I read this quote from one of my friend’s facebook page: “The definition of evil in today’s America is “to suffer”
This got me thinking about something that God had been stirring in my heart for a while. In fact I started this whole blog because of that; which is the ways of God towards suffering. It’s the age-old dilemma of man; especially for those who trust in a good, perfect and all-powerful God.
For the past two and half years I’ve lived in three continents and I’ve witnessed something that seems to be reoccurring with some of the Christians in my world; i.e. people either falling away from the faith or feeling disappointed with God and the church and therefore, had settled for a lifestyle of compromise. It kills me on the inside to know that some of these people are those I know personally and help discipled in the past.
It really made me wonder, if I’d fail to really help these people grow in their relationship with God or worse did I help portray a false image of God to them; a good and loving God who exist to make them happy in this life.
I think we all know and even agree that in this world sometimes bad things happens to God people but what feels even worse is when God’s people cried out to Him and He seems to be nowhere to be found. And sadly some have resolved to rather do things and live to please themselves so that even if their life doesn’t work out great as they’d hope then at least they did it their way rather than to believe and live according to the ways of God who may not even exist and even if He does exist; He’s so distant from reality and doesn’t really care to show up when they cry out for Him.
As Christians we know and understand why evil, pain and suffering exist in this world and even why it seems God allows them. If you don’t know then can I challenge you to search it out? It’s one of the basic fundamental of our faith; therefore you should know what the Bible has to say about them.
As you probably guessed this article is not really to about why suffering and hardship or why God allows them but rather learning to embrace suffering & hardship as servant children of God.
Before I go on any further let me just say that when I talk about suffering/hardship in these situations I’m not referring to sickness or poverty. Although these no doubt count as suffering or hardship, the bible makes it clear that because of Jesus we have victory over such situations. And if we the church really takes hold of who we are in Christ and the authority we have in His name we’ll not be tolerating these in our communities. However I’ve lived in communities of believers who have a mature understanding of who they are and the authority they possessed in Christ but still there are people with severe sicknesses in their midst. Why this is so I do not know but I do know that God promises concerning healing and provision stand true so I encourage those who found themselves in these circumstances to relentlessly take hold of his promises and claim the freedom God has already won on their behalf. You pray yourself out of sickness or die doing so. Either way, You win. Check out the video link at the end for a great testimony of what I mean by this.
Also for those who seems to be going through tough times and God seems to be nowhere to be found even when you crying out for Him. Listen, He’s right there with you, He hasn’t left you. In fact I will be bold enough to guarantee you that He WILL show up. He might not show up the way you wanted Him to and your trial/circumstances might not even change, but YOU will change if you do not give up or give in. You’ll grow to see that your life is bigger than yourself. That you were re-born into a family that’s changing the world, and whether you know it or not your decision to be included in God’s family means that you’re also included in His massive work and one day you are going to thank Him for the way He led you (i.e. the things He allowed and didn’t allow in your life).
Almost 2 years ago I found myself feeling disappointed with God. Disappointed with the way things turned out in my life when I’d placed Him first in my life. I felt like I lost everything I held dear to me. Losing everything was hardly the problem because they never really got hold of me but what I couldn’t bear was that I felt like I didn’t know God; at least not in the way I was hoping for. His silence to me felt like rejection.
In my younger years when I had loads of zeal but lacking in knowledge; I was one of those guys who’ll cry to God that He can take my world (everything in my life) as long as He let me have Him. And that’s exactly how I felt; I felt like He’s taken everything but He hasn’t given me Himself.
It was a while later that I realized that He’s been speaking but I was the one who wasn’t listening, and only last week that I realized that He has really given me Himself; even more than I was hoping for. (That’ll be my next post…The way of Love).
It was Jesus who said that “…. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In other words he’s saying “guys, as long you live in this world you’re going to suffer”. But what kind of suffering? It’s suffering for doing what God commands; suffering for doing good; suffering for associating with a brother/sister in trouble; suffering for what you believe in and stands for, suffering for even just being at the right place, at the right time and doing the right things.
This brings us to the mystery of the way of suffering. Why an all-powerful, all-knowing God chooses to allow and not intervene in a situation where in our wisdom and knowledge He should do, is due to His ways of doing things. Again like I established in my previous post, it’s the one thing that humanity struggle to adhere to, the one thing I struggle to follow and now has become my daily prayer, to help me know His ways. So unless we submit and seek to see things the way He sees and does things we will not draw near to Him to become who we were meant to be.
