Have you ever received a gift that you have no use for? Let's be honest, we all have. Rather it's a shirt that is two sizes too big or a home decoration item that goes with nothing in your home, we all have received things that we have little to no use for.
God is the perfect gift-giver. James 1:17 tells us that "Every good and perfect is from above." He is sovereign over all things that happen in our lives and uses all things in our lives to work out His eternal purposes. All of his working is ultimately "For the good of those who love God..." (Romans 8:28) and His utmost glory. Do you believe that?
Then ask God to give you the gift of suffering.
Philippians 3:10 is bold. It's powerful. It's scary. It's Paul's prayer. "Oh that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death."
"Oh that I may know him... and may share his sufferings...."
This isn't on my prayer list. I don't pray this over my wife. I don't pray this over my church. I don't pray this over my friends, family, even enemies! Why? If every good and perfect gift is from God. If God is sovereign and truly works all things together for good. If He uses EVERYTHING to shape His people to be more like Christ and drive their hearts deeper into the well of who He is. And if the most used tool in His toolbox to allow us to know Him more and be conformed to His image is suffering...
Why would I not ask God for suffering?
1. We mistake suffering for being bad.
While I do not pretend to sit back and proclaim that I have experienced any suffering in my life (because I have not up to this point), I do stand upon God's Word and what He has said. God has made it clear that while suffering is HARD, it ultimately is not BAD because it has been sovereignly allowed by an infinitely good God who uses all things, even inherently evil things, for our good. It is in light of this truth that we can say as Job with great confidence, "Blessed be the name of the Lord."
2. We want to have deeper fellowship with Christ as long as we aren't uncomfortable.
I fear many of us, myself included, have been so saturated by Western civilization comforts that we can actually worship Christ and comfort at the same time without even knowing it. We want Jesus with a side of a comfortable life. We want Jesus as long as we don't have to lose our homes, our jobs, our spouse, our kids, our church, our reputation, or our lives. This is a total affront to the teachings of the New Testament where Jesus says "Take up your cross and follow me." You can't have a comfortable life and your Jesus too.
In light of who God is, suffering is not bad. It is good. And when it comes, we should not despair but "Count it all joy" (James 1:2) because the One who allowed it has promised to use it. Suffering is a gift.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, reader of many books, and tweeter at @brad_merchant.