i think another area that reveals our differing attitude about suffering from the early church is the way we pray. The things we pray for and the amount of time we spend praying for certain things can reveal what is important to us.
i find that public prayers contain a lot of supplication for safety and circumstance. 'Help keep us safe.' 'Please remove such and such a hardship from us.' 'Please make things comfortable.' i'm not suggesting that it's always wrong to ask God to alter circumstances to our benefit. But what kind of benefits do we spend our time praying for? And how does that amount of time compare with how much we pray for spiritual benefits? For all the time we ask God to end our suffering, how often do we ask for resilience, courage, and character growth from our suffering?
We also spend a lot of time thanking God for the religious freedom we experience in America. i don't think i should stop being thankful for that. But i've started to wonder, would we be Christians if that political freedom were taken away? Are there people praying those prayers and sitting in the pews listening who are only "Christians" because it's easy? And what are we using that religious freedom for? To be even more radical and daring at spreading Christ's kingdom than we would be if our country didn't give us that freedom? How does this compare to the amount of time we spend asking God to help us be unwavering in our faith regardless of our political circumstance?
Another part of prayer that reveals our views about suffering is a lack of what i call "dangerous prayer." i remember having a conversation with my brother one day about how both of us were afraid to pray certain prayers because we were scared of how God may choose to answer them. i'm talking about prayers like this: "God, please do whatever You have to do to make me who You want me to be." "Please make me a better disciple of Christ no matter what the cost." These prayers are scary to pray because there are costs and things God could do that i honestly don't want to experience--things i don't want to suffer, not even if it gets me the spiritual benefits i'm asking for. What does that reveal about my values? Surely it reveals that i value my own comfort more than nearness to God and likeness to Christ. Does that sound like the same priorities as Jesus, the apostles, or the early church?
When we're suffering, we typically get on our knees and beg God to make it stop. In Acts 4, when the apostles were publicly flogged for preaching the gospel, they went to church, got on their knees together, and prayed that God would make them even bolder and more courageous in their preaching. Why would they do that? Wouldn't more boldness get them arrested again? Wouldn't being more courageous in their preaching likely increase their suffering at the hands of the authorities? Obviously, they didn't value their personal comfort over and above the spread of Christ's kingdom and their opportunity to be agents in that process.
So what if we tried something different? What if instead of only praying for our sick to be healed, we prayed that God would help them be radiant exemplars of Christian hope and victory over death and dying? --that not amount of sickness or disease would stop them from being awe-inspiring servants in Christ's kingdom? What if instead praying for the safety and success of the American military, we prayed God would raise up missionaries to go into the most dangerous parts of the earth? What if instead of praying for God to end a particular struggle or suffering or persecution, we asked Him to help us to relate more to Christ and His sufferings (and maybe even asked Him not to turn down the heat until we do)? What if instead of asking God to make things easier for us to move around in the world, we asked Him to give us such courage that no obstacle, no matter how daunting, would stop us from going where He sends?
Our attitudes about suffering differ from Jesus, the apostles, and early Christians in a way that is not trivial. Our thinking and behavior on this matter, however subconscious it may be sometimes, reveals sinful attitudes and sinful fears that we ought to repent of if we aim to follow Christ and restore first century Christianity.