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Successful Suffering

We all have pain in our lives—but where do we look for comfort?


Give me an S.
Give me a U.
Give me a C.
Give me a C.
Give me an E.
Give me an S.
Give me an S.

What does that spell? "SUCCESS."

Success—that's what many of us strive for. Success—that's what the world values.

We remember winners, not losers. We remember gold medal Olympians like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. We don't remember the 10,000-plus Olympians who failed to receive a medal. We remember champions, valedictorians, CEOs, celebrities, the rich and the famous, those at the top—not those on the bottom.

We live and breathe in a culture that celebrates success.

And sometimes, if we're honest, even in the church what we secretly value is success over faithfulness. I was thinking about the most recent National Preaching Conference held here on our campus this fall. What if we advertised Pastor George as the headliner: a rural pastor in a small town in Texas whom nobody has ever heard of but who has faithfully served his congregation of 127 members for 20 years? Would anyone still sign up for the conference? It's a sobering thought, isn't it?

We love winners. We scorn losers. We love success.

But how do we feel about that word that also begins with an S? It begins with the first two letters in "success" but then it takes a drastic turn: S-U-F-F-E-R.

"Suffer." Ugh. We don't like that word very much. We often speak to each other about our successes, but how often do we share our sufferings?

The truth is that many, if not all of us, are suffering. My wife took counseling classes at Denver Seminary while I was a pastor there. In one of her classes, the professor told her a profound truth: "People's pain is people's pain." Everyone has pain ...

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Matthew D. Kim (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is the George F. Bennett Chair in Practical Theology, director of the Haddon W. Robinson Center for Preaching, and director of Mentored Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

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