It’s taken me a while to really get this, but I’ve come to learn that part of growing as both a pastor and follower of Jesus is learning how to suffer. I’m not referring to some aimless masochism or developing a steely heart. I’m talking about enduring pain, sometimes even devastating pain, and walking obediently anyways. The hidden gift of great people, and certainly great leaders, is the ability to tolerate pain in themselves and others.
It’s Jesus going on to Jerusalem knowing what awaits Him.
It’s Jesus saying, “if its possible, let this cup pass,” and drinking it anyway.
Most of us will never face a literal cross or the cup of death. It’ll be more like choosing to “do family” firmly in Christ and against the winds of the culture around us—or the decision to give sacrificially than to sacrifice giving for things we want more at the time. It might look like having the difficult conversation with a parent that’s 30 years in the making or letting our boss know we lied on the resume. In all likelihood it’ll be a stack of these sorts of things each month—small opportunities to choose a more painful obedience over an easier, less faithful path. Each of these is a decision to endure a little or a lot of pain for the sake of obedience. However, in a great Gospel paradox, the more we obey, we often find it hurts less with each step—and feel the Father’s “well done.”
Many people fail to experience the greater depths of the Christian faith—not because there aren’t any. It’s because we don’t or can’t handle the suffering that obedience and mission sometimes bring. This is part and parcel of the war between our souls and the principalities and powers of this present darkness. However, the impact of our relative delicacy can lead us to make decisions that prevent the sort of abundant fellowship with Christ we then try to experience, futilely, through other means.
Lack of our ability to tolerate pain in ourselves and others impacts ministry as well. If I cannot handle pain, I won’t risk. I won’t do the courageous thing. I’ll be less likely to do whatever needs to be done–because what needs to be done might require some pain. I may not even give myself fully to the ministry for fear of getting hurt in the process.
Furthermore, if I cannot handle my pain, I usually can’t handle yours either. If I can’t tolerate pain, I’m incapable of helping bear your burdens, telling you difficult truths, calling you to repent, laying hands on you when you’re sick, or even seeing you’re in the cancer ward. I’m more impatient, and that unsung fruit of the Spirit, “longsuffering,” can’t sprout in my ministry…because I don’t do any king of suffering…especially anything involving “long.”
More often than we would like to believe, we make decisions—whether simple or life-altering—based on pain-tolerance. This week, let’s resolve to let obedience to Christ make guide our decisions—even if it’s painful. Let’s do what we’ve been avoiding because we know it’ll sting.
There are two ways I’ve found to grow pain-tolerance. The first is to allow ourselves to be exposed to it for redemptive purposes—like being with the less fortunate, sick or lonely. The other is grow closer to Jesus, the most obedient Sufferer of all. The more brightly the Spirit of Christ the Sufferer burns within me, the stronger I become. It sounds simple, but it’s so important we learn to handle pain—for our sake, the world’s sake, and for Christ’s. It’s the hidden gift of all great leaders–and great followers of Christ.
May we too learn obedience through what we suffer. May we lead bravely in ways we couldn’t be if we feared suffering. May we bear one another’s burdens in a way that strengthens one another and witnesses to Christ’s superiority to selfishness. May we, the Church, look ever more like the Suffering Savior we preach.