What is it like to be a Christian? The Apostle Paul said, "We are afflicted... perplexed... persecuted... struck down... always being given over to death... (2 Corinthians 4:8-11). This is not what you put on a billboard to get people to join your group. Paul's description of his life following Christ repulses many would be disciples. In fact, several in the Corinthian church looked at Paul's life and decided that a beat up "jar of clay" like him could not possibly be an ambassador for the Resurrected Christ.
There are those, on the other hand, who feel a rush of freedom and relief after reading Paul's words. One member of Calvary expressed a "tremendous freedom" to feel pain while studying 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 last Sunday. Not only is suffering a normal part of following Christ - "For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake..." - but it is also a way God glorifies the Son through us - "so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11).
Sometimes we place the same expectations on ourselves that the Corinthians placed on Paul. We expect to respond like "super Christians" in the face of suffering but instead we crumble like jars of clay. When we experience difficulties the temptation is to think that faithful Christians like Paul would handle it much better. This is not true! Paul was distressed in every way, confused, and knocked down. He was filled with anxiety and had many sleepless nights. At one point God had to reassure Paul that He stood with him in the difficult mission to which he had been called: "The following night the Lord stood by him and said, 'Take courage... '" (Acts 23:11).
My point is that suffering is not supposed to be easy for us. Suffering is normal and so is the struggle to cope with it. This is the way God designed it! We are like common, breakable earthenware pots for a reason. God, in his sovereignty, has decided to make the light of Jesus' life shine through the cracks, holes and thin walls of our fragile lives. Despair may take hold of us and physical ailments may pull us to the ground but they will never deliver a knock-out blow to our faith in Christ. It is when we come to the brink of being crushed that the treasure which holds us together is revealed. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Corinthians 4:7).