It wasn’t one of my better mornings. My two middle-school aged-sons had just left to catch the bus for school. I sat in an empty house aching with the burden of twenty-three years of division under one roof. The same barrage of depressing thoughts came at me like an avalanche.
I wanted a Christian family. I wanted a Christian marriage. I wanted to homeschool. I wanted to be home more often. I wanted missions to be our focus and Jesus to be our common bond. But there I sat, almost twenty-four years into this unequally yoked marriage in a nice, empty house, my sons having just walked out the door after a morning argument about who gets to wear the one pair of ear buds.
“Satan seeks to devour us by tempting us to make a way to free ourselves from the cross Christ calls us to carry.”
I looked up at the picture of our spiritually divided family on the wall, taken the year my husband sought reconciliation, and I was tempted to separate what God had put together. Hope deferred had made my heart sick. I wanted to win my husband without a word (1 Peter 3:1), and with the word lead my children to Jesus. But I was growing weary.
“The Sympathizing Tear”
That’s when I came across Vaneetha Risner’s story.
As I watched her tell of a lifetime of suffering, my heart welled up with love and connection with this woman I’d never met — not just because I had sympathy for her heart-wrenching story, but because she hoped in God in it all. Listening to her brought to mind the words of a hymn I used to sing as a child:
Before our Father’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts, and our cares.
We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.
In the worldwide church throughout all ages, I’m only a tiny cell in the body of Christ, a chief means of sanctification (Ephesians 4:7–16). I’ve never lost a child or lived with a devastating disease, but on the path of faith in Christ I share a common bond with Vaneetha. There is a tie, a fellowship, that binds our hearts in Christian love. And at least in some part that tie is the communion we have with each other in our suffering as we hope in Christ together.
The stories of the people of God who suffer run through Scripture like blood through the body. In the midst of suffering it can feel like we’re alone, but we’re not. We need only to open our Bibles to the story of our Savior, and to the stories of God’s people to see the fellowship we share with those who walk these cross-shaped paths.
Resist the Devil
The apostle Peter tells us,
Resist [the devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:9–10)
Knowing that in my suffering I share in the struggles of this 40-something woman in suburban Arizona, with men and women throughout time and all over the world, with the sufferings of Christ himself (Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:3), I find strength to resist the temptation of running to my idols in an attempt to flee the faith-testing suffering I’m in.
“The courage to stand firm in the face of trials comes from knowing we’re not the only ones suffering while trusting Christ.”
Satan seeks to devour us by tempting us to make a way to free ourselves from the cross Christ calls us to carry (Mark 8:34). We may seek deliverance through a divorce, or an affair, or wine, or shopping, or abortion, or any number of other means — but whatever the specific situation, in every case he’ll tempt us to escape the pain that comes with walking by faith in Christ through our trials. He tempted Jesus this way in the desert with bread (Matthew 4:3). But Christ leads by example and calls us to cling to God’s word and follow him (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
The bond we share as Christians walking through all kinds of suffering is the bond of loving Christ and wanting him more than anything else in this world. We want Christ to be seen in us, we want to know him and walk with him, and we want the peoples of the world to worship him, whether by life or death, prosperity or suffering (Philippians 1:20). The courage to stand firm in the face of the devil’s devouring temptations comes with knowing we are not the only ones suffering while trusting Christ. When we endure in faith, we help each other to stand firm.
Jesus Stands Above Our Suffering
Dear Christian, whatever fiery trial you find yourself in today, take heart. There’s a worn wife, hoping in God, trying to win a husband; a mother grief-sick from the loss of her child falling on the Rock of her life; a husband burdened with his cancer diagnosis trusting in God’s good sovereignty; a teenager fleeing temptation at school; a widowed Syrian brother hiding in the shadow of the Almighty.
There was Job cursing the day he was born and blessing the God who gives and takes away (Job 1:21). There was David in the throes of heartbroken repentance after a devastating sin (2 Samuel 12:16–17; Psalm 51:1–17). There was Paul bearing the pain of a fifth scourging (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). There was Naomi and Joseph and Elijah and Stephen.
There was a Jim Elliot and a Richard Wurmbrand, a Polycarp and a William Tyndale. There are the white-robed saints throughout all the ages, who’ve suffered even unto death in faithfulness to Jesus (Revelation 6:9–11).
“Christians are never alone in their sufferings.”
And above them all stands Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, despised and rejected; pierced, bludgeoned, and betrayed, still bearing the marks of his suffering in glory (John 20:27), and never forgetting our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). He is the author and the finisher of our faith. We look to him and believe, and in him we give courage to one another as we press on together for the prize of being with him forever (Philippians 3:12).
Christians Are Never Alone in Suffering
Christians are never alone in their sufferings. Even when we feel alone, together in Christ, the church longs for the day when our sufferings are removed, when together we’ll be restored, confirmed, strengthened, and established in the eternal glory of Christ (1 Peter 5:10). Until then, the church may sing together,
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20–22)