30 December 2018 – 5 January 2019.

Hebrews 12:1–13 (click to read).

When we look back over the past year we see that there have been good times but also difficult times – times of stress, sadness, and even suffering. Hebrews 12 talks about the way suffering can be used by God the Father to discipline and guide us his children. But it’s important to remember that not all suffering in our lives comes from God. Most of the time we suffer it’s because others use their hands and mouths to hurt us. And many times we suffer because of our own misguided actions and mistakes. At those times we shouldn’t think too quickly that this suffering is connected with God’s discipline or our faith lives. To do that would be to give others permission to keep hurting us, or to stop ourselves learning from our own mistakes.

But there is a truth to the argument in Hebrews 12. The more our faith grows and the closer we walk with God, the more open we will be to suffering. For one reason, as we learn in our discipleship life to prioritize God’s will over our own and to put the love of others first, we will naturally set aside our own selfish wishes and self-centredness. But dying to ourselves is painful, and it naturally leads to suffering. Second, when we devote ourselves to loving others and to living meekly and humbly, we find that others may quickly take advantage of our gentleness. That too leads to a lot of suffering and pain.

The writer of Hebrews wants us to know that this is a normal experience for us as Christ’s disciples. As we level up in our faith lives, as we live a life that is more true to Jesus’s example, the challenges we face really are going to become harder. In verses 3 and 4 the writer reminds us that Jesus, too, had to go through this same process. Jesus had to endure so much hostility and hurt, even to the point of death. While thankfully none of us need to die for our faith, we will still have to face difficult times of stress and suffering if we want to live like Jesus. After all, as Jesus tells us in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

The good news is that this process helps to make us stronger in our faith lives. We can’t spend our lives playing on easy mode; we need to keep moving up to higher levels and harder challenges. But that doesn’t mean the suffering, when it comes, hurts any less. That’s why it’s so important for us in the church community to be here for one another, to support and encourage each other, and for us to face these challenges and times of suffering together. That’s why God gives us brothers and sisters in the faith – so we can face the challenges of faith life together.

We don’t know where the new year will lead us. But whatever challenges and troubles come we can trust and know that Christ is with us, always leading us to good things. And we can know, too, that in the church we are all here for one another.

May you have a bright, blessed, and joyful new year!

Pastor Stephen Lakkis