This article first appeared in The Southeast Outlook in November of 2018.
I heard an interesting phrase as I listened to Dr. Florence Mulindi, founder of Life in Abundance International, share a story during a service at Southeast Christian Church. Her short story was about a horrific event that occurred in her life.
After she suffered unjustly at the hands of some cruel individuals, she did what I often do: She began to question God. She told us that He answered her in this manner; “I have invited you into the fellowship of my suffering.”
Philippians 3:10 says; “I want t know Christ-Yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Does God invite us into the fellowship of His suffering?
If we’re talking about the power of His resurrection, I’m all in, but does He really want us to enter into the fellowship of His suffering? To walk with Him, or more importantly, allow Him to walk with us while we are trying to make our way through small hiccups in the road or total devastation?
Mulindi’s appearance was during the second part of the”Kiss the Wave” sermon series by Teaching Pastor Kyle Idleman. It fit right in.
What do you do when you get to a place in your life where you’re barely hanging on? How do you kiss the wave of suffering?
I get that there are lessons learned during the suffering that couldn’t have happened any other way. But does it have to be in the suffering? And must you really kiss it in order to be thrown against the Rock of Ages?
I reflected on my own life as I listened to Kyle teach the second half of the series titled, “Wouldn’t Change It If I Could.” As someone who has spent a lot of time pondering that very statement, I came face-to-face with it again, only in a new way.
I’m not one who thinks that Christians should go through life being blessed beyond measure, with no problems to deal with. I mean, I wish, but I’ve lived too long. I’ve walked too many rough roads that I never would have chosen had I known.
But I never considered that this journey, these hardships I have encountered, were invitations by the Father to join the fellowship of His suffering. My sufferings aren’t huge compared to what Muindi endured, or any other martyr or persecuted-for-the-faith Christian. They’re American problems, which really aren’t that bad in comparison to some, yet monumental when compared to others.
God is not into comparisons or fairness or any other human attribute I try to place on Him. He is love. He is holy. He is just. And His grace abounds.
The invitation to join Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings is not just for the persecuted church. It is extended to each of us in our pain and suffering.
Here’s the thing: We have to respond. We get the opportunity to endure or embrace. And there is a difference. Believe me, I’ve done both. I’ve endured many times before finally succumbing to embracing, but I am wrestling with not wanting to change it if I could.
I remember many years ago starting to memorize the first chapter of James. I’m not going to lie; I didn’t get it. Verse 2 states: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kinds.”
Consider it a joy when we suffer? Consider this an invitation to become closer to Christ and to partake in the fellowship of His suffering, which was done on my behalf?
Kyle spoke of the difference between looking for a reason for hardships and looking for a purpose. Looking for a reason causes us to want to know why things are happening, but looking for a purpose focuses us on God.
I’m not a fan of kissing the wave or embracing the pain or running to the roar. I just want peace. But that’s not always what I get. We live in a world where we will encounter trouble.
In the end, I guess it is left up to each individual to look for the purpose or simply settle for the reason, and whether you decide to grit your teeth and endure or wholeheartedly embrace and watch Him work all things together.
But maybe more importantly, when encountering various trials, is whether we accept His invitation to join the fellowship of His suffering. Maybe that’s what matters most.