During one of my teaching times in The Gathering for Multiply Church, I started by asking the congregation if their prior week had been perfect. And you know what? Not a single hand went up!
I know the concept sounds kind of silly. I mean, of course nobody had a perfect week, because there’s no such thing. But does the idea of a perfect life play more into our thought process and heart posture than we tend to give it credit?
If you’re like me, you tend to pursue a life in which everything is perfectly stable and pristinely balanced…as we best understand stability and balance at least, it in our myopic view of the world.
You know what I’m saying?
For many of us, if it’s all good, then God is good. If life is tough, then either God is upset with me, I have not done the right thing(s), or God is a sham! After all, isn’t He the giver of all good things?
How many of us have had these thoughts over the course of our lifetime? Is it just me? If it is, you can (and should) let me know!
My work wife, aka Pastor Casey, reminds me often that we (in the white, American evangelical church) do not have a theology of suffering. This is academic church-speak for how we often associate the presence of trouble with the absence of God. There’s much more to it than this, but I think it happens when the people of God fail to devote time to the story of God and fellowship with God.
When we fall in love with the grand narrative in the Bible and gain a greater understanding of the whole picture, we see that suffering is a necessary part of becoming the people God is calling us to be. When we stay shallow, however, there is never an appreciation for how a difficult situation might actually draw us into deeper faith and understanding of our relationship with God (and one another).
Another factor that plays heavily into this conversation is the socioeconomic and ethnic context in which we find ourselves. This mindset of pursuing comfort is primarily only an option for entitled white wealthy people. I know that’s not you, but think about it. You know who does not even have the option to consider a trouble free life, nor has any doubt that life is tough?
I could go on…but no matter how long the list, I know that I will never be on it.
We also tend to conflate the American Dream with a Christian life. These are not the same…much opposed at times, actually. This is another reason for why reading the Bible, prayer, and fasting are all disciplines (who likes to be disciplined btw??) necessary for breaking down the idol of comfort.
Jesus could not have been more direct. “In this world, you will have trouble,” he says. But Jesus, I thought that as long as I went to church every so often (i.e. when convenient), gave a little (< 2% of all I earn), and served once a year that your favor would follow me. If I lose my job, develop a chronic illness, lose my marriage, etc., then it’s a different story. Our prayer can easily become, Why did you remove your favor?? Maybe we just have a misunderstood and over-contextualized understanding of God’s favor.
Let me ask you a very difficult question and actually think about this. Really consider this notion in your heart and in your head, giving it the time it deserves…
Would you choose suffering in the will of God or comfort out of the will of God?
If what King David, whose story we read in the Old Testament, says is true, that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, then maybe brokenhearted and hurting is the best place to be. I don’t know of any promise in which God says He is close to the comfortable. In that case, maybe I should be concerned that I have not experienced enough suffering…
…not to make an idol of discomfort.
How can you reorient your own spirit to better receive your current suffering as an opportunity to grow deeper in your faith and trust in God?