A friend asked me about what it means to suffer for Christ. I thought I'd share my response:
You raise a wonderful paradox of our faith. You ask: "Does this mean we are supposed to be doing the same?" and I want to shout, yes! Of course we should be doing the same! Why do you feel you've been doing it all wrong? Because you have not suffered? I want to be clear about the kind of suffering Paul talks about - its the best kind. But it is specific, especially for those Christians who want to live a Christian life, Americans have it easy and yet we don't. We have all these resources at our fingertips - we can be blind sometimes to the best gifts among us. Suffering for Christ is not about taking a stance on some important topic and getting struck down as a martyr (although that might happen). Suffering for Christ is not about lashing yourself day in and out for realizing how big a sinner you are (although you are, but there is joy in salvation through Christ). Suffering for Christ is about one thing, and the side effect is suffering - not because God wants you to suffer, but because it hurts the world to know there is a better way that is hard to choose: Suffering for Christ is about loving others as Jesus loves us. When you can do that correctly, it brings great pain. This is because our call to be Christ-followers will put us up against strangers who don't understand. Our call to be Christ-followers will put us up against our loved ones. Our parents, our church family, our own children (one day, Lord willing), and our closest friends. It will sometimes even pit you against yourself. When you want to deny someone forgiveness or daily bread because of your pride, something in you will rise up and cause conflict. You'll be torn - between what you want and what Christ wants. And that brings suffering. Why? Because the love Christ has for us is best seen in how we love others. Just to make sure I'm clear - Running around and causing suffering is not Christ-like. Running around and loving people (then being hated or persecuted because others don't understand) is Christ-like. If you are looking at a person's life and trying to find Spiritual fruits of labor, an excellent indicator is suffering. It gives a great opportunity for growth and development. But you don't go looking for suffering, it finds you. You are looking for Christ's love. Like Paul, if you claim the suffering of Christ, make sure its because your actions are undeniably something Jesus would do. And that might be cliche and it might sound hokey - but once you realize the only way to live is as Christ - anything less than that is a suffering in itself. Its a hard choice to make. But one choice leads to life (here and later), and the other leads to death (here and later!). As a believer of Christ, you have been given a spirit of adoption, not a spirit of fear. I'd encourage you that nothing you do can merit the love of Jesus. Not even suffering. Once you can really grasp you are loved (and thus free to be yourself), suffering is just like anything else - secondary to God's love. Remember, you were included into the Body of Christ yourself, can you bring others in?