One of the most common questions that people of faith ask when they are going through illness, suffering or a hard time is: What is God trying to teach me?
We know that Jesus learned or experienced obedience through suffering. The writer of the letter to the scattered Hebrew people of faith told us that during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions, as a good pastor would, with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son that he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Ref. Hebrews 5)
Obedience has a cost. Yet, the price we pay can have an even greater result. Henri Nouwen wrote that the pain and struggle that Jesus became part of and experienced himself, especially on the cross, made him listen more perfectly to the Father’s voice. Before coming to earth, we might say that Jesus knew obedience in a theoretical sense, but while here he experienced the concreteness of obedience.
There is a type of identification with suffering that makes us more humble. If we continue in health and material wealth, our ears become dull to the Spirit’s calling us to serve and follow the voice of God. Our faith is not tested and we don’t allow the Spirit’s work to break through our daily routine. Instead, we see ourselves as sufficient. We don’t listen for help and, more tragically, we don’t ask for help. In my times of suffering and pain, I came to understand that there were two steps to restoration and wholeness. I had to admit my weakness and ask for help. Using those two steps were how I learned obedience and continue to learn obedience. Pain forces me to submission and submission leads to freedom and wholeness, at least to a spiritual wholeness or what we read in Hebrews as perfection. Submission and obedience restore me to that proper relationship to God as a child to parent or creature to creator. Yes, good health and riches make my obedience harder to learn. Even for some of us, it might be impossible to learn.
Maturity comes when we grow in obedience and humility to a place where join the missionary Paul in being content in whatever circumstances we are in. Riches and poverty become equals in the heart of a mature follower of Jesus.
So, I welcome all experiences of good or ill because I know that in both I have the opportunity to grow in obedience and to prove my obedience.