READ: Deuteronomy 25-27, Psalm 61, Luke 17, 2 Corinthians 1
Two days ago I was in Jordan, near the border of Syria, listening to an Arab in Bedouin garb play the American tune “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on Scottish bagpipes while standing in an ancient Roman amphitheater. Today I am in Tunisia thinking about my Sudanese and international friends who are gathered in Ethiopia to listen to the Holy Spirit. Over 100 of our colleagues have been kicked out of Sudan over the last three months. It is reported that almost 50 Sudanese are currently imprisoned in Khartoum and some of them have been shamefully treated and abused.
Jesus never intended us to suffer alone. We may not physically be able to cross oceans or deserts and sit in lonely cells with colleagues – but we are intended to traverse that distance spiritually and to bear the burdens of our brothers in prayer. Followers of Jesus under duress are empowered to bear unimaginable suffering when they know that they do not agonize alone. Collaborative suffering is bearable suffering.
Knowing that others have suffered (from Scripture, from history) and blossomed in that pain is necessary preparation for our own trial. We can shore up our souls for trouble by reading and meditating on how those who have gone before us found strength to glorify Jesus before snarling beasts and men. The trials of others help us, and our trials in turn help others, for “the God of all comfort comforts us in ALL our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in ANY trouble with the comfort with which we have been comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Paul goes on to explain that both sufferings and consolations abound in Christ, and because there is a general (collective) experience of both, there is endurance for salvation and consolation.
If our collective prior suffering helps those now under pressure, their current anguish also then comforts us. Our suffering helps one another. When my Sudanese brothers and sisters suffer, it draws me to them, it puts my marginal trials in perspective, it gives me courage for my major challenges. God, too, participates in collaborative suffering – primarily because He suffered for us, but just as importantly by allowing suffering, “so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). When our heart is overwhelmed, God leads us to Himself, the rock that is higher than us (Ps. 61:2). Suffering collectively teaches the body of Christ to depend on Him and to anticipate life from the dead. Suffering is intended to be redemptive, and suffering for the gospel always leads to unreached peoples responding from their graves.
Thus, we “help together in prayer” (2 Cor. 1:11). May we linger and wrestle in prayer with our family around the world who are being abused for Jesus’ sake. Until they know it cognitively, they will feel it spiritually. Our prayers can sustain them. Their prayers will be needed to one day sustain us. We are in this together. Our suffering in some strange way partners with the suffering of Jesus to bring eternal comfort to His lost ones.