Suffering is hard. If you are reading this because of the title, then perhaps you are a Christian who is suffering right now. What you will read in here is no new strategy or miracle cure that will take your physical or emotional pain away. In this fallen world, we don’t have any of those promises. It’s even possible that you are suffering in pain from something that is yet to increase in intensity. The Question is, how are you managing it?
The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to the church spread across the region of modern day Turkey. He called them exiles. People who were not in a land of their own and suffering under the Roman rule of the brutal emperor Nero. Peter was writing to these persecuted Christians to encourage them to persevere and to give them hope in the midst of their pain. Part of his message might initially sound a little discouraging to us. He says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12)
There are two points that Peter makes in these verses. 1. Pain in this world for the believer is normal (especially due to persecution). Peter talks of suffering that should not surprise us. When we are saved into the Kingdom of Christ, it does not mean that we are indestructible or super human as we live in a fallen world. We will still suffer as Christians and it is most likely that we will suffer under different forms of persecution, including whatever Peter means by the fiery trial. Pain and suffering is a normal occurrence in a sin cursed world and persecution is a normal occurrence in a world that hates Christ.
2. Peter makes the point that we can actually rejoice in the degree to what we are suffering because of what is ahead of us. This is where Christians might find our ultimate key to pain management that unbelievers can never know. Our eternal reward in Jesus Christ is a certain hope that only increases in joy as we experience even more pain in this world. The greater the pain, the greater reason we have for joy. Not because we love pain, but because our anticipation of our reward increases and our delight in our future with Christ is enhanced. When all the glory of Christ is revealed to us in all of its majesty, we will stand before him in even greater ecstasy having had greater anticipation for our eternal deliverance.
This is not something that just happens. The more we live with an eternal view and hold on to our eternal hope, the more our delight moves away from this world and to the glory of our reward ahead. Don’t you think it is strange that Christians for the most part do not do this well? Puritan Pastor, Richard Baxter, wrote a book to help Christians with this very issue. It’s called, “The Saints Everlasting Rest.” Baxter writes, “O my soul, let go your dreams of present pleasure, and lose your hold of earth and flesh. Study frequently, study thoroughly, this one word – eternity. What! Live – and never die! Rejoice – and ever rejoice.” The bliss of this subject that brings these words to Baxter can be the bliss for our meditation for our harshest moments of pain. Our hope is great, and the anticipation of our glorious reward increases our joy as we think more upon the eternal rather than the temporal. In Christ alone, our increased suffering results in increased anticipatory joy and greater ecstasy in the receipt of our eternal reward that he alone has paid for.
When we see that Peter wrote this to exiles, it has even greater significance to us. All Christians are exiles. We are all sojourners in a land and country not our own. We all belong to a greater Kingdom and we all await the day that our Citizenship is stamped into the perfect glory of the new earth.
Let me encourage you today, to be more heavenly minded. Let me encourage you to use this for the sake of your joy in suffering. In Christ, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater our anticipatory joy for the next. Now that is pain management.