you then my child … share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. [2 timothy 2:1, 3]
almost 24 years ago, my wife and i found out we were pregnant again. we had struggled / suffered through a couple of miscarriages early in our marriage. six years in, we once again heard the news, “you’re pregnant!” as a hopeful new parent, i made a vow to myself, “i will do everything i can to protect this child. i will never let him suffer.” several months later as the due date approached, a mentor spoke into my vow. “john, everything within you is going to want to protect this child and make it where they never suffer for one day in their life. you can’t do that. 1) you can’t protect him from everything. and 2) there are times he will need to feel the weight of his consequences which means, he will hurt, he will ‘suffer’.” i remember the confusion in my gut while trying to not look confused on my face. but i pressed in, “why would i let my child hurt, suffer?” his response was – if you save them from their circumstances – you will be their savior and they will not see their real issue as a heart issue, which only Jesus can solve. they will constantly look for someone or something to fix their circumstances. or worse, they will only believe God exists to rescue them from their circumstances – not the sin in their heart.”
that impacted our parenting. we realized falling down was needed if he was ever to learn to walk. that falling off a bike was needed if he was ever to ride. we realized getting beaned by a baseball would happen if he was ever to play the game. we realized he would get hurt (or hurt another) if he ever was to like a girl. but, it was another thing altogether to realize I would not be able to save him from his own sin and the mess it would cause. thinking he would hurt because of a sport or accident was one thing. believing he would suffer and needed to suffer from his own sin or even the sin of others was hard to grasp. we did not want him to hurt or suffer, but we realized his pain would reveal his great need for a savior greater than his dad or mom. we prayed that God would open his eyes to Jesus through his sin and suffering. not only did we pray for these things, but we started warning him – there would be a cost for his sin, and Jesus had already paid the greater cost that he would need to change his heart. as weird as this sounds, we were prepping his heart to receive suffering not as a thing to run from but a thing to drive him to Jesus.
in a similar way, paul is inviting his spiritual child timothy into joining him in suffering. why would a spiritual father want his spiritual son, someone he deeply cared about, to suffer. why? he knew that in the gospel, suffering leads us deeper into the life of Jesus. [romans 5:3-5] suffering transforms us deeper into the image of Jesus. [philippians 3:8-10] suffering allows others to see the glory of God in different and unique ways. [romans 8:17-18] and, suffering often happens because we are simply being an obedient follower of Jesus. [1 peter 2:20-21] paul wanted timothy to know: in God’s economy suffering is not a loss – but a gain for his kingdom and for us.
we don’t pray for pain as Christ followers. but we can pray that we are bold followers of Christ. as paul told timothy in vs 3-6, we can pray that we are good soldiers who are focused on Jesus, “good athletes” who submit to our Father, and “good farmers” who work hard in his grace. if we do, we will suffer. why? because we are in a war with an enemy who is in a war with us. and if we do suffer, we know that this will be a gain for God’s kingdom and for us. (if you missed the sermon last night, go watch it now. this was shared in much greater detail there.)
two questions from 2 timothy 1:8 and 2:3 as we head into this day:
1) how are you responding to God’s invitation to join him in suffering for the gospel? 2) who and how are you prepping another’s heart concerning the call to suffer?
are you running from suffering? are you avoiding God’s invitation and unknowingly missing great opportunities to bring him glory, great transformation, and a deeper life in Christ. or, are you pressing into the life of Christ and seeing the affects of spiritual war. maybe you have been stunned by the opposition or by just how hard things have been lately as you have walked in simple obedience. the reason for the struggle – you are in a war and the enemy hates your simple obedience.
are you keeping all you have learned in Christ to yourself right now? are you sitting on the sideline of discipleship while many of your brothers and sisters are longing for mentors who have gone just a few steps ahead of them? or, are you pouring what Christ has poured into you, into another? are you prepping their heart for suffering, inviting them to join you and a long legacy of others who have walked this road through the centuries?
right now, give some time and thought to these two questions. then, spend some time in thanksgiving and petition. first, thank God for his kindness in inviting you into the sufferings of Christ – so you can look more like Christ and be a small part of his kingdom’s work on this earth. second, petition, ask God to give you wisdom to who and how you can pour out his life into another. if you already are, pray for wisdom as to what this looks like to invite them into suffering with you? if you are not, pray for God to give you the courage to step into the game and begin discipling another.
Father, we thank you for the gift of suffering that changes us into your very image and advances your kingdom. Spirit empower us to submit and follow you in simple obedience. and, encourage us to pour out the life of Jesus in another – even today. in Jesus name, amen!
~ john ryan