By Frank Vondracek
I don’t know anyone who enjoys suffering (although they seem to find some joy in feeling sorry for themselves). As far as suffering goes, most people, including most Christians, wonder why there is so much of it going on. Whenever some hardship comes, it is not uncommon to at least think, “Why me?” or “It’s not fair.” As unreasonable as it appears to be from a purely human point of view, there must be a purpose for it’s existence, and God has not eliminated suffering from the human experience. He even allowed His own Son to suffer immeasurably.
Possibly the most outrageous idea of all concerning the matter of suffering is to think that some JOY can be found in one’s suffering. This really seems absurd, until one considers a statement about Jesus: “...let us run the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2). Apparently, joy of some sort, to some degree can be found in suffering. Notice the verse says “joy” and not environment. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was not a masochist (one who derives pleasure from being offended, dominated or mistreated). No! Jesus did not desire to suffer the excruciating pain and torment that was crucifixion. He willingly, lovingly died in agony for every other person’s sins. But He certainly did not get the exhilaration of pleasure. So just what was the joy that was set before Him?
In John 17:4, as He prayed to His Father, Jesus said, “I have finished the work which Thou gave me to do.” Jesus came according to God’s will in order to be obedient to His Father’s will. This, I believe, always gave Jesus great joy. We should derive joy from obeying God’s will regardless of what this might involve or lead to for us, even suffering. Jesus further stated that “I have glorified Thee on the earth.” I believe that Jesus received great joy from doing whatever would bring glory and honor to God. We should be busy in those matters which will extol our God and our Lord (Mt 5:16).
Furthermore, Jesus told His apostles, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Jesus had come to “seek and save that which was lost” among humanity (“All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”). He willingly gave His precious, innocent, obedient life to the nails of the cross so that men could have God’s forgiveness and hope for eternity in heaven. He alone was “the door” for men to enter into His Father’s presence. The Son of God found joy in accomplishing this mission. He said, “These things have I spoken to you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). We can have joy always within us, even in suffering, as we remember that there is an eternal abode awaiting the faithful in Christ; an eternal place without suffering!
And also, Jesus was looking forward to the joy of being in His Father’s presence, at His right hand, for all eternity. Remember, He gave up heavenly presence with God to take on flesh, to be the Lamb of God. At long last He would once again know, personally, the joys of heaven with God. If we have such a longing in our hearts, we can have great joy dwelling within us, even in suffering. We so much need to appreciate our suffering for the name of God.
Whether it be in the form of persecution, physical affliction because of our service to our Lord, trials of faith (personal loss, misfortune, hardship), we need to be able to rejoice in these all. The apostles rejoiced that “they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Paul counted as “light afflictions” the perils he underwent for Christ compared to the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17). Paul endured “a thorn in the flesh” for God’s grace was sufficient to carry him through it all.
And of course, who can forget Job! This man of faith was able to withstand the suffering of myriad torments. We usually attribute PATIENCE to this man, but never, ever forget that the name Job is synonymous with FAITH, too.
Brethren, God does not expect His people to enjoy suffering. But, whenever we serve Him, even in times of suffering, we must do so obediently, unhesitatingly, faithfully, knowing full well that as we “conform to the image of God’s Son” in suffering, we will reap a joy of Christ which cannot be obtained any other way.
Frank Vondracek is a former engineer who started preaching full time in mid-1983. He has preached with churches in Ohio, Illinois, Iowa and Kentucky. He served as one of the elders with the Kimberly Road church in Davenport, Iowa. He presently preaches for the church in Tompkinsville, KY. He also has been involved in preaching the gospel in Kenya, East Africa since 1996. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.