt sin, they can fly under the radar of our lives. They are not like the cords of sin, tripping us up, but they do have a dampening effect on our faith.

We see the same reality represented in how the priests worshiped in the Temple. They would offer sacrifices on the altar in order to address sin. The sacrifices were about atonement for sin with blood. But then the priests would walk over to the wash basin–made of bronze mirrors–and wash with water. This washing wasn’t about being cleansed from sin but about getting the “uncleanness” off of them.

There are things that we read, things we listen to, and things we watch that aren’t necessarily sinful but do end up dulling our sensitivity to the Spirit. Likewise, there are habits of distraction and escape that aren’t sinful but lull us into a passive faith and trap us into keeping our minds on the things of the world rather than on things above (Colossians 3:2). These things gradually contaminate our mind and our heart if we continue to expose ourselves to them. These are the hindrances that need to be thrown off. These are the “unclean” things that need to be washed off.

Paul says it this way to the Corinthians:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

1 Corinthians 10:23

If we are going to run with perseverance and “not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:3), we need to run light. In other words, we can’t run with unnecessary things weighing us down. It could be our interaction on social media or our relationship with food or alcohol. It could be our favorite way to escape that becomes a bad habit. Whatever it is, if it is a hindrance to our sensitivity and intimacy with the Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it needs to be thrown off.