Living in community with others is one of the greatest joys that God has given his church. It fills our life with meaning, purpose, mission, love, acceptance, sharpening and joy, and it’s a mile-marker, a deep and beautiful shadow that casts shade on our life pointing us to that day when we will live in inexplicably joyful and satisfying relationships with everyone around us.
It’s worth every ounce of energy you have to give it, for in biblical community you learn more about yourself, the world He has created, his people he has made and of course, more about the Creator himself. Any believer who is serious about knowing God and his own sanctification is aggressively pursuing community with others.
Small groups are hard though, and they at times go through deep seasons of pain and suffering, that often times leave lasting scars, battle wounds borne out of burden-bearing, sin-fighting and mutual-suffering. Community, like all things that add beauty and weight to this life, are rarely easy, but are worth it in every way.
Here are a few things to remember when your group is going through a season of suffering:
This is Normal:
Peter reminds us that suffering in this life is expected and normal. So corporate suffering results when believers, living life together, take on the suffering of each other. It should be a beautiful and common part of the Christian life. Peter reminds us: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…” (I Pet. 4:1) Believers are to engage suffering with a holy boldness in light of Christ’s example and by doing this, they are stating their purpose in life lies not in the temporary comforts of this world, but in the hope of the one to come. Be hopeful.
This is Common:
Peter later reminds us that “…the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (I Pet. 5:9) Whatever suffering your group is walking through, you are in good, sweet company because you are surrounded by a global body who is also experiencing similar struggles. Be encouraged.
This is Purposeful:
Paul’s reminder in Romans is powerful: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing the suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5) The purpose of trials is this: It is one of God’s primary tools to sanctifying his people and making us into his image. Any period of suffering, needs this powerful reminder. This is for your good, every time. Your suffering is not wasted, it is spent on making you more like Christ.
This is Temporary:
One of my favorite passages is Romans 8. Here Paul does not mince words on the temporary nature of suffering, and the eternal contrast of suffering and the future hope we have. He writes: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…we wait eagerly for adoption s sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (vs 18, 24) Our sufferings are not only normal, common and purposeful, they are temporary and pail in comparison with the glory that God will bring about in us, his redeemed creation.
So leaders, lead your groups in light of these truths. When a child is lost, a marriage is broken, an addiction creeps in, don’t gloss over the pain of suffering and don’t let it drown you. Live within the tension of present reality and future hope. Take confidence and hideaway in the sovereign hand of God when he leads you or your community into seasons of suffering.