When I think that I became a pastor at the age of 23, I shake my head. What business did I have presuming to pastor at such a young age? Some may have the gifts or maturity to pastor at such a young age, but I don’t think I did.
I didn’t know much about suffering. Sure, I’d suffered, but not in a way that would help me understand the tears of a senior burying her husband of 50 years, or the anguish of parents whose son just experienced his first schizophrenic episode. I had the same depth of insight as a music student has when he taps his first song with one finger. I had years of learning and suffering ahead of me.
I don’t presume to be mature now, but I’ve suffered. My sufferings have changed me as a pastor. I can’t imagine being entrusted with the care of souls without having suffered, in big and small ways, in the years since I became a pastor. My suffering equips me to understand the suffering of others.
Nobody suffered like Jesus. He suffered throughout his entire life, but he especially suffered in the hours leading to his death. He cried out, alone, to his Father in the garden. He was abandoned, mocked, beaten, and stripped. And then he was killed. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Others have suffered, but nobody has suffered like Jesus.
John Stott said it well:
He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his.
I’m thankful that Jesus suffered. His sufferings accomplished our salvation. They also allow him to understand our suffering. He’s equipped to understand our suffering, and I’m thankful.