Many years back a friend of my mine who was away from the Lord post this question to me. He said “what’s if at the end of your life you found out that all that you believe about God was not true; that it was all a lie, wouldn’t you have wasted your life? He asked this in the context of resisting sinful pleasures and keeping God’s commands.
I said something then which, I will not say now if the same question is asked of me again probably cos I’ve had more experienced in this life with God.
I thought about it and said “that will be such a shame and really sad but I wouldn’t think I’ve wasted my life because I like the life I have because of following God. Because the things I do and not do cos of God had given me freedom from many things that I see many struggle to overcome”. Simply put it, I’m happy with the life I have cos of my trust in God and even if it was all lie, my life would not have been wasted.
This sounds like a cool answer, but I think it’s where the problem lies with my form of Christianity in western society. Why like my friend’s said “evil” in today’s western society is to suffer.
The Apostle Paul asked a similar question in 1 Corinthians 15:12-32 in the context of the resurrection of the dead…and this was His answer…
…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied…..
…..why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
- In my world, to follow Christ means having **the blessed life so that I could be a blessing. Of course I have to add “to be a blessing” otherwise I won’t have the excuse to indulge in my self-gratifying gospel.
- But in Apostle Paul’s world and some nations of the world today to follow Christ probably means facing a death sentence.
- The worst form of persecution I’ve experienced from following Christ in my world is to be insulted and ridiculed by friends.
- In Paul’s world and some people of today the worst form of persecution is being martyred cos of Christ.
So for sure Christianity will be different from Paul’s world than mine world right? Nope…The same way Paul and the early Christians lived the Christian faith is the same way we are called to live the faith.
It seems like people joining the church in the times of the Apostles understood early on that suffering & hardship is part of the journey. Become a Christian and mark yourself to likely suffer persecution and hardship.
Listen to what Paul and Barnabas said to encourage some of the new churches they had planted.
“Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.”
And again he said to the Philippians church; for it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for him. Phil 1:29
So you can definitely agreed that Paul isn’t going to say something like “God has a wonderful plan for you” as an encouragement.
It’s very unlikely to read the New Testament Epistles without encountering a case where the writer encourages the believers to endure hardship, persevere through trials and suffering and patiently holds on to their faith as they wait for Jesus’ coming.
It’s not just because they lived in times of persecution and hardship but because the very core of the Christian faith demands that you have endurance, perseverance and patience. Jesus in His perfect leadership does not necessarily rescue His people from such things nor did he promised to do so but on the contrary He promised such things will happen to those who are his.
For this reason the elementary or basic teachings that the Apostles taught the believers include resurrection of the dead, eternal judgement and rewards. Hebrews 6:1-3. Meaning some of the things a new believer will learn early on is their hope for being resurrected even if they die and eternal judgement & rewards concerning the decision they’ve made to follow Christ and their everyday choices, whether good or bad.
How do I know this? because that’s what all of the Apostles talked about when they encourage the believers to endure, persevere or to be patients about their suffering.
And that’s how the early Christians lived. They live with an eternal perspective. Listen to what the writer of the book of Hebrews said to encourage the people not to shrink back in their faith.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property….[Why did they endured all these]
….because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. Heb 10:32-36
And in the next chapter in Hebrews 11:35, he said some people gave up their life willingly in hope of getting a better resurrection. Suggesting that there are different degrees of the resurrection based on their deeds either better in terms of the resurrected body or their rewards. I wonder how many of us know about the resurrection and eternal judgement & rewards. It’s like you either have to go to Bible school or do a theology course to even be in hope of getting any understanding on such things when in the early Christians it is part of the elementary teachings; Why? Because it is the hope of their salvation as it encourages them to endure hardship, persevere through trials and suffering and patiently hold on as they look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus to restore all things.
These are all over scripture, pick an epistle in the Bible and I will show you where believers are either encouraged to patiently hold onto the teaching of the faith, endure hardship, persevere through trials and suffering all because of the HOPE of the next age when Jesus returns.
In the book of Revelation or what I called “The revelation of Jesus Christ”.
Many Bible scholars all agreed that Jesus strategically picked seven (7) churches in the region of Asia Minor, which will reflect on every church throughout the church age till His coming.
In revelation 2 and 3, Jesus evaluated the churches by commending, encouraging, rebuking and warnings the churches. Jesus had something positive to say about the deeds of 5 churches but the other two churches had nothing positive said about their deeds.
Amazingly the 5 churches that Jesus had something good said about were all either about their endurance, hardship, perseverance or suffering.
- Ephesus: commended for hard work, perseverance and endurance of hardship
- Smyrna: commended for their affliction, persecution and suffering
- Pergamum: commended for perseverance of faith (remain true to Jesus’ name) and endurance in times of hardship/persecution (did not renounce their faith when Antipas was put to death)
- Thyatira: commended for their faith and perseverance.
