"Count it all joy 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 "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." 1 Peter 4.12-13
At some point in the past each one of us has been lied to. We were sold the idea that becoming a Christian takes all the suffering away, that we'd be happy all the time. And at some point in our life, whether young or old, we bought that lie with our life savings, because if we're honest we all want to believe it. We want to be happy all the time and we want a life that is free of suffering. But that's not life, heck that isn't even a Disney movie, it's a completely skewed and false outlook on life, one that sets us up for disaster.
If you look at the verses above you'll notice that I've put bold and italics on some words to make a point. Not only does the bible acknowledge that suffering exists, but it encourages us to be joyful about it!
Why in the world would we be joyful about it?
Well, here's what I think...with a little help from Tim Keller. Christianity is the only religion on the planet that claims that "God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds our as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours." (The Reason for God, 30)
We should have joy in our suffering because our Redeemer knows exactly what we are going through, he's been there...and then some. We should take joy in our suffering because it brings us closer to Christ. Trials produce steadfastness, steadfastness to perfection, and perfection is completion, being eternity with God. We rejoice in our suffering because we know that someday that suffering will turn into eternal peace when Christ returns and his glory is revealed for all to see. This may seem to be cliche Christian-ese but its the truth.
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4.14-16
Rejoice, be steadfast, draw near and know that Christ has suffered with us in every respect and has redeemed us. Let that truth permeate our suffering and transform the despair into hope.