I was in Richmond this weekend visiting some friends from college who moved there to start an inner-city ministry. Part of their ministry is actually living in the inner city and becoming involved in the lives of those they meet. To do this, they go to a community church that was started by two other churches in the area. I don’t know all the details of the church or its people, but as I walked into the service on Sunday afternoon, I saw a picture of what the Church should look like: Not just one color and not just one economic demographic and not just one age.
The message was given by a camp director and something he said really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but he said “The world will not change when they see Christians prosper. The world will change when they see Christians rejoicing through suffering.”
Most Christians agree that the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is a bunch of malarkey. But how often do we buy into our own version of the prosperity Gospel? We feel entitled to the American dream of a nice home, two kids and a steady job. It’s our right to be able to eat every meal and to be healthy and live until we're 99. And when any of those things are tested, we begin to wonder “Why me?” We’ve bought into the American mantra that living the easy life is the right of every person, rather than remembering that we were told we would suffer—it comes with the territory of being in this world but not of this world. Paul even tells us to suffer for the Gospel (Romans 8:17 and 2 Timothy 1:8) and in 1 Corinthians we are told to bless and endure suffering (4:12-13) even when we are hungry and clothed in rags.
Does this mean we can’t be sad or upset when we suffer? Of course not! Read the Psalms and you’ll find it’s full of the cries of people who are suffering. The problem lies in expecting to never suffer and then being upset and affronted when we do.
As I chewed on what the speaker said, I was reminded of the incident a few years ago when a man entered an Amish school in Pennsylvania and murdered several children and then shot himself. A few girls who didn’t die suffered injuries that will affect them the rest of their lives. Most people would take this chance to become angry and the world would say they are justified. Instead, that Amish community used the funds that people donated to help the family of the man who did this horrible thing. They offered forgiveness and reached out to others, and that’s what the country remembered.
Shouldn’t that also be the testimony of Christians? Even though we suffer, we rejoice. Even when we live in a world going through an economic crisis, we praise God for His blessings. And then, the world will know us by our joy in Christ and our joy in suffering.