There are some of you struggling right now with things that you know you need to do, but you don’t want to do. You’re looking for a way out, a way to get around those things, to avoid them, but you know in your heart of hearts that there is no avoiding them, and that you’ll have to deal with them head-on in order to get them over with.
Jesus felt the same way in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified. He didn’t want to have to deal with being physically tortured and then crucified. He really didn’t. In fact, he begged his dad (God) to find another way to reach the same end, but there was none. He had to suffer because that was what he’d signed up for, and that’s what the job called for.
That doesn’t mean the definition of being a Christian is that you necessarily have to suffer. Everyone suffers as a consequence of their actions in life; Christians don’t have a monopoly on suffering. But suffering, if accepted as something that is inevitable and that has a meaning (in this case, a burning off of things that don’t belong in Heaven), is endurable if you know that God is right there with you, comforting you through the pain.
We don’t like to hurt. Our bodies are built to seek pleasure and shun pain. And yet we need to suffer if there is no other way around getting to where we ultimately want to be, which is Heaven.
One of the most insidious aspects of modern health care is robbing people of their need to suffer on their death bed. Most people are drugged now with an assortment of increasingly potent concoctions, and some are even asking to be outright killed (and their wish is being granted). It’s not human nature to want to suffer pain, even at death’s door, but suffering is necessary if we want to burn off the unholy crap. Pay our dues, so to speak, while there is still time.
Jesus railed at Peter when he claimed he wanted to protect Jesus from suffering. Jesus told him: You think as man thinks, not as God thinks. Jesus didn’t want to suffer pain, but he knew he had to. That was part of his job description, as it of ours.
I don’t want to suffer. I’ve been in negotiations with God for the past few weeks to hold off on the physical pain, maybe spread it out a bit so it’s more manageable, and he’s been obliging. But I know I have to accept that there’s going to be pain and that I’ll have to swallow the full measure of it, even if taken in smaller doses. There has to be pain. But just like Jesus didn’t want to experience pain, I also don’t want to, but if it means that I’ll end up where I want to be, then I’ll endure it because I know that God will be with me all the way, holding my hand and shortening the time of my suffering. Scripture is full of descriptions of God shortening the suffering of those who love him. He shortens the suffering for those who love him because they let him; those who don’t love him, he can’t shorten the suffering of, because they won’t let him.
Someone reading this now (you know who you are; I don’t, but you do) – someone reading this now is trying to avoid something, to avoid the pain they have coming. The problem with avoiding pain is that you might succeed on the one hand, but the other hand ends up getting crushed. If you have it coming (that is, if you’ve earned it or if you need it), it will come whether you want it to or not, like water bursting through a dam that you’ve plugged in one spot only to have it burst through another.
Jesus did not want to suffer. He didn’t. He wanted to live a pain-free life just like we want to live a pain-free life. He willingly suffered not because he was a masochist or an automaton, but because he knew it was God’s will (that is, God’s plan for him) and that if God wanted it for him, then ultimately God would turn it into something good because that’s what God does.
Don’t embrace pain, but don’t try to avoid it, either. Endure it, knowing that God is with you throughout your suffering and will shorten your time of pain (or break it down into more manageable sessions) if you ask him. That’s how Jesus got through his torture and crucifixion – knowing God was with him, keeping him strong, and shortening the pain period.
Our time on Earth is not meant to be a good time. We’ll have good times, sure, but overall our time here is a test. We have to learn things, we have to unlearn things, and we have to burn off what does not belong in Heaven. If we don’t do the learning, unlearning and burning off in our appointed time, we won’t make it to Heaven, plain and simple.
Heaven is what I’m living for. It’s what gets me up in the morning and makes me smile when circumstances are pushing me to cry. It comforts me with the promise of a pain-free life of beauty and endless joy, surrounded only by those who love me and whom I love in return. You should also be motivated only by the reward of Heaven. Jesus was. He didn’t put up with what he put up with just because. He wasn’t a mindless idiot who only did what he was told to do. He was obedient to God and endured his pain for the sake of what came afterwards.
Now you go and do the same.
God is with you.