There is a lot of suffering in this world and many reasons for it. God wants us to know that suffering is going to happen, and that you should walk toward suffering with the right understanding of who Jesus is in the midst of suffering.
Christmas can be a time of suffering and loneliness for people. Christmas tends to amplify whatever people are feeling—so if someone lost a loved one, Christmas makes that loneliness harder. God wants us to understand that suffering is a part of following after Jesus Christ, and that we should turn into, not turn away from, suffering. In this way, we promote the Kingdom by following Jesus’ example.
Terrible things are happening world wide even as you read this. Whether it is a war in a far away land, poverty across the street, or violence within your home, suffering is in every part of this world. Suffering, however, can further the Kingdom of God. It all depends on how we react to suffering that will determine how God uses it.
Suffering was all over the Old Testament world—from the Fall to Israel being taken over by other countries. In fact, 1/3 of their praise hymns were actually psalms of lament. These psalms usually took the form: Life sucks, you don’t seem to care God, Please Help Me, and finally, I love you God. Suffering was not a new phenomenon when Jesus was born. It does seem odd, however, that the Israelites devoted 1/3 of their praise book to psalms of lament.
When Jesus was born, Jewish theology didn’t think of suffering in positive terms. The Jews had a certain prosperity theology—you were righteous if you were rich, suffering comes from sin, and if people aligned their life with God’s message, then they and their nation would be prosperous. This same type of thinking has risen up among some evangelical circles, but suffering was needed when the Messiah came.
The plan of redemption has always had sadness and suffering as a part of it. When Jesus was born, a prophet told her that she would be pierced to the heart as her Son rose to His purpose. Jesus would also suffer, as we view the Cross and all that His crucifixion entailed. Mary and Jesus could have turned away from this suffering, possibly ran and hid. However, in facing the suffering that they knew would happen, they advanced the Kingdom.
In order to use suffering to further the Kingdom, there are three distinct steps we must take. The first step is admitting our suffering. We live in a culture where talking about your suffering is a weak thing to do. In fact, one shouldn’t talk about their own suffering, unless they’ve already pulled themselves up by their own boot straps and fixed their own problems. Then, suffering can be talked about. However, owning up to our suffering, and seeing the ways that we do not suffer alone, can help further the Kingdom by bringing together a community around suffering individuals.
The second way that suffering is an opportunity to further the Kingdom is to promote the leverage of the holidays all year long. The holidays are often the time of year that people give the most, and consequently, are most involved at church. This attitude of giving and hospitality should be extended year round so that followers of Christ can be recognized outside of the holiday season. Christmas is not the only time to combat suffering.
Finally, choose to suffer with those who suffer. The company of jolly friends is something to be relished, but being present with people who are suffering can be a catalyst for joy in their lives. When we become the presence of Christ’s body with those who are suffering, we bring healing and love of the Father to a suffering situation. If you know of someone who is suffering right now, just being with people who suffer will go a long way in the healing process.
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