Is Suffering a Spiritual Discipline We Should Pursue?
Some People Avoid Persecution and Others Pursue It
In my post that listed spiritual disciplines, I explained that spiritual disciplines are an activity we willingly pursue to draw us closer to God or to honor him. After listing seventeen examples of spiritual disciplines, I wondered about four more possibilities. One of those is suffering. Is there a spiritual discipline of suffering?
Though it’s true that some people suffer needlessly for their faith, it’s more correct that sometimes people unavoidably suffer for their beliefs under repressive regimes and in oppressive cultures. They have no choice in this, so we can’t really say it’s a spiritual discipline because they didn’t willingly embrace it. Or can we? Consider our possible attitudes and responses to suffering.
Choose to Suffer
For us to consider suffering as a spiritual discipline, it must be something we voluntarily practice, perhaps even intentionally pursue. We have a choice in this. We can choose to avoid going places, taking actions, or making statements that open us up for verbal criticism and physical attack. When it comes to taking a stand for Jesus, we opt to remain inconspicuous. In doing so we don’t pursue the spiritual gift of suffering.
The opposite occurs when we look for opportunities to go places, take actions, and make statements to tell others about Jesus or serve him with intention—regardless of the outcome. This boldness to stand for what we believe—despite the possibility that we could face persecution as a result—is a full embrace of the spiritual discipline of suffering.
We see the early church doing this. They ask the Lord for boldness to push past the opposition they face so they may advance the kingdom of God. He answers their prayer by sending the Holy Spirit to empower them for bold witness (Acts 4:29-31).
Another consideration of what the spiritual discipline of suffering may entail is in our response to endearing pain for the cause of Jesus. Perhaps we didn’t willingly choose to face persecution, but we can choose our reaction to it. When faced with criticism or harm after taking a stand for our faith, do we bemoan our pain or praise God that we’re worthy to suffer for him and his cause?
The early church also exemplifies this. Hauled in before the religious counsel, the apostles must explain their actions that offend Jewish leaders. Peter speaks boldly about Jesus, his sacrificial death, and Holy Spirit power. The Council wants to execute the apostles, but after discussion, they decide to merely whip them and command them to stop talking about Jesus. His followers leave celebrating the fact that they were good enough to suffer for him (Acts 5:40-41).They celebrated the fact that they were good enough to suffer for Jesus. Click To Tweet
Avoid or Embrace the Spiritual Discipline of Suffering
In many cases, we can choose to remain quiet and keep our faith a secret, therefore avoiding suffering for our faith. The opposite is looking for opportunities to speak about our faith with openness and boldness, choosing to do so even if persecution may result.
This is the spiritual discipline of suffering.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.