…but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… (Romans 5:3-4)
If I’ve read my pop psychology accurately, despair is the end product of suffering, not hope. In a culture obsessed with pursuing comfort and entertainment, the smallest amount of suffering, pain and inconvenience causes impatience, anger and cynicism. While I want to understand what Paul is writing here in Romans 5, I confess that I really don’t know what it’s like to suffer. I am too powerful to be victimized by much, too capable of escaping what I want to avoid, and too deceived about the vulnerability of my nature to suffer much.
That’s why I need to learn from those who understand suffering. Wealthy westerners can and do experience true, deep suffering. But the most vulnerable to frequent, protracted suffering are the despised poor minority in every culture. They have a target on their back or a literal mark on their door – and there is no one to defend them. If the gospel can produce endurance, character and hope in them, it’s worth listening to and watching them for my own benefit.
This next 6 weeks in Adult School of Discipleship, a New Life class will be listening to the poor and persecuted through a video series, “i am n”. It explores those believers who are suffering for following the Nazarene. In the most hopeless, powerless and even violent circumstances, we see the character of Jesus take shape within his people. They display sacrifice, courage, joy, forgiveness and perseverance – exactly the opposite of what we would think. They truly walk in the shoes of Jesus and take on his image. If they can live this way in their circumstances, they must have something to teach me in mine.
While I don’t dare to live the way they do, I silently wonder if I would reap the same benefits were I to share their experience. What is it like to face the daily threat of discovery and suffering simply because of what my family and I believe? Would such experiences be for my spiritual good? Am I in a position where I am ready to face this kind of opposition should I be tested? Such questions can help me look at where my faith truly rests, encourage me to press on to a deeper walk with Jesus, and lead to prayer for those who suffer persecution.
Join us for the first session this week, October 28 at 10 am, and take upon yourself the mark of Jesus the Nazarene.