1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 "You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia - your faith in God has become known everywhere."
This is the beginning of a letter written by Paul to encourage the new believers in Thessalonica who were experiencing persecution from non-believers. Paul is reminding them that their persecution is not unique or isolated to them but that Paul, Silas and Timothy who were recently there, also underwent persecution and their ultimate example of who they were imitating in their suffering was Jesus. We all need encouragement to stand strong in our faith, especially in times of trial. This is repeated in James 1:2-3 when James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."
This reminds me of Pastor Steve’s current message series, Anti-fragile. When we are attacked there are 3 possible outcomes: 1. to be broken, 2. to survive, or 3. to be made stronger.
God doesn’t promise a life free of suffering but promises he will never leave us or forsake us. When times of trial come, it’s the drawing closer to God during those times that bring about joy in our suffering. Having a firm foundation in God and knowing that the storm is coming from the enemy, the author of the attack, and partnering with God to fight against it is a model of what faith looks like. The source of our joy isn’t the attack, the hurt, or the scars, it’s God’s faithfulness. It’s important to remember we are not alone in our suffering and that Jesus is the ultimate model of being made stronger through suffering.
The first time I grasped the idea of joy in suffering was during a miscarriage I experienced 2 years ago. Thankfully I had just joined the women’s bible study and we were going through the book of James. As I was pouring out my heart through prayer during that time and relying on God to get me through my suffering, I read James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” It was then that I understood that though the trial itself was not joyful, I was finding joy in being close to God. I experienced God’s faithfulness many times through His words and actions. His faithfulness through that trial continues to this day. I was unable to go on the two mission trips prior to this year which thankfully meant I had accumulated the time off I needed to go to Oaxaca, Mexico. Because I was going to Oaxaca, I chose to sponsor a little girl there named Silvia, whose birthday, though 5 years older, was close to the birthday of the baby we lost. Upon getting to Oaxaca, I got to meet Silvia and her family. I knew she had an older sister and a little brother who are in the program too, but to my surprise she also has a baby sister whose age and birthday is close to the expected birthday of the little girl we lost. Now, I get to encourage Silvia and pray for her and her family as she grows up. Life is not easy, but our joy is made complete through Jesus!