John 12:20-50 (spring AD 30, Monday of Passion Week)
This is what Jesus said in today’s reading, four days before being crucified:
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (v.27-28).
Compare that with what Jesus in Gethsemane, less than 24 hours before being nailed to the cross:
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42.
Jesus knew, his whole life, that he was sent to be the physical sacrifice that would lead to a spiritual (and ultimately physical) new birth for all God’s people. We see on the Monday of Passion Week the first sign of what would become more explicit by Thursday: the idea of being tortured to death while separated from his Father was, in itself, torture. And Jesus most emphatically did NOT want to go through it.
He was troubled on Monday, he would be almost overwhelmed by Thursday. But on Monday as on Thursday, he deferred the decision to his Father. He did not doubt the wisdom or the plan, however much he wanted it to be different.
This is hard for us to do, and a tough example to follow, even as we struggle with far less serious afflictions and situations than Jesus was faced with.
Most of the time God doesn’t signpost our sufferings, because they don’t typically involve grand destinations like the salvation of humanity. Most of the time when we suffer, (and for most of us, – every time we suffer), it’s far more mundane. Most suffering is designed to do nothing more than the provide the latest in a long line of lessons about how much we need God, how little we have without him, and how important it is to cling on to him. On some occasions it may be discipline, on a few occasions it may relate to guidance. At other times, it will be directly related to serving God.
So…should we pray for suffering to go, or shouldn’t we?
I can’t think of ANY suffering that I would welcome, and nothing in the Bible tells me that I should. And I would ALWAYS pray for suffering to go away.
And yet when we suffer for any reason, we should use it to relearn our need of God, which draws us closer to him and helps us to find greater joy in him.
And when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we should rejoice that we are counted worthy, and be encouraged that our suffering for Christ is evidence that we will have glory with Christ.
Don’t be ashamed that suffering troubles you. Of course it troubles you. It troubles me. Let’s just pray that when we suffer, it will drive us towards God in prayer, as it did with Jesus, rather than away from him in despair.