Transformation thru Perseverance
Transformation is something God does, yet it is something that we most proactively participate with him in. At times, suffering, and perseverance are part of following Jesus. The good news is that spiritual growth/maturity can result as we persevere…a silver lining in the midst of trouble. Jesus says it like this:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me…. (John 12:24-26)
The word ‘transformation’ carries more meaning than the word ‘change’. In my thinking, transformation takes place when the new stage of a thing is so different from the previous stage that it needs a new identity (name). When a seed falls into the ground and dies, it stops becoming a seed and is transformed into a sprout and grows into a stalk with a full head of kernels. The chart below develops the metaphor started in John 12:24. It illustrates how, through multiple stages, a kernel of wheat transforms into bread. At each stage a kind of death (or suffering) is required before it passes on to the next stage.
|Original Identity||Death by:||New Identity||Metaphors|
|Kernel||Thrown into the ground and dies||Wheat stalk||Initial Self Surrender to God’s will John 12:24
|Wheat stalk||Cut, threshed (winnowed)||Kernel (again)
|Pruning John 15:1-2
|Kernel (again)||Dried, stored, transported, milled||Flour||Grief and Disappointments. Rom 9:2
|Flour||Mixed with water, salt, yeast, etc||Dough||Deference to others for the sake of oneness Rom 15:1-3 Col. 3:13
|Dough||Shaped and baked||Bread||Persecution Heb 11:37
|Bread||Chewed, enjoyed, swallowed,||Glucose||Poured out in ministry to others 2 Cor. 4:8-10
The point of this chart is to illustrate how different types of suffering are often experienced in cycles and are normal and necessary element of transformation so that we might have the attitude James encourages:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
As James described there are many kinds of trials, hardships and sufferings for which the believer might pass through. The purpose of the discussion below is not to accurately categorize different types of suffering but to remind the reader that suffering is a vital component of God’s transformational agenda…and we often experience it in cycles.
Kernel Type Suffering (Initial Self Denial and Surrender to God’s will)
John 12:24 describes that the kernel must buried (planted) before it can be transformed into a wheat plant with a head of kernels. In the same way a man cannot be regenerated unless by faith and repentance he surrenders his life to Christ. Following Christ involves an initial decision to surrender to God’s will. Baptism is the sacrament associated with that initial step. It represents being buried with Christ.
Wheat Stalk Type Suffering (Pruning)
John 15:1-2 describes how the Father prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will be even more fruitful. Pruning hurts but it is good in the long run. The loving hand of God cuts things out of our lives so that we grow even stronger. He is preparing us for greater service and fruitfulness. Therefore, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Kernel (again) Type Suffering (Failures and Disappointments…grief)
Sometimes after initial success we find ourselves back at page one. Disappointments and grief encompass a large scope of the sufferings we must endure. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet 4:12-13) “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6-7)
Flour Type Suffering (Submission and deference to others for the sake of oneness)
Flour must be mixed with salt, water, yeast, etc to become bread dough. Working and living in unity with others requires self-denial. “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself…” (Rom 15:1-3) The same attitude is reflected in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Dough Type Suffering (Persection)
Dough is shaped, given time to rise and baked. Heat is the primary agent needed to transform dough into bread. Fire and heat are the most frequently used metaphors for persecution. Hebrews 11:37 describes the suffering endured by the heroes of the faith. “They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.” Even the most mature followers of Christ suffer. Sometimes things go so wrong we think we are back at the beginning. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) No one wants to be half-baked but perseverance brings reward.
Bread Type Suffering (poured out in service to others)
Have you ever felt like you’ve been chewed up?! Bread is ripped, crushed and dissolved when eaten. The digestive system changes the bread into energy units and other byproducts. The apostle Paul took up his cross daily and followed Jesus. He had been through many hardships and difficulties yet he did not give up. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Cor 4:8-10) And then again in 2 Corinthians 11:26-28 Paul says, “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
In spite of suffering we can rejoice and celebrate. God has promised to cause all things to work together for good (Rom 8:28). God causes even our suffering to work for our good. Even actions that others meant to harm us, God turns them for our own good. Therefore we have the same attitude towards suffering as Paul.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)
This study has two primary applications for pastors, teachers and counselors. First, we need to reemphasize the role of self-denial and suffering in the church. There is so much teaching in the New Testament about the unavoidable nature of suffering yet we say so little about it. It seems we have created a heresy of false expectations by our silence. Believers need to know the central role of suffering in the Christian life. They need to know that our loving God has ordained suffering for all who follow him. It is a vital component of his transformational agenda.
Secondly, we need to realize that Christian community is an ideal environment for transformation…but not just for the typical reasons. Not just because of the teaching, prayer, fellowship and other ministries of the church but because in community self-denial and suffering are lived out. Living in intimate Christian community requires a transparency, commitment and self-surrender that creates an ideal setting for biblical transformation. In fact, God designed the church that way on purpose. It was never designed to be a large impersonal sermon centered religious institution where self-denial and suffering are not required or expected. I will develop these thoughts in the next section, Transformation – Part 3: The Roles of Community