A few years ago, I started doing Crossfit. It took me a while to get the hang of it. I was a little slow with some of the moves requiring technique… but put me on an assault bike, and I will grind until I die. One day I pushed my legs past what they could handle and one of my calves locked up so much I couldn’t walk for a while. I love pushing myself in competition with others. I have a competitive edge that borders sick… But at the end of class, there was always something special about stretching out on the gym floor—gasping for breath, with muscles burning—alongside someone else who had endured the fiery furnace of class that day.
There is a fellowship that is gained through suffering with others. You have a bond that can’t be forged sipping mai tais on the beach. This is one of the beautiful things about a godly marriage. Seventeen years later, Stacie and I have been through the fire together, and we are still partners in this hope journey. I feel the same way about a good number of our staff families at Echo Church. You just love someone differently when you suffer for the same cause.
In the book of Acts, things start with a bang, but along the way—around chapter eight—friends started getting martyred. First Stephen, then a huge wave of Jesus’ followers, and eventually James, the brother of John, is killed with a sword (Acts 12). It looks like Peter is next when he is thrown in prison one night. He was literally chained between two soldiers. Somehow in the middle of the suffering, he was able to sleep. Seems like watching Jesus sleep during storms had finally reduced his anxiety levels.
In the middle of the night, an Angel of the Lord came and struck Peter on the side and woke him. Peter was liberated; he walked out unchained.
This was not the last moment of suffering Peter would face. He had much more pain in store. It’s one thing to walk through pain that you choose like a Crossfit class, but it’s another level of pain when you keep trying to do the right thing, yet you suffer—not in spite of obedience, but because you are living for God.
My kids have been trying to scare me recently. They like to jump out at me from around the corner when I’m least expecting it and yell in my face. One of my kids is almost as big as I am now. When an overgrown 13-year-old screams in your face unexpectedly, it doesn’t usually go well. As a result, several of these moments have ended with tears and apologies, I’ll let you guess who was crying and who was apologizing.
Sometimes our trials catch us by surprise, too, don’t they?
Peter told us we shouldn’t be surprised. The suffering we face is not strange. Just look at the book of Acts, just look at church history, just fix your eyes on Jesus. Almost every person God uses greatly is wounded deeply. It feels so unjust. Here I am trying to live for you, God, and you can’t make it easy on me?
Nope. It won’t be easy. But there is a friendship waiting for you at the end of the rope of suffering. Jesus is the one who walked all the way up to Golgotha to display the love of God to the world. When you suffer for Him, you can be thankful and filled with joy because you get a new label—PARTNER with Jesus. You get an upgrade, and God gets another partner is this glorious mission of redeeming the world with the Good News.
I know that this journey of hope is hard. I have whined my way through my fair share of difficulties. Peter’s words have recently been a great source of hope. After more than 25 years of actively following Jesus, I still need a daily reminder: Don’t be surprised when it gets hard.
He meets us in the fire. The faithfulness of God will meet you in the fire. You might feel the heat, but you don’t have to get singed. Keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. Remind your soul that you will endure by the grace of God. Your redeemer is coming, and He has a reward in HIs hands. What a wonderful joy that will be when He is revealed for the whole world to see!