Haunting Verses of the Bible VIII: Suffering
“I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name” (Acts 9:16).
Please Keep In Mind
1. Paul wasn’t going to suffer as punishment from God but as privilege from God, not as consequence from personal sin but from commitment to personal righteousness.
2. Paul’s suffering would not close up and limit his life/effectiveness/fruitfulness but rather would open up, fertilize and spread Jesus’ fame.
3. Paul had no idea that Jesus said the words in Acts 9:16 to Ananias; perhaps we have no idea if Jesus has said the same about each of us to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s Specific Suffering (2 Corinthians 11:23-30)
1. Worked hard for Jesus (didn’t coast/cruise)
2. Sent to prison for Jesus
3. Close to physical death for Jesus
4. Whipped five times
5. Beaten with rods of wood three times
6. Pelted with stones
7. Shipwrecked three times
8. Constantly on the move
9. In danger from rivers, criminals, friends, countrymen, foreigners, in cities, in rural areas, in the sea, and from fake Christians.
10. Lack of sleep, heat, and clothing.
11. Deep/real concern for the well-being/growth/fruitfulness of other Christians.
12. Being led into areas of life that reveal Paul’s weaknesses.
Wow. Most of us would NOT follow Jesus into areas where we would consistently experience one or two of those trials let alone all twelve.
Yet does God ask anything less of us than He asked of Paul?
Paul suffered in these instances because his beliefs were Biblical and because his words/actions/plans/responses matched up with those Biblical beliefs. Though all of us suffer, do we ever suffer for these two specific reasons? What does that mean if we don’t?
Our Specific Suffering
1. Saying No To Sin’s (temporary) Pleasures (yes, you often do “miss out” in the short-run)
2. Saying Yes To Carrying Our Cross Each Day…forgiving others who don’t ask for our forgiveness, sharing Jesus with others who don’t want to hear about Him, believing in all of the Bible though some beliefs anger others, sacrificially putting the needs of others before our own, etc. Though it does in the long run bless us, all of this often causes us pain/suffering in the short run.
Crosses give splinters,
prevent us from carrying other things,
make people stop and stare [not in a good way!])
How American Christians Often Respond To Suffering
1. We Limit It, living lives that get us close enough to Jesus to receive His forgiveness/get to heaven and yet far enough away from Him to avoid much of the earthly trouble that comes from following Jesus. We want spiritual liposuction–we want to be in good spiritual shape, but we don’t want to actually exercise/work for it; we want a surgical procedure that will make it happen quickly.
2. We Flee From It–we drop relationships that get sticky, we leave situations that are uncomfortable, we stop praying when we get bored/run out of things to say/face awkward silence, we move out of unsafe neighborhoods, we leave churches when we feel wronged, we avoid opportunities where the earthly outcome is uncertain (we hedge our bets/keep a diversified portfolio in our walk with Jesus–and yet Jesus wants us to put ALL OF OUR EGGS in His basket–putting all your money in one stock/business might be unwise in the physical/financial world but it is ESSENTIAL in the spiritual world), we in general seek to surround ourselves with situations/environments that are pleasant, IF we engage in work for God it is often such that is easy/comfortable/within our spiritual gift mix (e.g. that doesn’t really require us to CHANGE!).
3. We Give In To It—we change our beliefs/actions in order to make the suffering stop. It’s the famous joke: a person goes to the hospital; the doctor asks, “So what’s wrong?” Patient says, “Well, doc, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor replies, “Well, don’t do that!” 🙂 But spiritually this is a TERRIBLE response to suffering, especially when we suffer for following Jesus where He leads and doing what He has commanded us to do:
- We stop attending church when we aren’t challenged by the pastor—or when we are challenged too much!
- We stop praying when we aren’t seeing results.
- We stop reading the Bible when we just don’t want to.
- We stop—or never start!—telling others about Jesus’ death for them because it makes us feel afraid, uncomfortable, etc. or makes them angrty.
- We stop believing all of the Bible when the culture gets angry at certain Biblical beliefs.
- We stop following Jesus when He leads us into difficult situations.
The Consequences of Limiting/Fleeing From Suffering
1. Our spiritual growth is stunted. We cannot stop exercising at the first sign of sweat/increased heart rate. Science tells us that the key to a healthy workout is keeping your heart rate at an appropriately elevated rate for an extended period of time. We don’t get healthy just by going to the gym or by wearing workout clothes! We get it by working out…by sweating…by pushing ourselves past the comfortable. Doing this wisely increases muscle tone, decreases weight and cholesterol, and improves endurance/lung capacity. The same is true spiritually. Lifting five pound spiritual weights each day will strengthen you to a point but never increasing the weight will stop your muscles from growing. If you only play basketball against those who you can easily defeat, your skill at basketball can only improve a little (e.g. a 16 year old continuing to only play against 7 year olds). The sweat of suffering produces the conditioning of Christ-likeness.
2. Our witness is limited. What would have happened if David didn’t approach Goliath? The Israelites–and the pagan Philistines–would have never seen what God can do through a person who steps into a “hopeless” situation with the God of Hope. Suffering is the advertising agency of heaven–&we are the commercials–by which Jesus’ Truth, Fame & Grace are broadcast to the world. Christians were made to suffer…but for a purpose: to spread Jesus’ fame.
