Joy and Suffering
Introduction: As we explore the beliefs of Drakes UMC, it is helpful to contrast Drakes with other church cultures in the United States. One of those waves that may broadside us and catch us off guard is how to deal with difficulties and suffering. This topic explores this.
Many churches emphasize the joy and prosperity that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, but they fail to redefine joy and prosperity in "kingdom" terms instead of "worldly" terms. These congregations might think that being a follower of Jesus and chasing after the world's definition of material success is proper. I am not saying that worldly prosperity is bad for God often blesses us today as He blessed Abraham; but the Joy of the Lord does not come from these blessings directly, but from using these blessings to bless others and to build up God's Kingdom. The bigger point is that prosperity that God especially has waiting for us is the rewards found in heaven, not the earthly ones. This what we need to be preaching in our churches, and that perhaps we are looking for earthly rewards in the wrong places. My friend Andy will tell you that he found both earthly and heavenly rewards when he visits the least of these in Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and shares the joy and hope that is found in Christ Jesus. Ed would tell you the payment he receives when he distributes clothes, food and the Good News to the homeless is priceless. The joy that comes from these situations is indescribable and perhaps need to be experienced to really grasp the joy that comes from walking with God.
At Drakes UMC, we have heard the suffering that the Apostle Paul had gone through in his life, and yet Paul considered this suffering a great joy because he was doing the will of the Father in sharing the Good News with the lost. Paul was not surprised by this suffering as Jesus promised would come. Jesus tells us that we should consider it joy because our rewards are in heaven when we suffer for His sake. General human suffering, in contrast to suffering for the sake of righteousness, is also viewed different by God. In Romans 5, we learn that suffering and afflictions are useful for God's purpose in refining our character and the growing dependence on God's love and Spirit to get us through the difficulties we face. There has been many a testimony given (some within Drakes UMC) that without difficulties and afflictions, they would not have the relationship they now have with God. Many would never had found God, and would have missed out on spending an eternity with God and a joy that is indescribable.