Thursday, February 20, 2014

Exemplary in Affliction

. . . for you received the word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia (1 Thess. 1:6-7).

While people will applaud your triumphs, they are far more likely to be helped by your troubles.

Our triumphs, however, get all the good press. We want people to know about the win. We’re quick to speak of the favorable circumstances, the success, the blessing that unexpectedly comes our way or the achievement that follows our hard work.

This is not to say that we’re prone to obnoxious boasting. That our triumphs are so easily shared is no surprise. We naturally delight in good news, and even if we’re selective in how we share it we want others to get in on the celebration. Our joy is heightened when others are around ‘in-joy’ it with us.

Not so with our troubles. As easily and as often as our triumphs are shared, our troubles are quietly tucked away, relegated to some remote corner of the soul.

There is a familiar proverb that says a companion can double your joys and halve your sorrows. Of course this assumes that that our sorrows are shared in the first place. That we too often keep them too ourselves is both a detriment to us and a loss to others. While people will look at our successes with admiration and sometimes envy, they are far more helped by seeing our afflictions and how we deal with them.

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica he remarked on how they had become an exemplary church for the region. Their reputation had spread quickly not because of their power or wealth or great numbers. Rather, they were exemplary because of their troubles. They had borne up under pressure and endured affliction in a spirit of confident joy.

For this very reason the global church is exemplary for us today.

They are a model community for the affluent and technologized church in the western world. They model for us courage in the face of suffering. They evidence joy in the simple gift of community because they often do not possess the things in which we take joy. When we look around the world, especially today in places like Syria and Iran, we see Christians who know what it is to be afflicted. And we see Christians who are joyful nevertheless.

What was true of the Thessalonians, what is true today of the persecuted church, is true of your life. Your most powerful witness to the goodness and grace of God will not likely be seen in your wealth or your perfect family or your latest triathlon or your recent promotion. All of these things are wonderful and worthy of celebration. But people are most deeply impacted when they see affliction with joy.

Whatever affliction you’re carrying today, someone else is sharing that same struggle or one very much like it. You need not loudly flaunt your miseries – but don’t mask your troubles behind your triumphs.

Your affliction, mingled with the grace of confident hope and joy, is a powerful witness that others need to see. This is true in our world, and it is true where you live.

Grant us grace, O God, to bear affliction with a spirit of confident joy. Comfort us in trouble so that we can comfort others. And use our troubles as a powerful witness to your faithfulness and love, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

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