Suffering. That word likely invokes all kinds of emotions and images. Most of them highly undesirable! So why on earth would a topic like suffering be included in a study on intimacy with God?
When we think about the people we are closest to in our lives, we often have the deepest bond with those with whom we’ve walked through difficult times. Relationships that don’t transparently share their suffering and heartache are rarely as deep as those that do. Considering this, it isn’t difficult to understand why there is a depth of intimacy in shared suffering that can’t be fully developed any other way. As we journey through life on a fallen planet, we all suffer at some point (see John 16:33). The question is, will you allow the suffering of this current age to deepen your relationship with the Lord, or drive you from Him?
Before we explore this concept further, I feel it is important to say a few things about what this weeks’ topic isn’t about:
- It isn’t about willingly subjecting ourselves to a myriad of self-imposed sacrifices and needless suffering to somehow prove our piety to God.
- It isn’t about God “allowing”—or even worse sending—a bunch of horrible things into our lives to somehow teach us “deep” lessons we couldn’t learn any other way.
- Finally, it isn’t about rationalizing sin and failure by justifying and re-branding the consequences of our own foolishness and labeling it as “suffering for the sake of Christ.”
Instead, what I do hope to stir within you this week are these two concepts:
- That Jesus identifies with our suffering, and wants us to willingly share our heartache with Him to a degree that is often far beyond our comprehension.
- That to truly know Him ultimately means sharing with Him in His own suffering.
In Philippians 3, Paul reveals that this is the cry of his own heart:
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. -Phil 3:10-11, NKJV (emphasis mine)
Each time I read the words, I want to know Him, it is as if I can literally taste the longing in Paul’s heart—because my own heart is filled with the very same longing.
I want to know Him.
But what does that really mean? What does it mean to know Him? Even more specifically, what does it mean to know Him in the fellowship of His suffering?
Paul was a brilliant and accomplished man, yet despite his many accomplishments, Paul willingly laid them all down and considered them “rubbish” for the sake of Christ. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ (vs.7). Paul wanted to know Christ—at absolutely any cost. All of this begs one simple question:
I suggest it wasn’t simply because He was God and Paul wasn’t. I suggest it wasn’t because Paul knew it was the right doctrinal answer, or even because he knew he should be grateful for all God had done. Those things certainly are a part of the equation, but on their own they would have never carried Paul through the many things he suffered. The only power strong enough to overcome any obstacle is simple:
More specifically, it is the love of God. Paul had personally tasted the love of God. Really, you could say Paul had learned to be-loved. And because he had “experience(d) the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (see Eph.3:19 NLT), Paul wanted to know the One who already knew him so intimately and perfectly.
Paul wanted to know the One:
~Who stood beside him and loved him when others abandoned him (see 2 Timothy 4:16-17).
~Who willingly laid down everything for him (see Phil 2:5-8).
~Who loved and pursued him, even while he was still persecuting Jesus and the ones He loved (see Acts 9:4).
This isn’t just theology. It also isn’t merely gratitude for salvation—as warranted and wonderful as that may be. This is a relationship with a Person that is so deep, so compelling, and so utterly consuming, that nothing short of knowing Him intimately—in every way He is knowable—will ever suffice.
Even if that means sharing His suffering.
Paul said “I want to know him”–he didn’t put limits on what he would allow God to reveal of Himself. Most of us do. But Paul knew there was a deep intimacy in shared suffering and he didn’t choose his own comfort above a deeper knowledge of God’s heart. Paul willingly invited Jesus into his own suffering, and—when you consider the anguish Paul carried in his heart for his Jewish brethren, the way he continually poured himself out for the Church, and the ongoing persecution he suffered—it is clear Paul was also willing fellowship with Christ in His.
There are some revelations of God’s heart and character that cannot be known apart from the intimacy of shared suffering. Jesus was willing to go to any lengths to demonstrate His love. He hung on that cross naked, reviled, and rejected—yet completely unashamed and undeterred in the depths of His love for us.
Considering such great love—I want Him to have everything it cost Him so much to purchase. I want Him to have everything He desires from my life. I want to let Him into every area of my heart.
And I want to know every part of Him that is knowable.
It was hard to cut this down to an appropriate size for a blog post and still maintain any kind of context, so this is a little longer than my usual posts. Yet it still only scratches the surface. If you want to dive in a little deeper, here is the full curriculum for this week: Be-Loved week 2 – The Intimacy of Shared Suffering
And the podcast: Be-Loved Week 2: The Intimacy of Shared Suffering
Also on SoundCloud: