Suffering. Like a thunderstorm that comes out of nowhere on a bright, sunshiny day, so suffering enters our lives.
A bad grade on a test, the loss of a job, a difficult friendship, marriage struggles, addictions, sickness, the loss of a loved one, the list goes on. Suffering is everywhere. And if you’re not in the middle of it today, get ready, because storms are forecasted.
Now, if you’re like me, at the first sign of the storm (like the first raindrop) you want to run and hide. You want to get away from the storm.
But what if there is a better response? What if fleeing suffering isn’t the answer?
James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, says this about suffering: “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials (suffering) of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work in you so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Most people can’t get past the first few words of James’ statement, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials ….”
The thought of considering trials and suffering not only joy but pure joy trips us up and keeps us from reading any further.
It seems backward. But read on and you learn that suffering gives us the ability to persevere, and this God-given character trait then leads us to be “mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
James isn’t trying to explain suffering; he’s simply telling us that suffering is usable by God for his purposes – namely to grow us and mature us into his image.
I believe we can learn not only to suffer, but to suffer well. This is what James is revealing to his readers. And we must remember that for James and every other New Testament writer, their example of one who suffered well was Jesus himself.
He endured the cross. He persevered through suffering.
He considered it pure joy to give up his life for the sake of something greater.
May we be those who, like Jesus, suffer well.
THE REV. JOHN KENNEY IS THE PASTOR OF THE QUEST CHURCH, A UNITED METHODIST CONGREGATION IN MARTINEZ.