Sharing in Christ's Sufferings

by Mary Somerville

We've discussed how we must strive to draw near to Christ through the daily spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. Now I want to share with you how Christ actually draws us nearer to Himself through the trials and opportunities that He brings into our lives. Are we willing, like Paul, to thank God for opportunities to die to ourselves? We can be willing if we see the prize. "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:8-11).

Paul wrote about the hardships that he endured in ministry. "Apart from such external things (and these were many), there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:28). Paul invited young Timothy to "suffer hardship with him" in the work of the ministry (2 Tim. 2:3). If we didn't carry some of the weight of ministry, it would be doubtful if we should be in ministry.

This seems contradictory to what we have said about casting all our cares upon Christ. We experience the cares and pressures of ministry, but then cast them on Christ through prayer. The concern for the church is at the heart of a pastor and his wife. This is part of knowing Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings.

Weights can be a good thing. I use weights to increase my strength when I work out. It's not particularly fun. I have noticed that when I slack off and don't consistently use the weights I become flabby and out of shape. We don't want to be flabby saints. We want to use the weights to develop our spiritual muscles of trusting Christ more and drawing closer to Him.

We can claim the Father's promise to work together for good all the things that are happening in our church family, knowing that He is both loving and sovereign (Rom. 8:28). We can thank Him in advance for each distressing situation, for each thing that causes us pain, each pressure and disappointment, each interruption that may come our way. This is in spite of how we feel. It is by faith. We can choose not to resist our trials as intruders, but to welcome them as friends, to consider them to be a joy, to thank God for them (James 1:2-4). God knows what He is doing. He is conforming you and me more into the likeness of Christ. This is part of His will, which is "good, acceptable, and perfect" (Rom. 12:2).

Just think of it! God is at work to beautify your character through each struggle; to expose your weakness, sin, selfishness, and pride, and to perfect you into what He wants you to be in Christ! That is God's ultimate aim for us (Rom. 8:29).

Yes, we are under the constant weight of ministry and it involves sacrifice, but the great part about sharing in His sufferings is that then we can share in His glory. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18).

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