The New Testament writer, Paul, wanted to know “the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Let’s be really honest from the start: we don’t like suffering, and we often spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to avoid pain. Yet, the real issue is not whether we will suffer, but whether we will suffer as Christians. We all will face suffering; it is just a matter of whether we suffer because of our own poor choices or because we are living for Jesus (1 Peter 2:20-21; 4:1, 12-13).
When the athlete goes into the weight-room, he/she is purposely going in there to suffer. There will be grunting and straining and difficulty. There will be a ripping and tearing-down of muscle fibers. There will be pain. But there cannot be growth and development without it. One cannot simply go into a weight-room and sit and watch other people lift weights and believe that you will get in shape. Showing-up at church to watch, listen to a sermon, and observe the worship does not make one a stronger Christian; it is the heavy lifting of getting into the Word of God for oneself, wrestling in prayer, and struggling to have that spiritual conversation with another person that are just a few of the ways that we are going to grow and develop. What is more, God will put us through circumstances that we would not choose for ourselves in order to place us in a position to know Jesus.
When Paul talked about becoming like Jesus in his death, this was his way of saying that some things need to die in life in order for new growth to occur. For example, fire is actually an important part of Yellowstone National Park. According to ecology experts, “fire promotes habitat diversity by removing the forest overstory, allowing different plant communities to become established, and preventing trees from becoming established in grassland. Fire increases the rate that nutrients become available to plants by rapidly releasing them from wood and forest litter and by hastening the weathering of soil minerals.” In other words, fire is necessary for environmental growth.
Let me put this in layman’s terms when it comes to Christianity: suffering is a necessary part of the Christian’s life because it creates the conditions for new life and growth and releases fresh sources of God’s grace into the church. We are to put to death anger, rage, malice, slander, lying, and useless language. They are to be replaced with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forgiveness, and love (Colossians 3:7-14). This only happens when we have Jesus Christ as our ultimate priority, our highest value, and our surpassing greatness. We have no intention of putting bad attitudes and behaviors to death if Jesus Christ is not our ultimate priority and highest value. But if Jesus is the surpassing worth of our lives, then we will seek to do whatever we can to know him (Philippians 3:4-14).
There are a lot of voices out there competing for our attention in today’s world. A lot of people want to get noticed. Even more ideas want to get spread. Whom and what we choose to listen to and obey is of great importance. The vital essence and core value of Christianity is Jesus. Do not settle for a status-quo, watered-down version of cultural Christianity. Embrace Jesus, which means embracing both his cross and resurrection.
So, what will you do to cultivate your relationship with Jesus? We all must: transfer our trust from ourselves to God; value what God values; be a student of God’s Word (in order to know Jesus better); be a person of prayer (because you cannot know Jesus apart from prayer); and start living for what is most important, jettisoning everything that gets in the way between you and Jesus, even if it hurts.