Over the past week or so I have been studying the epistles of James and 1 Peter, and I want to address an increasing concern I have for God’s people. This may be somewhat controversial. However, our goal is always to wrestle with these issues and try our best to be faithful to what the Word of God communicates. I must admit, I am still working through my own personal view and its implications (so read with caution). This post is a reflection of that process. My concern is this: Has the lack of suffering in the American Church (or even the disappearing desire to suffer for Christ’s sake) affected us in such a profound way that we no longer pray in a biblical manner? — in a way that has spiritual consequences?
Believe it or not, the believer is called to suffer for Christ’s sake. Paul writes, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I might attain resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11) And, if you don’t believe Paul, then believe Jesus who says, “In the world you WILL have tribulation, But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I fear we’re losing this perspective. I want to look specifically at the implications I think it’s having on our prayer lives. Let me try and illustrate what I mean from Scripture.
James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
1 Peter is addressed to Christians enduring severe persecution. Peter prays, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you”(1 Peter 2b). Notice that he does not pray that the persecution/suffering would cease. Rather, he calls their attention to the hope of final salvation. Peter is teaching them to see their temporary suffering in light of eternal glory.
Furthermore, we see Paul in 2 Corinthian 12:8-9 asking God three times to remove his suffering… the thorn in his flesh (whatever that may be). “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” What does the Lord say? Essentially, he says no Paul i’m not gonna do that, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
This is my point. If James, Peter, and Paul came to the American Church today, or the typical sunday school, bible study, chapel service, etc….what would they think about our prayers?
I’m not convinced that they would advocate prayers for the removal of trial. God clearly says that trials are for our spiritual refinement. They are for our good, and are proof of our increasing faith in Christ. They test the quality or character of the person encountering them, and they are designed by God to strengthen the faith of a particular individual. If the believer fails the “test,” responding to it in a worldly manner, than temptation is born, which may lead to the practice of sin in a specific area of their life. Testing, then, is essentially the “proof” of a believer’s maturity level in Christ.
Isn’t one’s spiritual growth more important to us than their physical betterment? Moreover, isn’t being with Christ far better?
If I ever get seriously ill, or have some major trial come into my life, I hope that I would want my brothers and sisters to pray that the Lord’s grace would be sufficient for me, not that my trial be speedily removed. How would any of us grow in Christ and the grace and mercy of God if all our sufferings were removed immediately? I’d hope my brothers and sisters would pray that grace and peace would be mine as I look towards my inheritance and set my hope fully on the grace that will be brought to me at the revelation of Jesus Christ. That they’d pray I’d use my trial for the furthering of the kingdom and the glory, honor and praise of God – the all knowing, all- good, all-loving One.
This is what I see in Scripture.