Anyway, I told you all of that to tell you that this morning, during my devotions, I was thinking about the Christmas gift exchange game, "Dirty Santa." You know the one, right? As each person picks a gift from under the tree, they can decide whether to keep the gift or swap it for one that someone else has already received. It's a fun game as long as all the people participating are good-natured and unselfish.
So, you're probably wondering why I was thinking of that during my devotions on a morning in early March, right? Well, I came across a verse, and the more I meditated on the verse, the more I thought about "Dirty Santa." Let me see if I can explain. (I promise there is a method to my madness!)
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. - Philippians 1:29
This short verse highlights a couple of gifts from God. First, the gift of belief. Ephesians 2 tells us that our faith is not of ourselves but is a gift of God. God gives us the ability to believe in and on Him. What an awesome gift! Definitely a keeper. Unfortunately, the gift-giving doesn't end there, for the verse goes on to explain that God also gives us the ability and opportunity to suffer for His sake. A gift of suffering? Who wants that? In a game of "Dirty Santa," that is certain to be the last gift standing. Nobody wants a gift like that! I mean, seriously, who would call suffering a gift. It's more like a curse, right?
To the human mind and perspective, yes. But to God, who sees the whole picture, suffering truly is a gift, and He tells us as much in other passages of the Bible.
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. - Hebrews 12:10-11
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. - James 1:2-4
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. - Romans 5:3-5
Suffering, in and of itself, is not fun or desirable, but what it yields certainly is. Hebrews says it allows us to be partakers of God's holiness and to possess the peaceable fruit of righteousness. James tells us that our suffering will bring forth patience and perseverance to the point that we'll want for nothing. And Romans goes a step further by expounding that patience brings experience and, in turn, experience yields hope. Who doesn't want hope?
I'm reminded of an old movie where a group of warriors were going on a dangerous mission. Before they set off, they were each given a gift that would somehow aid them on the journey. One member thought highly of himself and was disappointed to discover that his gift was a rock. Frustrated, he threw it away before the journey ever began, thinking it to be worthless. Fortunately, another of the warriors witnessed his discarding of the rock, picked it up and placed it in his pouch. Before long, the team of warriors came to an impasse, and the leader asked for the rock to be presented. The one who had discarded the rock was embarrassed and admitted that he had thrown it away. The second warrior stepped forward and presented the rock. The leader forcefully threw the rock down on the ground where it broke open, exposing an arrowhead inside. As the warriors watched, the arrowhead began to move of its own accord, leading the group through the way of safety. The arrogant warrior learned that the rock was much more than it had appeared to be.
Suffering is the same. We would so easily discard it if we could. We don't like it. It's painful and miserable. It's discouraging and draining. We'd much rather swap it out for joy or peace or laughter, but that's just not the way it works because the things that we truly desire lie on the other side of suffering. Hope, peace, patience. They are all available to us, but are we willing to pay the price? As the old saying goes, "No pain, no gain!"