Thursday, April 10, 2008

Suffering? Big whoop

American Bible Society has been featuring Peter's epistles lately. Peter talks a great deal about suffering for the kingdom. Notice I said "for the kingdom." Sometimes we suffer, we struggle, we get down and we want to be able to cry out, "Lord, help, I'm being persecuted!" But if your garbage man keeps knocking over your garbage cans or you need a new AC unit in your house, is that really suffering for the kingdom or just an everyday annoyance compliments of life?

I want to suggest that we are all too quick to identify every little aggravation in life as an opportunity to put on our Martyr's game face and bemoan it. Big whoop! If you are breathing air in and out this very moment, annoying and irritating stuff is going to happen to you all of the time. I seriously doubt it has anything to do with suffering for God's kingdom.

If you shoot your mouth off at church, pick a fight with a coworker, cheat on your taxes, let your dog poop in your neighbor's yard or run a red light at one of those intersections with the cameras, should you be very surprised of the negative consequences? Look what Peter says:

"If you suffer, it must not be because you are a murderer or a thief or a criminal or a meddler in other people's affairs." -- 1 Peter 4:15

That ain't suffering for the kingdom! That's an example of what comes around goes around (or however that saying goes).

If you have a ministry that requires time and effort on your part (and even an occasional shelling out of the almighty dollar), I'm not certain that this qualifies as suffering for the kingdom. Didn't you know what you were getting into? Didn't you tell at least one person, "Sure, I can do that." If you thought the ministry was going to be a cake walk, why'd ya say yes? Better yet, what honor is there is working for the kingdom if you can practically accomplish it in your sleep? Didn't you know that there would be ups and downs from one week to the next?

See, I'm wondering if what we want to label as "suffering" for the kingdom is really lazy ministry or status quo. If I don't prepare my lesson properly and then have my ideas soundly rejected by the women at the rehab, should I be surprised? If I don't get enough sleep night after night after night, can I really say that my ministry is exhausting me? No, life is exhausting me! I know God is the God of the impossible, but should I be trying to pull down a metaphysical miracle every single day?

On Wednesday, both groups of women that I teach were in a dark, funky mood. One because they seem to be this way most of the time. The other because everyone was on lock down as a result of a few who broke the rules. I walked out of there thinking, "Get my my psychological shower NOW!" Is that suffering? Shoot, that's just cause and effect, plain and simple. I should probably walk in there every week asking myself, "Well, wonder what it's going to be this week."

Suffering for the kingdom in this day and age -- where the chances are pretty slim that we will be required to endure physical pain, financial hardship, or loss of life -- seems pretty nonexistent.

I remember years ago when I had to take a defensive driving course, the instructor told us to try to predict who would cut you off in traffic or do some other jerky bad driver behavior. Then when they did it, you didn't have to respond in kind by shooting the bird or honking your horn. You predicted it. You won! Hooray! I think I'm going to try to take on this attitude in my own ministry. I'm going to stop framing ministry days as "tough" or "challenging" or "dark" or "exhausting" when it's business as usual or when something happens that one might naturally expect, given the environment. Instead, I'll just say, "Woo hoo, predicted that one. High five for me!"

Doesn't that sound much more refreshing and healthy? Wouldn't that be more pleasing to God? I think so.

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