One of my most hated TV ads is the Panadol jingle, "When pain is gone, life takes its place." This surely summarises the core creed of our comfortable culture, pain is to be minimised, pleasure to be maximised.
Like it or not, living out this rule is the root cause of much prayerlessness, declining Bible knowledge and the collapse of serious discipleship in the Australian Church. Just the other day I heard once again the refrain from a Christian wanting to opt out of a difficult marriage, "But God wants me to be happy!"
Everywhere people want to feel good about themselves and pain is viewed as the one great curse that stands in the way of enjoyment. The truth however is that deception about the role of suffering in God's plan is standing in the way of the "full joy" promised by Jesus (John chapter 16 verses 21-24).
Always to Suffer
A trivial yet popular spirituality teaches, "God has got a wonderful plan for your life." It fails to mention though that central to the wonder of the divine plan is sharing the way of Jesus; "If anyone would come after me they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Luke chapter 9 verse 23).
Discipleship is certainly costly, but since it makes us like Jesus it is a glorious way to live (Luke chapter 24 verse 26). We are called to follow the Lamb who "slain from before the foundation of the world" made suffering an essential part of his identity (Revelation chapter 13 verse 8).
Those who in Christ freely and lovingly suffer for the good of others will never suffer from the boredom and depression of a society which has lost a destiny greater than itself (John chapter 15 verse 13). From a biblical worldview it is important to remember that the greatest sufferings are not physical but moral and spiritual.
Where Has all the Guilt Gone
I have recently been helping a man who is withdrawing from a long history of drug use. As the conscience stifling effects of substance abuse leave his life he had been regaining a self of deep guilt. This is very encouraging, because God gave us a conscience to experience guilt and shame as signs of the loss of his goodness and glory (Romans chapter 3 verse 23).
Remember how when the crowd heard the gospel on the Day of Pentecost they were "cut to the heart" and cried out "what shall we do?" Peter pointed them to the forgiveness available in Christ (Acts chapter 2 verses 37-38). The pain of Spirit-awakened guilt is the doorway to the joy of forgiveness.
Someone who had recently turned to the Lord and was reading the scriptures for the first time rang his pastor under deep conviction and said; "I've been one bad dude, I've done some bad things." This man is surely on the road to serious discipleship and rapid spiritual growth. Sad though today shame and guilt are rarely spiritually discerned as entry points to a richer walk with God.
In contrast Paul exclaims, "I rejoice...because you were grieved into repenting." (2 Corinthians chapter 7 verse 9).
Pleasure through Pain
In response to one of my recent teaching emails on the need for pain in our world a friend said, "Thanks for this. It is a very powerful message." To which I replied, "My pleasure, or perhaps I should say, my pleasure through pain." Then he replied, "That was pretty funny!" Always wanting to have the last word, and a theological one at that, I said, "Not really a funny point because all of history is about crucifixion-and-resurrection."
We must not shrink the gospel down to a message limited to personal forgiveness or think now that Jesus has suffered for us we get a free pass from hurting. Jesus wants to be Lord over all our tribulations. To submit all of our sufferings to Jesus, even the trivial inconveniences of colds and queues, is to enter into an experience of Christ's overcoming resurrection joy.
The quality of this sort of spiritual pleasure is eternal (Romans chapter 5 verse 3). Let's put the Panadol jingle on the cross, and by faith display to a lost and broken world "the power of resurrection in the fellowship of Christ's suffering." (Philippians chapter 3 verse 10).
If this becomes the core creed by which the Church lives then we will witness a remarkable turnaround in prayer, reading the Word and holy relationships. The path of true discipleship is painful, but Jesus is worth it all.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is a Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 5 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html