We expect these to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, don’t we?
James 5:13 ESV
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
So we hear that if we are suffering, we are to pray. And if we are cheerful, we are to sing praise. And we are quite used to these two being separated by circumstances. This is something easy for even the minds of the worldly to grasp. Hurt and pain equals suffering, equals pray. Good and pleasurable equals cheerful, equals praise. Right? Yes, this is easy and simple logic for our carnal and logical minds to process and agree upon.
But what about a person who is cheerful about their suffering?
Now doesn’t that throw a wrinkle into the comfortable agreement in our thinking? Don’t we begin to ask, well if someone is really suffering, why would they be cheerful?
But Paul tells the Romans that rejoicing in suffering is exactly the kind of thing that Christians do.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5 ESV
And Jesus promised his followers that they would face persecution and suffering and trials and tribulation in this world, so what’s with all the singing and praising?
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
2 Timothy 3:12 ESV
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
Philippians 1:29 ESV
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV
Yes, it can seem confusing and foolish to our carnal minds for there ever to be a reason for us to rejoice about suffering. Who would choose a life of “cheerful suffering”?
That’s quite difficult to understand, isn’t it. So the Bible tells us –
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5 ESV
So we’re supposed to trust in the Lord, and do it with all of our heart. We’re supposed to use our heart instead of our mind. Hmm, that’s an interesting shift of perspective, don’t you think?
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 ESV
And we are learning about this new perspective so we might have peace. And this peace comes from trusting God with our whole hearts. This peace is meant to carry us through the sufferings. And again, He mentions taking “heart”, not logic, not mind, not thought, but “heart” and “trust” that He has overcome. This is quite a shift of perspective indeed.
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
So this peace, this whole hearted trusting in the Lord, guards us against worry so that we can live through everything in prayer and thanksgiving.
Prayer AND thanksgiving.
Prayer AND praise.
Suffering AND cheerful.
That’s quite a story there, don’t you think? This wise book of words is telling us something that is quite contrary to our own logical way of evaluating and reacting to the world around us. The wise of the world might say this is foolishness, or they might claim that it is false and just trickery for the simple to ensure their control and oppression by the wicked. But the evidence piles up against these claims.
If this advice was just to help someone endure the hardships of their life, offering the ruling elite a measure of moral control over the masses – would that advice empower people to choose suffering for themselves? Would that advice encourage people to rise up against the powers that be in order to advocate and fight for the weak, the poor, the afflicted, the needy, and the unwanted of this world in the face of the powerful?
And you are right that there are many who are religious who have no more care or concern for these “throw aways” of society than the ones who continue to oppress and take advantage of them. In fact, I would guess that many of the “religious” of the world use their own self righteous attitudes as an excuse to look down upon the cold, huddled masses from their big, warm houses and their life safely protected from any suffering, any trials, any tribulations. And they might be religious, but they are not righteous, they do not know the Lord, and sadly, they will meet the consequences of their actions because they have chosen their God and it is their belly.
Wow, preacher, you went on a tear there, didn’t you?
Yes, because peace is not a full belly, a full bank account, or a full set of pews at a church on Sunday morning. Peace is a life of faithfully serving the Lord throughout the week. Peace is if we have enough, we give generously to help those who do not. Peace is that if we do not have sufferings of our own that we share in the sufferings of others around us. Peace is that through it all, we cheerfully rejoice in our sufferings.
But how many miss out on peace because they are satisfied with comfort? How many of us sacrifice something Godly like peace, which passes all understanding – because we more comfortable trusting in ourselves and our wealth and our abilities to provide, instead of trusting the Lord to provide?
I hope that we will seek the cheerful praise in the midst of prayerful suffering that is peace. And if this is our life, not just a one time effort, but a change in perspective – then imagine the beautiful song of praise that will sing out to a world focused only on self and wealth and comfort and pleasure? Maybe they won’t be able to ignore the beauty of His glory and grace and power and wonder, shining in the light of a life truly touched by the hand of God.
Could we hope for a life where we might disappear and all that could be seen was a heart – foolishly, with so little understanding of the ways of this world, running with abandon into the fiery trials and sufferings and tribulations of this short life, living and serving others who have nothing to give us in return – a heart that had overcome the battles of the mind, because the victory was complete and the life was surrendered to a new Lord of the house? Could we hope for our life to be filled abs anointed with a type of song quite different to the world – almost as if we had been set apart for His Holy use, anointed by the presence of His very Spirit and nature, adopted into His family as a royal ambassador for God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, as, an, example of His will being done?
Yes, we can.
Yes, we should.
What will your life’s song be today?
I hope you find a life filled with cheerful suffering, with prayer and rejoicing, with the peace that passes all understanding, with Christ.