Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

1 Peter 4:12-13

Suffering. The very mention of the word causes me to shudder. Suffering. Unpleasant, hard, and miserable, yet counted to believers as part of our inheritance with Christ. (Romans 8:17) Ugh. As the Lenten season marches on closer and closer to Good Friday, it pushes us to examine the sufferings of our savior. Pain. Agony. Abandonment. Sorrow. Grief. Loss. There is no way to escape the truth that he suffered those things for us. We can and should retain hearts of gratitude for his gift, yet our response is not limited to that. Throughout the New Testament, Peter, Paul and even Christ himself call us to participate in the sufferings of Jesus. I can honestly say that I’ve never taken the time to find out what that means for me personally. I always assumed that it meant suffering persecution for Christ.

As I’ve rarely experienced an unkind word as a result of my faith, let alone actual physical pain, I have never considered how I might participate in Christ’s sufferings. Am I still even able to participate? Should I pack up and move to a country where I know that professing my faith will cost me more? Not necessarily. But the lack of persecution in my life should cause me to examine myself and make certain that I am living blatantly for Christ. That I am not hiding my desire to belong to this world behind a façade of being “loving” and “compassionate”, while all the time being too afraid to stand for truth. It is, in fact, a fine line, and I want to be sure I am always on the right side.

But regardless of the amount of persecution anyone suffers for his name, Christ suffered in ways none of us can ever duplicate. We will probably never be nailed to a cross, abandoned by all of our friends or beaten and spit on. We will certainly never face the harsh reality of God turning his face from us or bearing the load of a world of sin on our shoulders—his suffering made sure we never would. So how can any of us truly participate in his sufferings as we are called to do?

I realized, however, that Christ didn’t only suffer during his journey to the cross. He suffered when he saw the grief of his friends at the death of their brother Lazarus. He suffered when he saw his people, lost like sheep. He suffered the taunts and temptations of Satan in the desert. He suffered the pain of denying his own flesh and will and submitting to the will of his father in the Garden of Gethsemane.

We join Christ in his suffering when we feel the pain and loss of living in a fallen world, sickness, death, and broken relationships—both our own and those of the body of Christ. Our hearts break with his compassion and tenderness for those living apart from him. We suffer when we choose to deny ourselves and the temptations the world holds in front of us. We identify with Christ when we heed the call to obey, despite the cries of objection from our flesh.

The choice has to be to acknowledge and endure the suffering he has laid out for us. To faithfully drink from the cup set before us, regardless of its bitterness. And to rejoice. Yes, rejoice in these many sufferings because they pull us closer to Christ. Through these sufferings we enter into closer fellowship with him. This inconceivable fellowship leads us to sharing in his resurrection and future glorification. Sharing in his sufferings also produces things in us that easy paths never could: perseverance, character and hope. And finally, suffering with Christ leads us to closer fellowship with one another—namely the body of Christ. We receive his comfort in our suffering so that we can pour it back out to others when they suffer.

In the deep places of my heart, I still fear suffering. But I know that part of standing firm in the face of suffering is to prepare my heart with truth. To know that suffering is part of my calling and that his grace will walk me through it straight into glory. So when the fiery trials come, I know where I stand and where I am headed.