This dialogue was included in the newest Matrix film. Not being a great fan of this sort of movie, I most likely would have never heard these lines if an individual had not shared them with me. In the scene, Neo was facing his nemesis, Smith, who was the embodiment of absolute evil. Smith had Neo down, and Neo’s demise seemed certain, yet he refused to give up. Smith then asked the above question, to which Neo simply responded. He was willing to suffer and eventually sacrificed his life for his people.
Sound familiar? It should. Jesus was willing to do the same for us. The question I would like to explore is this: what is our reaction as Christians when we suffer? Are we simply suffering, or are we suffering for Jesus? There is a difference.
My family and I can share with you a thing or two about suffering. We have lived through an extreme attack from our nemesis, Satan. Not just my immediate family, but my extended family. In the course of the last year, we have suffered repeated financial attacks, assaults against our health, and emotional onslaughts, as well. Our marriages have not been exempt, we have endured incidents in which our children have suffered greatly, and have turned against their parents, and we have undergone forays within our very churches.
How did we choose to react in these circumstances? Speaking personally, I know there have been times in which I have simply suffered, feeling as if I have undergone these trials unduly. I recently had reached what I felt was my limit and I reacted in anger. Unfortunately, my anger was misdirected. Instead of getting angry with Satan, I chose instead to become angry with God. I forgot the authority that I have in Christ to overcome these storms, and simply fell into a pattern of self-pity. I forgot that there was a reason for my suffering. I forgot that Christ suffered for me. I also forgot the why and how’s of His suffering.
In my own words, “If you can create the world in six days, Lord, why can’t you make a way out of this situation for me?” In retrospect, I feel so incredibly small and stupid.
“Because I choose.”
God chose to send Jesus to the cross and allow His suffering for a reason. He could have stopped it. Think of the suffering that Christ endured. Just take one moment and let it penetrate your mind again. Not only was He beaten and bruised for our transgressions, stripped, nailed to a cross, and publicly humiliated, He had to endure complete abandonment. Not only by the ones who had followed him, but also by God Himself when Christ took on our sins. Because He chose. He suffered for one reason. Love.
If He endured such suffering for us, so that we could have the gift of eternal life, does this mean we should be exempt from suffering? Why would we think such a thing to begin with? If Christ endured such misery, who are we to think we should never suffer in return for Him? Perhaps there is a reason that God chooses to allow suffering in our lives as well. Maybe in our suffering, we become more like Christ. Perhaps, in sharing in His suffering, we are deemed worthy.
1 Peter 2:21-23 tells us that “we were called to suffer, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth; who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
Not only did He suffer; He did it in silence. I wonder if we can say the same. I know I can not. I, in my suffering, can be quite verbal. I not only rail and rant against the pain personally, I have caused others to suffer as well, listening to me.
If asked, not many of us would choose to suffer. I have heard people describe other’s ministries as being a “ministry of suffering.” I don’t think many of us would enjoy listing that on our resume. We would rather take the easy way out. Yet, most likely none of us will ever suffer as Christ did. However, if we are living for Christ, we should be aware that we will endure trials and tribulations. Godly living involves suffering. We know this because Jesus suffered as our example.
Hebrews 2:10 “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
It was only through Christ’s suffering that He was perfected. This does not mean that Jesus had moral shortcomings, but that He became perfect or complete as an all-sufficient Savior. Only by suffering temptation and death did He qualify as our captain or leader who has gone ahead of us to open the way of salvation.
Hebrews 2:14-18 shows us that Christ’s suffering was to take on the nature of humanity, to endure temptation so that He could empathize with us as He enables us to overcome. His ultimate purpose was to destroy the devil’s power and to deliver us from the fear of death. He accomplished this on our behalf so that we can continue to have faith, knowing that suffering with Christ will receive a good reward.
What then, are some benefits from being found worthy of suffering? We grow in wisdom, understanding and ultimately bear more fruits of the spirit. Here are just a few things I have learned through this season:
I have learned that God never allows suffering just for the sake of suffering. He intends for me to grow, and for Him to receive glory. He can teach a person more in a season of suffering than any other time.
I’ve learned that You have to stand on God’s Word and His promises even when you don’t feel anything, and that your worship during those times may not look like everyone else’s worship. It is easy to shout when everything is going well, but praise that is offered up to God when your heart is breaking has to be more meaningful to Him.
I’ve learned that people watch you more in times of suffering than when you’re on the “mountain” and that you can have a profound effect on other people if you remain faithful in times of trouble.
I have learned to be honest with other people, with God, and myself about what I am really feeling, and to stop sounding self-righteous, pious, and dishonest.
I’ve learned that when other people are in trouble, that they don’t need “pat” answers that you’ve heard every time you’re in trouble “Just trust God,” “Let go and let God,” “Everything’s gonna be okay”, etc. etc. I read this book one time, where a pastor had to “counsel” parents at the hospital whose son had just died. He always felt bad about it because he just cried with them and could not think of anything encouraging to say. The parents moved away and years later contacted him to let him know how much he had helped them. He confessed his feelings of inadequacy to them, and they told him his tears had been more meaningful than anything he could say.
I’ve learned that in times of intense suffering, you have to let go of all your timelines, your plans, all the ways you think it might work out. You have to believe that “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” You absolutely cannot look ahead because it is overwhelming. Instead, you have to believe that God will give you the strength for THAT day only, and that you will have to seek Him again for strength the next day. It is the promise of manna.
I have learned that it is very hard to wait for the promises of God. I think about David, and how he was anointed to be king, and then had to wait forever before it came true. The discrepancy between what God had promised him and the reality of hiding in a cave was enormous, and I think it added to his discouragement. If God has given us a big promise for the future and we do not see it, we start doubting whether we really heard from God. We become angry at the timing. We fret about where we are at now. Instead of rebelling against the timing of God’s promise, we just have to hold onto the promise itself, challenge Satan every time he tells us we’re crazy, and have hope every day that God will fulfill it.
Last but not least, I have relearned hope. I think of Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1 where it says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Usually we see that as having hope in things we have not seen yet. However, it is also the ability to have hope despite what we really are seeing. It is easy for me to believe that God has a hope and a future for me, but not if I compare it to what’s actually going on. It is looking beyond the circumstances that I am living through, and seeing something different. It may oftentimes seem totally unrealistic, even to me, but I choose to embrace it, regardless. I adopt it because hope does not disappoint. My hope will not grow weaker in my sufferings, but stronger. I know that the hope of great future blessings will not turn out to be false, because God has promised.
Let us then be ready to give a reason for our hope when others question. Remember that tribulation produces perseverance; (we can go on knowing that we are not alone in our suffering). Perseverance leads to character (becoming more and more like Christ and bearing His fruits in our lives) and character, hope. Hope of course, is the belief that God will make a way for us to be victorious over our situation, and a future full of good, not evil. Elect, then, to hold onto hope.
Therefore, we too can be like Neo as we come up against our arch villain. When our nemesis thinks he has us down for the count, and questions why we continue to persevere, let us each one personally answer in Christ’s strength, knowing we have a reason for it, “Because I choose.”
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The hope of God is always "unrealistic" because it is supernatural. When satan would tell you be realistic, he's really telling you not to trust in an omnipotent, sovereign God. God gives us promises, and satan says, "Did God really say....". Hang in there, kiddo, and onto the "unreal" promises of God.