Is it a rod, a thorn or a cross?

crossthornsMinistering to persecuted Christians in Orissa, teaching CPE at the Baptist hospital and now serving in restricted access countries, I’m asked questions on the purpose of pain. Suffering is a human experience we are ‘called’ to endure (Phil.1:29), the one language we all recognize. Yet our view of and reaction to pain makes a difference. It depends on how we perceive what is happening to us during suffering. Following Christ on the path of true discipleship is marked by constant struggle, conflict and trials. In all this, we need to discover pain’s meaning, God’s design and greater purposes. Normally we seek relief, a quick fix, some way out at any cost. A criterion I’ve found helpful to understand and undertake God’s purposes in and for my pain is to ask: Is this a rod, a thorn, or a cross?

1. If the analogy of a ‘rod of correction’ is what my suffering is about, I dare not miss my lesson in God’s training course and parental care (Heb.12:5). There is always that selfishness or stubbornness in God’s children that makes us careless and disobedient in doing His ‘good, acceptable and perfect will’. So, if it is a rod, we don’t choose it, God gives us this chastening. While experiencing the pain of His rod’s rebuke, remember it is not because our Father God doesn’t love us, but precisely because he does! His rod, and staff, both comfort, i.e. strengthen us. We must recognize the rod is administered not to bring out the worst but the best in us; to make us like Jesus.

2. A ‘thorn in the flesh’ can be a persistent physical discomfort, ache or ailment that reveals our weakness. Thorns can be from different sources, like from the devil as in Paul’s case (2Cor.12:7). It could come from an enemy or a friend, as a result of our own stupidity or just being part of fallen creation or humanity. It can be Satan’s ‘attack’ or God’s ‘gift’. Hence, a serious question to ask is, whether the Lord wants us to get rid of it or experience more of his presence enduring it. The thorn can refine our pride, remind us of our frailty and cause us to rely on God’s sufficient grace. It is purposeful in prodding us to selfless, humble service for the good of others and God’s glory.

3. Unlike the rod  God administers, and thorn  He allows, my cross  I freely choose in sacrificial love, for another – Jesus! This mark of true discipleship indicates self-denial and total commitment to the cause of Christ (Lk.9:23). The cross is never externally imposed. Bearing one’s cross means daily dying to selfish ambitions, often to suffer unjustly for righteousness or Christ’s sake and share in his sufferings. Those crucified, hung dying with outstretched hands, totally surrendered with no rights and no more fights. Such costly identification, the badge of a true witness, meant martyrdom! Followers of Christ pay this high price for someOne they value more than life. They willing endanger their comfort and endure shame, fully aware Jesus’ Spirit is with them, there’s a joy God has set before them and they will soon share in Christ’s glory.

Sufferings come in various shapes, sizes and from different sources but always by God’s directive or permissive will to fulfill His purposes in and through us. So, how should we respond to suffering? Christians don’t consider pain in a retributive framework, balancing good and bad (karma), nor resign to it in glib fatalism (kismeth) but as God’s sheer grace (charis). This grace is embodied ‘in Christ’ and symbolized by his cross, where he was beaten with rods and pierced with a crown of thorns. Herein is comfort; that Jesus knows our pain and what is best for us, in love he shares our suffering and his power delivers or sustains us through it. Thus, the cross of Christ is the alchemy that transforms our sufferings into an experience of God’s glorious grace – now, that’s what is so amazing!

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7 comments

  1. Dear Dr. Thank you for this bible study. I like how you connected with cross, rod and thorn in the conclusion “grace is embodied ‘in Christ’ and symbolized by his cross, where he was beaten with rods and pierced with a crown of thorns” After reading this i could really connect the pain of suffering to the suffering of Jesus Christ . hope you are busy with the ministry. May God bless you

  2. The call for enduring the suffering is not easy. I ask God to give me strength and grace, so that i will run my race and complete it. Thank you Dr. Chris for bringing these thoughts.

  3. Hey Chris, great message – thanks. There is also the general suffering that comes from living in a broken world which is neither the rod, the thorn or the cross. Romans 8.18-27 stuff, about the whole of creation groaning etc – I guess that reminds us of the great hope that one day the child pains will be over and we’ll be given a glorious new creation and secondly that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. PLUS there is the great promise that in all things God is working for our good and that no matter what we face nothing can seperate us from his love (Romans 8.28-39).

    Great to see you the other day in the UK, I hope you got back o.k. Stay in contact. My skype account is steve.vaughan1 and my e-mail is below

    God bless
    STEVE

  4. dear brother,
    this is really an amazing story of SUFFERING WITH CHRIST.i often go through this and ask GOD “why me” always.but i praise god for it ,as iam a part taker of his suffering . but i truly believe that i will inherit the heavenly joy with him and he will crown me with PEACE ,JOY AND EVERLASTING HAPPINESS .NO MORE PAIN AND NO MORE SORROW.i praise GOD for your wonderful ministry and i will share this news with many.
    LET US BE THE WARRIOR FOR JESUS AND WIN MANY SOULS BEFORE HE COMES.REJOICE IN HIM ALWAYS!!!!

  5. Dear brother Chris.
    A rod, a thorn, a cross – You have articulated the biblical truth so very well here. Thank you. Your ability to simplify things is truly God-given. I thank God for you.

  6. Great message, Chris. God is using you in great ways. Thanks for posting all HE is teaching you. Because we learn too as we read….

    Mary Knisley

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