- Philadelphia: commended for their perseverance (little strength but did not denied Jesus’ name) and patient endurance.
The other two churches Jesus had nothing good to say about all thought they were something when in truth they were not cos of their comfort and ease.
- Sardis: they had the reputation of being alive, when in truth they are dead/asleep.
- Laodicea: They said they were rich and wealthy and lacks nothing but in truth they were wretched, poor, pitiful, blind and naked.
NOTE: Keep in mind that when Jesus commended about their suffering…..” He is not saying BECAUSE you’re suffering, you are doing well but rather INSPITE OF your suffering you are not giving up, giving in and compromising.
And how did Jesus encourages the churches even those who were living in compromised? Just the same way as the Apostles taught; with eternal Judgement and Rewards.
To the victorious and over comers with each church He promised rewards. It’s like Jesus is saying I know it’s difficult and tough now but it’s going to be worth it. Just look at what I’m going to give you and hold on, don’t give up on your faith; don’t give in to compromise, It’s all going to be worth it.
Jesus definition of Victory and Overcomer is not holding on till He gets you out of the difficulty; cos as long as you live in this world and in this age you’re going to have troubles. but rather holding on till the end or till He comes. The “end” could possibly be death. Rev 2:10
So this is how we embrace suffering and hardship, by doing what the early Christians, Moses and Jesus himself did as He endured the cross; by looking toward the rewards in the age to come. And there’s no greater reward than Himself.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
So what are you going through right now that seems like God is ignoring you? What things are you trying to do for God purposes but then as soon as you initiated it all hell seems to have broken loose on you? what sins, addictions or problems are you fighting to overcome but you seems to be making no progress; and you asking yourself; WHAT’S THE POINT? . Listen!! DO NOT give up, DO NOT given in, it’s all going to be WORTH IT. IF YOU DON’T QUIT YOU WIN. If you’d fall, STAND UP again; You’ve not fallen into a quicksand but rather on THE ROCK. Therefore you are able to stand again. I cannot guarantee you that things will turn out great in this life but I WILL guarantee you that He’s there with you; And wherever He Is anything is possible. Wherever He Is, there is FREEDOM. Look to the reward; Look to Him and always remember that….
…our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Cor 4:17-18.
To be honest, the things God is revealing to me does not seems to speak of our present suffering especially here in the West. If we really do believe to be nearing the end-times and expecting the coming great revival to sweep over the earth then we should know that in the midst of that glory will come persecution like we’ve never seen before here in the West. (i.e. if we do not compromise on our faith). Jesus in His perfect leadership is preparing His bride and His bride will make herself ready. He is going to shake everything that can be shaken and for that He’s started with His bride (church). Like the Word says judgement begins with the household of God. 1Pet 4:17; Heb 10:31
Please hear my heart; I’m not saying God is going to orchestrate judgement, suffering or persecution towards His people.
There’s nothing glorious or redemptive about suffering on its own; In fact Apostle Peter went on further to encourage the believers not to even suffer as a meddler (i.e. don’t suffer for intruding into other people’s affairs). 1 Pet 4:15. We know that suffering and pain were a result of sin and the curse, and therefore God is not the author of suffering but neither does He promise to remove them from our lives; to make that pretty clear..one of Jesus’ title is “the man of suffering/sorrow.” Isa 53:3.
He went through the most intense suffering ever to show to us that He knows and understand our pain and He overcame them even triumphing over death to tells us that pain, persecution and suffering will not have the last word, not even death.
For this reason, He uses suffering for His glorious purposes. Remember Rom 8:28; that include persecution, suffering, hardship, etc.
So do you feel like your world is being shaken, then strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet” and embrace it (endurance and perseverance) not for anything else but for His name sake; but do it the way the prophets of old did it; do it the way the Apostles did it; do it the way the early Christians did and do it the way Jesus did it; with your eyes fix on the prize/reward when your beloved saviour returns to restore all things to its perfection.
Father, like Moses we say show us your ways, that we may know you and continue to find favor with you. Call us unto yourself, that we may have the vision to see things from your perspective. Open the eyes of our heart that we may truly desire to walk your highway of holiness; overcoming temptations and compromising lives; persevering through trials and enduring persecution and hardship victoriously. So Lord in faith we confess that:
YOUR LEADERSHIP IS PERFECT AND YOUR WAYS ARE JUST & TRUE….
SO SHALL IT BE! AMEN.
Listen to Abigail Smith’s Inspiring Story of holding on till the End.