2. Beaten innumerable times
3. In danger of death
4. 39 lashes, 5x
5. 3x beaten with rods
6. 1x stoned
7. 3x shipwrecked
8. A night and a day spent in the deep
9. Danger from rivers
10. Dangers from robbers
11. Dangers from the Gentiles
12. Dangers in the city
13. Dangers on the sea
14. Dangers among false brethren
15. Labor and hardship through sleepless nights
16. Hunger and thirst, often without food
17. Cold and exposure
and, if that were not enough...
18. Daily pressure of concern for the churches
(from 2 Corinthians 11: 23-28)
Do you relate to Paul's list?
I don't either. At least not as I read through the first 17 of his sufferings. Why, then, do we often feel our struggles so severe and overwhelming? Perhaps the Apostle Paul summed it up clearly when he saved the most poignant for last: "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:28) Paul essentially compares the emotional and mental strain of caring deeply for the body of Christ to the physical pain and mistreatment. He knew what it was to suffer externally and internally, for the sake of Christ. He knew the tremendous weight of ministry. He understood disappointment, heartache, and utter dependence on Christ for his very breath....and for hope of what is imperishable.
Perhaps you need to be reminded today, as I do, that:
1. Suffering produces perseverance.
Don't you find that we are quick to desire Paul's perseverance, but slow to welcome the seasons of suffering. But, the same man who could boast in his sufferings, also did so in the power of Christ:
...I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
2. Suffering identifies us with Christ.
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.
(1 Peter 2: 21)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation...but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
(1 Peter 4: 12-13, 16b)
How great God's grace and goodness to allow us to share in Christ's sufferings, and as a result, grow in perseverance and eternal-mindedness. I don't know how else to look at it today, but to follow the example of Paul in the face of his trials and suffering: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!"