3. Our relationship with Jesus becomes stale. If we don’t leave Egypt we will never see the LORD part the Red Sea. If our faith remains in a small pot in a greenhouse (protected/controlled environment) it will never grow tall/broad/deep. Certain fish only grow as large as the tank they are in. My wife and I started dating each other 14 years ago…we started out with easy/fun activities like dinners, movies, walks, phone conversations. But eventually we chose to get married, we we’re blessed to have many children, with God’s guidance we decided to make career changes, we purchased cars and a house–we waded into deeper waters that required more energy, prayer, dedication, and teamwork, and while this was difficult, it has brought us closer to each other! The same is true with our relationship/friendship with Jesus. What are the deeper waters that He is inviting you into today? Maybe you are not growing closer to Christ because you are sitting in the parking lot eating cotton candy when He is inviting you to get on the rollercoaster with Him.
4. The suffering of others continues. Our choices for personal safety don’t just affect us; they affect others as well. If Joseph didn’t take on the dangerous task of interpreting Pharoah’s dream and then managing the domestic affairs of Egypt, hundreds of thousands of people would have perished in the 7 year famine. If Jesus didn’t pour Himself out by coming to earth, all humans would still be in darkness with no chance of being forgiven/entering heaven.
So How Do We Endure Suffering?
1. Share your suffering with trusted Christian friends–pain shared is pain divided (Christian psychologist Pat McClain).
2. Keep coming to church to worship God through music, to hear His Word faithfully taught, and to fellowship/have community with other believers. Withdrawing from life–and the togetherness of the body of Christ–is a BIG temptation when suffering.
3. Cry Out To The LORD In Worship: Now this might seem counter-intuitive—“I’m suffering; I don’t really FEEL like praising/worshiping God right now!” But we worship Him not when/because we feel like it but when because He deserves it…ALWAYS! We don’t worship God because of our pleasant circumstances—we worship Him because of His perfect character, which never changes! (Hebrews 13:8) Worshiping God in our suffering is one way that we “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) to focus not on our suffering but on Him Who suffered for us. Even Job, when all ten of his children died, when he lost his wealth/business, and when he lost his health, made the CHOICE to worship the LORD.
- Job 1:20-22: At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.
Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.[c]
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
4. Cry Out To The LORD For His Joy “The joy of the LORD is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). “Jesus endured the Cross for the JOY set before Him” (Hebrews 12:3). Wow. Not for the HAPPINESS set before Him—for the joy of the LORD Jesus endured brutal physical torture, the spiritual torture of having the guilt of every individual sin placed on His shoulders, and the relational torture of having the Father abandon Him in holy wrath. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” If the joy of the LORD could enable Jesus to endure THAT, the joy of the LORD will enable us to endure anything. CRY OUT daily for the LORD’s joy, and let’s stop chasing happiness so much…
6. Soak in God’s Word—do you KNOW God’s promises to YOU in the Bible? Psalm 119:50: “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your PROMISE preserves my life.” Do you know His promises? Are you gripping them tightly each moment? If not, how are you making it through your suffering? What are you clinging to instead of God’s promises? How are you being comforted if NOT from God’s promises? (Please click HERE for more on this) Psalm 119:92: “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us DELIGHT in God’s Word for us to survive our suffering…
7. Make the choice TODAY that you will not give up TOMORROW, no matter what happens! “Trust in the darkness what you learned in the light” (Dr. Tony Evans) (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Suffering is a HUGE part of being a Christian, a Christ-follower…mainly because Jesus suffered greatly, and if we follow in His footsteps, we will experience what He experienced (John 15:18-21).
A. The Holy Spirit LED Jesus into the desert to get tempted by the devil. Jesus didn’t wander accidentally into such a test…the Holy Spirit LED HIM THERE (Matthew 4:1). Wow.
B. John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
C. 2 Timothy 3:12: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
D. John 16:1-2: “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.”
E. Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ [as a blessing!] not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him…”
F. Acts 5:40-42: “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”
THAT is how the early Church handled suffering for Jesus; may we cry out to the LORD to help us to handle it the same way, and be willing to enter into such suffering for Jesus in the first place…
To yearn for heaven tomorrow is great. To want heaven now is unrealistic. That doesn’t mean we are to stop doing everything we can to improve society and love others so that the aroma of heaven fills our lives and environments; rather, it simply means we are to remember that this side of eternity will never be as amazing and perfect and safe and restful and fulfilling as heaven will be. But with constant prayer, daily refreshment in God’s Word and His promises there, and the tangible/practical support of other Christians, may we wade into today’s deep waters with Jesus, may we like Peter leave the safety of the boat and the company of those who remain there and walk on the water toward Christ, may we like David RUN TOWARD the battle line against the giant Goliath in the strength of the LORD, may we like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to the golden statue regardless of the furnace’s heat before us. May we learn to praise God for the suffering He BLESSES US TO EXPERIENCE for the sake of Jesus, remembering that no matter how many painful tears we shed on earth, Jesus PROMISES to wipe them away forever in heaven (Revelation 7:17, 21:4).