As a child, I used to spend a lot of time thinking about and wishing for the life of suffering for my faith. I read all sorts of missionary biographies, and others books, about people who gave up everything, were thrown into prison, starved, beaten, tortured, and killed for refusing to deny Christ. This always strongly appealed to me. I'm sure part of it was that I had little experience with pain, but part of it was my experience with and love for God. I could somehow instinctively sense that there was a far greater and deeper joy available to believers who "share Christ's sufferings" (1 Peter 4:13).
Now I'm much older and wiser( in the ways of the world, that is) and have abandoned this desire for persecution as foolish. Who wants to experience pain? I mean, I have had 3 children naturally, so I think I have experienced some true pain now, however briefly. Pain has a way of making a few minutes seem like hours. It leaves you with unpleasant memories and flashbacks. It just isn't fun. But we have the Word of God telling us that there is joy in suffering, that our joy is lacking if we don't have suffering. Consider this passage:
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for you comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort."
Who wouldn't want to experience the comfort that God gives us personally? The other night, I was praying and asking God to reveal more of himself to me, asking to experience the joy of his presence. It came to me that there is a level of joy in him that cannot be experienced without suffering with Christ. I mean, suffering specifically because of Christ, though all suffering has value. It was a gentle word to me, but it has been growing and taking root in me ever since. I'm ashamed that I want to avoid the very suffering that would join me to Christ and lead me to a level communion with him that has of yet eluded me. I say this is what I want more than anything, but is that true? Keep in mind that I'm not talking about legalism, or any kind of deserving. I am not saying that we can't experience any joy or love in our relationship with God without persecution, but it will be different as far as I understand Scripture.
Here are some quotes from "Tortured For Christ" by Richard Wurmbrand:
"Often, when tortured, we felt the tortures, but it seemed as something distant and far removed from the spirit which was lost in the glory of Christ and His presence with us."
"In solitary confinement we could not pray anymore as before. We were unimaginably hungry, we had been doped until we became idiots. We were weak as skeletons. The Lord's Prayer was much too long for us. We could not concentrate enough to say it. My only prayer repeated again and again, was "Jesus, I love Thee."
And then one glorious day I got the answer from Jesus: "You love me? Now I will show you how I love you." At once, I felt a flame in my heart which burned like the coronal steamers of the sun."
"Often, after a secret service, Christians are caught and sent to prison. There Christians wear chains with the gladness with which a bride wears a precious jewel received from her beloved. The waters in prison are still. You receive His kiss and His embraces and you would not change places with kings. I have found truly jubilant Christians only in the Bible, in the Underground Church, and in prison."
These stir something up in me. But if you read the whole book, with accounts of the kind of torture these Christians endured, it is scary. Wurmbrand also states:
"Tortures were sometimes horrible. I prefer not to speak too much about those through which I have passed. When I do, I cannot sleep at night. It is too painful."
This joy and comfort that God gives us in the midst of sufferings, is supernatural, but it not magical. It doesn't remove physical sensation of pain, at least not most of the time. There is a cost to joy. Christ paid the cost for us, and then invites us to join him completely, knowing the great joy of experiencing the Father as the only source of comfort. I can't imagine God literally being my only source of comfort, because I've never experienced it. I have been cold, hungry, thirsty, tired, in pain, lonely, rejected, and hated, but not to a great extent, and never all at the same time. I have always had some others comforts available to me.
I am beginning to dare to possibly think of asking God for this joy. But would I ask for it for my children? More food for thought... So I don't have the grace for suffering like this right now, but I fully trust that God would give it to me and more, the moment I needed it. In the past I have been happy to think "I'm probably not called to that" but more and more I'm seeing that in Christ we are all called to pick up our cross and follow him.
"And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." "