Most of us naturally avoid suffering. What we embrace is pleasure.
The Madison Avenue marketing is all about this. However, we are told by Scripture that instead of rejecting or just tolerating suffering, we should embrace suffering (1 Peter 2:21; 4:1; Acts 14:22). This makes no sense to us at first.
Now, when I am saying to embrace suffering, I am not talking about what some Hindus, Muslims or Catholics do where they deliberately cause themselves pain in strange ways. This kind of thing does no physical or spiritual good. God does not want us to experience unnecessary pain or deprivation (Ps 34:9-10; 84:11; Lam. 3:33).
What it means to embrace suffering is to understand that the Christian life inherently involves suffering. For instance, to be tempted is to experience immediate suffering (1 Cor. 10:13; James 5:10-11). Suffering can come from the discomfort of restraining ourselves from doing that which we desire to do, or from compelling ourselves to do that which we don’t want to do. As soon as we experience this discomfort, our temptation is to yield to it by indulging the desire. So in order to have success in the Christian life we must do something else....
We must embrace the discomfort as something good rather than avoiding or getting rid of it. This is embracing the cross of Christ. This is following His example. This is taking up His cross. We embrace short-term suffering for long-term good.
Don’t get me wrong, the non-Christian is not free from suffering either. They indulge their desires---to avoid suffering---by giving in to temptation, and thus their suffering does not come immediately but down the line, and that is a greater suffering than the Christian has. They have short-term pleasure but experience long-term suffering. For example, the Christian who embraces suffering suffers the temptation of appetite, but the Indulger suffers from obesity, heart-disease, diabetes, and possible cancer. The Christian who embraces suffering, suffers the denial of lust, but the Indulger suffers broken relationships, damaged families, guilt and disease.
It is because so many Christians do not realize this that there is so much failure in many Christian’s lives. They do not understand that when they accept Christ that this involves embracing suffering. Thus many Christians live their lives as they did before they accepted Christ and try to avoid suffering.
We need to give our fellow believers the understanding of what it means to deny oneself, take up one’s Cross and follow Christ.
Brian Holland is a pastor and teacher at Oklahoma Academy in Harrah, Oklahoma.