Recently published by Crossway, Ajith Fernando’s “The Call to Joy and Pain” (2007) transcends expectations for such a small, devotionally oriented book. There is considerable food for thought in this 180-page text, including many helpful stories, personal reminisces, and exegetical points to ponder. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and would enthusiastically recommend it to readers, particularly those who would like to read more about the book’s subject in smaller doses. This is no overwhelming manuscript; Fernando writes with grace and gentleness in a style that is fluid and easy to understand. Seminarians, laypeople, pastors, professors, all will find much to chew on in a book that is small but profound.
It’s a bit ironic to read a book on suffering for fun. But one should. Suffering, as most adults know, is not an abstract idea. It is a reality for each of us. Suffering does not come in a one-size-fits-all package. It comes particularized to us. God sends us packages of suffering that challenge our greatest weaknesses and aim directly at our spiritual tension points. Fernando advances this basic theme in The Call to Joy and Pain and returns to it again and again, all the while encouraging the reader on a practical, day-to-day level to fight for joy in Christ in the midst of our personal sufferings. Whether you are fighting cancer, helping someone else through a season of great pain, attempting to grow in patience and love, or simply working through the difficulties of ordinary life, you will benefit from this meditation on suffering.
Most of us seek out meditations–in the broadest sense–on the opposite, of course. That’s no bad thing in moderation. But when one considers that pop culture (and even Christian culture) often focuses relentlessly on what is sunny, happy, airy, and light, a gentle but realistic consideration of suffering has much to offer. This is not to say that Fernando’s text necessarily involves a descent into the morbid. It does not. Rather, it functions as a wizened fellow traveler on a journey through the wild terrain of this world. For the duration of the text, Fernando comes alongside his readers and guides us with grace through the suffering that surrounds us and the joy that beckons us from the sky above. “Do not avoid this crossing,” Fernando’s text seems to say, “walk through it. Walk with Christ, and you will make it, and you will be stronger for it.”
The text is helpful for countering what one could call a “materialistic ministry” mindset defined by Western ideals of success and productivity. If you are involved in the work of ministry and sense some discontinuity between the biblical picture of ministry and that practiced by many pastors today, you will benefit from this text. It will encourage you (gently) to lay aside your thirst for “success” and will help you to focus your eyes on that which is truly important: imaging the Savior in a fallen world in desperate need of the very One they hate the most.
“[T]he happiest people in the world are not those who have no suffering–they are those who are not afraid of suffering.” (55) Powerful words from an excellent text.
Also, please note that Christianity Today named this book one of it’s year’s best. See here for more (it’s under “The Church/Pastoral Ministry”).