I often think that I have been put in this small, reduced place in which I live for the specific purpose of witnessing to the gifts in the fire of suffering. I believe with all my whole heart and broken body that pain experienced on this earth--in any guise--is useful to God in making us more like the One who suffered for us. More than simply useful, however, it is actually something to welcome, as James puts it.
One cannot read the New Testament without seeing this. We might try to turn our eyes from it, but it's there in living, God-breathed color. And right in the middle, right in the beginning of the Church, when the apostles were so newly filled with the Holy Spirit they were still wet behind the ears, so to speak, they began to be persecuted. And their first, knee-jerk reaction to such persecution stops me in my "it's not fair"s and "Why me?"s and all the other responses we have to suffering.
The word in Acts 5: 41 is, "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."
Counted worthy of suffering? Oh my God. Seriously, oh God, will I ever get to that?
If there's a hierarchy of suffering, most of us don't get to this most exalted place. We live in places where we are free to worship and believe what we will. And even when we share the gospel with those around us, we aren't thrown into jail for it. Yes, sometimes (in this current climate) met with derision, sometimes with arguments and stone faces and people turning away, but not chains or beatings.
And how many of us, if such things DID happen could say, with these first followers of Christ, men who certainly hadn't always been without their own flaws, but were now on fire, "What a privilege to be worthy of suffering for Him!" Could I?
I don't know.
I do know that counting it worthy can start here and now with the pain and suffering is in my life. James 1: 2-3 says, "When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance." This is from the JB Phillips New Testament, a translation my friends and I (and a whole generation of Christ-followers in the 70s) were enamored of when we were young. In my own here and now I'm becoming more of a connoisseur of suffering that I couldn't have imagined then. And certainly would have been apprehensive about if I'd known. And learning to welcome my suffering--physical and as a not a once and for all thing, but a life-long process. A step or two forward, a fall on my knees (if I actually could) in pain and confusion backward. Rejoicing one day, crying out from my heart in fear another.
And yet, I come again and again to the Cross where I gaze upon Him. The one who suffered so infinitely more than I can imagine FOR ME. And I trust Him. Trust that He is using whatever He will to make me like Him. If health and ease could do it, that would be my lot. But it can't. Not as suffering can. Not if I want to have my old self carved away and only HIM left for the world to see. AND for Him to see when I stand before Him. Welcomed by Him, because I have endured and thrived and welcomed whatever fire my life has brought.
I will not witnessing to Him walking with me in the fire. Molding me in the fire. Giving Him glory for whatever He allows. AND believing He wants to do the same thing in each of you. If this is my ministry, I welcome it too.
To Him be the glory.