"I want you to know how glad I am that it's me sitting here in this jail and not you. There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church's part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God's way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth." (Colossians 1:24-26; THE MESSAGE)
I read this and had to ask myself this question: "Do I even know what suffering is?" I went on to write this in my journal: "An inconvenience is not the same as suffering. I don't even know if a 'trial' is the same as suffering. In what way am I suffering, and if I am, do I rejoice? Am I others-centered in my suffering?" I think the truth is this: I don't suffer. In fact, the first inclination that I have when suffering approaches in any form is to do whatever is necessary to alleviate it rather than grow through and serve with it.
In reality, I'm a selfish man. This is one of the many vices that Jesus is having to work out of me. I'm selfish. But when struggles or trials hit, I see ME!!! I get even more self-centered. Yet Paul sees it differently. Because of God's Spirit living in him, he sees times of suffering as opportunities presented by Jesus for him to serve others. Look at it again: "...I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God's way of helping me serve you,..." To serve others. Notice this:
Paul saw the suffering that he faced as a sheer gift from God. How was Paul suffering? HE WAS IN PRISON BECAUSE HE LOVED JESUS!!! That's suffering, and yet he sees his time in the prison cell as a sheer gift from Jesus to serve the church at Colossae. Jesus is the one who promised that we would have trouble and trials in this life. "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). He has warned us. But we also must remember that he we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to see suffering as opportunities to serve others rather than to get self-focused and bitter.
The only way this makes sense to me is this. So often I have prayed for my family and asked Jesus, "Whatever pain/sickness is supposed to come to them, give it to me." I've often walked into my boys' room and asked Jesus to give me any disease that they are going to have to face. Why? I love my boys. I love my family. So often while my wife was going through thyroid cancer treatment I asked Jesus to let me take it. Why? Because I love her. I want those things that could hurt those that I love to come upon me because I don't want to see them hurt.
Here's the problem though: that's not natural to me for every suffering that comes up. When I do face tough times, I become very self-focused rather than others-focused.
I've got a whole lot of room for growth in this area of my life.