Jesus never intended for us to suffer alone. We may not be able to cross oceans or deserts and sit in lonely cells with colleagues, but we can traverse that distance spiritually and bear the burdens of our brothers in prayer. Knowing that they do not agonize alone empowers followers of Jesus under duress to bear unimaginable suffering. Collaborative suffering is bearable suffering.
Knowing from Scripture and from history that others have suffered and blossomed in pain is necessary preparation for our own trials. We can shore up our souls for trouble by reading and meditating on how those who have gone before us found strength to glorify Jesus before snarling beasts and men. The trials of others help us, and our trials, in turn, help others. “Blessed be…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Paul went on to explain that both sufferings and consolations abound in Christ, and because there is a collective experience of both, there is endurance for salvation and consolation.
If our collective prior suffering helps those now under pressure, their current anguish also comforts us. Our suffering helps others. When my Sudanese brothers and sisters suffer, it draws me to them. It puts my marginal trials in perspective and gives me courage for my challenges. God, too, participates in collaborative suffering—primarily because He suffered for us but also by allowing suffering so “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9). When our hearts are overwhelmed, God leads us to Himself, the rock that is higher than us (Ps. 61:2). Suffering collectively teaches the body of Christ to depend on Him and to anticipate life from death. Suffering is intended to be redemptive, and suffering for the gospel always results in unreached people responding to the gospel.
Excerpted from the March 2 reading in Live Dead Joy: 365 Days of Living and Dying With Jesus by Dick Brogden
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