I recently accompanied the Prairie Flower Baptist Church teen boys on a camping trip to Colorado. Surprisingly, this was my first experience camping in a tent. There were many experiences that were difficult (i.e. traveling to Colorado), there were many experiences that were uncomfortable (i.e. sleeping in a tent), however, the thing that made the trip totally worth it was the view breathtaking of the mountains. The only negative aspect of hiking a mountain, is the process of hiking a mountain!
On Monday, our crew of teenage boys set out with Pastor Jon, Will Luers, and myself to hike our designated trail. I initially faced difficulty hiking our first incline, because I was not used to the elevation, and I was not physically prepared for the draining effect of the hike. The most difficult aspect of the hike was the lack of water, because hiking in high altitudes causes you to lost a lot of water very fast. The hike up the mountain, was difficult, but the rewards of reaching our destination, was worth it. If I had never hiked that mountain, then I would have never seen the beautiful rapids that we encountered along the way, and I would have never seen the view from the edge of the mountain, that overlooked the rest of Rocky Mountain National Park. I ultimately would have never had the satisfaction of knowing that I had come to the end of my journey and the difficult hike made the relaxation at the campsite that much more sweet.
Often the best things in this life come after hardship. I recently had the opportunity to preach on 1 Peter 4:1-11 at Prairie Flower Baptist Church. In the first two verses Peter tells us to “arm” ourselves with the mentality of Christ. Peter reminds us (as Christ demonstrated for us) that while on earth Christ had the mindset that he would suffer in this life. If we are to truly become Christlike, then we must embrace the reality that we will suffer.
I find it interesting that my experience hiking mountains, and my experiences observing suffering are quite similar. Suffering is a hard road with many difficult “climbs”. There were many times hiking up the mountain that I thought I would not make it, just as there are many times in suffering that you will not think you can make it. Hiking the mountain often left me physically exhausted, and isolated me from the group at times just as suffering can leave you emotionally exhausted, and feeling socially isolated. The most important aspect of my hike was drinking plenty of bottled water that we took along our journey, and the most important aspect of surviving suffering is depending upon the living waters of Jesus Christ.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).”
Jesus Christ is the only person who has not only experienced every emotion we are feeling during suffering, but he has also experienced far more than we ever have. The cancer patient, who has just received a poor diagnoses, can rest in the fact that Christ predicted to suffer in extreme pain more than 400 years before he walked the earth. The child with no father can identify with Christ in the fact that His perfect Heavenly was forced to forsake His perfect son. The family grieving the loss of a loved one can hold on to Jesus, who not only lost friends (Lazarus), but also gave His life for people he loved, who would never accept Him as savior. The family struggling with their wayward son can trust Christ, who relentlessly pursued after us, when we were wayward.
Trusting Christ is primary in our walk through suffering. We can also rest assured that God does grant us several precious tools for our difficult climb up the mountain of suffering. On my hike up the mountain I needed certain tools and in the same way we need tools from God that will not weigh us down, but that will encourage, sustain, and cultivate our hike up the mountain of suffering.
- God’s All-Sufficient Trail Guide: His Word
- 2 Peter tells us that God’s Word is sufficient for, “all things that pertain to life, and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).” I could never tell you, in this blog, exactly what to do in every circumstance that you will ever experience suffering in. What I can do is point you to the one who knows exactly what to do in every circumstance you will ever face. God’s Word has a plethora of resources, especially concerning suffering. There are entire books in God’s Word that deal with suffering (e.g. Job, Habakkuk, 1 Peter etc…). There are several biblical characters that we can identify with in the bible (e.g. Jacob, Joseph, Daniel, Paul, Jesus etc…). There are also plenty of New Testament Passages dealing with suffering (James 1, 2 Corinthians 1, Hebrews 4, etc…). Finally my favorite place to turn to when suffering comes my ways is the Psalms. As Pastor Dave says, “Sometimes the Psalms don’t just speak to us… they speak for us!” The Psalms are a wonderful place for the Christian to turn to when the problems of life become too much. When life becomes too much, God’s Word has the power to encourage, sustain, and cultivate you.
- God’s Always Available Lifeline: Prayer
- The hike up the mountain of suffering can leave us isolated, and feeling lonely. Fortunately we serve a God, who never leaves us. When suffering has crippled you with loneliness; cling to your lifeline: prayer. If you say, “I have tried everything,” but you have not prayed; then not only have you lied, but you have also forgotten an importance practice in this life that will truly help you. Don’t underestimate the power of a consistent daily prayer life.
- God’s Perfectly Imperfect Servants: Pastor
- I can remember several years ago, when I first discovered that I wanted to devote my life to Pastoral Ministry. I remember understanding that I was nowhere near capable to handle the problems and situations of ministry. My thought process was, “When I become a Pastor, I’ll have it all figured out.” I am now an intern, I am 2 years away from graduating, and I’ve been dealing with tons of “real ministry” experiences. I now realize that I didn’t feel prepared then, and I don’t feel prepared now. However, God has given Pastors to the church to equip the saints (Ephesians 4), and He continually empowers His servants. One of a Pastor’s primary responsibilities is to counsel and comfort his flock, especially in times of suffering. One tool that every believer has in their local church, is their Pastoral Staff.
- God’s Support System for Hikers: The Local Church
- We are not meant to endure this hike alone. Not only do we have Pastors, but we also have other brothers and sisters in Christ, that can support us on this hike. In suffering, you often don’t need someone who will try to explain the situation to you, but you do need some one who will walk alongside you. Find some godly Christian friends in your local church, who are willing to engage in suffering with you. You would be surprised how willing the body of Christ is to help you.
The most frustrating part of our hike in Colorado, was the fact that we were lost for a good portion of it. Every step is a little heavier when you have no idea where you are going. When we finally saw that the end is near, each step was totally worth the trip, because we had finally reached our destination.
Suffering is a difficult and draining process, especially when there is no end in sight! The Christian, who understands God’s Word, understands that there will come a day when all of this suffering comes to an end. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).” The day is coming where Christ will have the final word, and He will wipe away our tears. You can continue to endure suffering, because the one who suffered for you will eventually end all of your pain.
Understand that all of this suffering is doing something in your life. John Piper says, “This is God’s universal purpose in suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world.” God is using this suffering in your life to mold you into His image. Suffering ultimately changes us, and glorifies God. Jerry Bridges says this, in his book Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, he writes, “The reason we ask (why) is because we do not see any possible good to us or glory to God that can come from the particular adverse circumstances that have come upon us or our loved ones. But is not the wisdom of God -thus the glory of God- more eminently displayed in bringing good out of calamity than out of blessing (p.g. 125)?”
We may never know the exact reason why God chooses us to hike up the mountain of suffering, but we do know that His grace is sufficient for the climb. When I reached the end of my journey, in Colorado, it was all worth it. The view of the mountains I was breathtaking. The satisfaction I had at the end was far greater than the pain I endured on the hike. One day you will reach the top of the mountain, and all your pain, tears, and grief will go away. One day you will understand why God set you on this journey. Until that day, trust God and His grace for your hike up the mountain of suffering.