With any brand, you need a slogan that will capture an audience. Think of the most successful marketing slogans in history. Nike . . . Just Do It. Wheaties . . . Breakfast of Champions.
Jesus would fail a modern marketing test. In what is sometimes called his “recruitment speech,” Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things . . . If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:22-23).
Think about a marketing campaign based on suffering. The logo is a tool of execution, a cross. The product comes with radical self-denial. Possible side effects are ostracism, social dishonor, and ridicule. How many people want this product?
Somehow, this campaign has lasted for millennia. And billions of people have joined the movement. A significant part Christian calling is the call to suffer.
We might ask, “Why suffer?” Why answer a calling from God that comes with pain or a burden?
Here are some reasons to suffer.
Anything of value is worth suffering for.
“Share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace” (II Tim. 1:8-9).
If a calling is a “holy calling.” If it is “God’s purpose,” then it is of vital importance. And anything of significance is worth suffering for. Anything that has value is worth a cost. Callings from God are not cheap, like the dollar menu at McDonald’s. A call from God is more like a juicy steak. It’s worth paying a price.
You have callings that are significant. Father, mother. Son, daughter. Friend. Co-worker. Leader. Neighbor. Your role in these callings is valuable. And anything of value is worth suffering for.
Suffering is the ultimate form of selflessness.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows . . . He was wounded for our transgressions and he was crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53:4,5).
This is the famous Suffering Servant text from the prophet Isaiah. In it, Isaiah uses what are called “emphatic pronouns.” Note the series of “he’s” and “our’s.” The “he” takes on the situation of the “our.” He made our mess his mess. He made our burdens his burdens. He made our pain his pain.
This gets to the heart of the nature of suffering. Selflessly, you take on someone else’s plight, problem, and pain. Sometimes we wonder why we’re suffering. But if we are suffering selflessly, our suffering is not about us. Your suffering might be for someone else’s blessing.
God works in suffering.
“To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed . . ." (Is. 53:1)
“The arm of the LORD” is code for God’s full-on power. His arm means his muscle. Isaiah is about to show you God in all his power, flexing. So let’s see God do a push-up or throw a punch. What will is look like? . . . And then Isaiah goes on to give a description of the suffering servant. It’s really a picture of Jesus. Stricken, smitten, afflicted, dishonored, rejected, shamed. God works, flexes his muscle, in the most unlikely of places.
Martin Luther described this curious phenomenon by calling it the “hiddenness of God.” God often veils himself in unlikely places, such as suffering. God works power in weakness. He works life in death. When his back appears to be against a wall, God is at his peak. So many times, we’ve seen God clearest in moments of difficulty or despair. So if you’re suffering, have your ears and eyes wide open. God works in suffering.
Love that does not suffer is not love at all.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son . . .” (I John 4:9).
“Love bears all things . . . endures all things” (I Cor. 13:7).
God’s love is NOT clearest in sunshine and rainbows. God’s love is clearest in splintered wood and nails. In blood and tragic injury. Love is proven in pain.
You cannot say you love someone until you suffer for them. It’s all fluffy puppy love, romantic infatuation, until you’ve suffered. You would never know how much someone loved you unless you saw them love you at a time when they had to sacrifice.
The traditional wedding vows go like this, “for better AND for worse, for richer AND for poorer, in sickness AND health.” Love is really proven in the “worse,” the “poorer,” and the “sickness” parts of marriage. Because love proves itself in suffering and sacrifice.
Suffering is not the last word.
“The Son of Man must suffer many things . . . and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
He suffered, died, and was buried. But death was not the last word. These are the last words:
The risen King is your Lord. So suffering is not the last word for you. We are people of hope and promise. Because we’ve seen suffering turn into victory.
Where are you called to suffer?
Where are you called to suffer for God or for someone else? An aging parent. A struggling child. A neighbor. A co-worker or classmate.
Where are you called to sit with someone in their pain?
To pray for them without ceasing?
Where are you called to give your time, energy, emotion, and resources?
Where are you called to endure someone’s pain, despair?
Where are you called to endure ridicule or shame for your faith?
With any brand, you need a slogan that will capture an audience. “Take up your cross,” Jesus said. That slogan has captured billions of people for millennia. We join them because the Suffering Servant is also our Risen King.