Tag Archives: suffering

Is the safest place to be in the center of God’s will?

For those of our readers who don’t follow us on Facebook, you might not be aware that Jennifer and I are currently in Australia on medical leave from Papua New Guinea (PNG).  Just a week or so after finishing our Pacific Orientation Course (POC), Jennifer fell ill with a very serious case of bacterial sepsis.  Based upon the symptoms and a tentative diagnosis from some of her doctors, we suspect that she contracted Scrub Typhus, a potentially life-threatening disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mite.  Within four days of the start of her symptoms, her illness had progressed to a life-threatening case of sepsis, which required immediate and advanced medical care.  The closest facility that could provide the necessary medical treatment to save her life was in Cairns, Australia, so she was evacuated to Cairns for treatment.

Because of a phenomenal team of doctors and nurses, thousands of people’s prayers, and God’s mercy, Jennifer was released from the hospital after a two and a half week stay to continue her recovery here in Cairns.  She’s doing much better now and the doctors expect her to make a full recovery, though it’s going to take some time.  It’s our hope that in about a month she will have recovered sufficiently for us to move back to PNG and resume ministry at the missionary center at Ukarumpa.

In light of the events of the past month, I’ve thought a lot about the meaning and purpose of suffering in the life of the believer.  This is a topic that I’ve wrestled with a good bit, and I’ve written about suffering a good bit here on our blog–here, and here, and here, just to give a few examples.  But there’s one saying that I hear from time to time that has caught my attention this past month.

“The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”

The first time I heard that saying I was a teenager.  A missionary from Africa had come to my church and shared with us about his ministry there.  After describing some of the challenges, risks, and dangers associated with being a missionary in Africa, he said that people often asked him how he could justify taking his wife and children into such a dangerous place. he responds by saying “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”

Of course, he’s not the first believer to espouse this view.  A quick search of Google will reveal that others have written articles on this topic, encouraging believers that you’re safer following God’s will than venturing out into a life of sin and rebellion against God.  It’s an encouraging sentiment, and one that stuck with me for several years.

Too bad it’s wrong.

I mean, it sounds nice, sure, and it’s got an element of truth to it.  Indeed it’s better to follow God’s will than to sin, but is it really safer?  We’d all like to think that the risks we take as followers of Christ will all turn out to be the smart, safe decision after all.  We’d like to think that following God’s call to accept that job with a cut in pay so you can spend more time with your children will somehow end up being the best career move you ever made.  We’d like to think that those inner-city kids and the homeless people we minister to would all turn out to be nice, kind people who are just down on their luck.  We’d like to think that when we forsake all, leave our homes, country, family, and loved ones behind, and move to a third world country that God would then be obligated to shield us from all that makes that country “third world.”

But that’s just not how it works.

Sure, things like that happen sometimes.  Many a Christian employee has found that refocusing his time on his family ends up somehow netting him the financial security that used to elude him.  Sometimes those homeless people you serve turn out to be lifelong friends.  And some missionaries never experience serious illness or persecution.  (I haven’t met them yet, but I’m sure they exist somewhere.)

But, we don’t even have to look into the Bible to refute this cute little saying.  All it takes is some good ‘ol common sense and a little bit of history.  Do you know what every disciple of Jesus, except John and Judas, have in common?  Though not recorded in scripture, history tells us that every one of these remaining ten men died a brutal martyr’s death.  And they’re not the only ones.  Voice of the Martyrs estimates that “In this past century alone, more Christians were murdered for their faith than any other century in human history, an estimated 200 million.”  One missionary I met who has served in the tropics for many years estimated that she has had malaria over 40 times.  Her husband has had so many surgeries to remove skin cancer from his ear that he hardly has an ear left now.  The child of another missionary couple with whom we went through training recently had cerebral malaria–a serious, often fatal form of malaria, which only turned out well for her due to a providential meeting with a doctor on the street.  Just this past week, a missionary with our organization passed away from a sickness he contracted while hiking through the jungle to a nearby village.  And–lest I forget–I’m currently sitting in Australia because my wife contracted a nearly fatal case of bacterial sepsis while ministering in the bush and had to be medically evacuated to Australia for treatment.  Even if you’re just a believer following after Christ in Suburbia, God’s will is likely to take you into dangerous situations, serving sinful people, at great risk to yourself and/or your family’s personal well-being.  If we’re talking about physical safety, I think we can say that following Jesus is most definitely NOT a safe choice.

I’m not even going to address the question of financial safety because, let’s face it, following a money management strategy that advocates giving away as much money as possible, exalts the poor, humbles the rich, and has as it’s primary proponent a homeless man with “nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9:58) is not likely to turn you into the next Bill Gates.

“Ah,” you might say, “But following Jesus certainly is the safest choice spiritually.”  Well, that’s obviously true in an eternal sense, otherwise there would be no point at all to following Christ!  But, on this side of eternity, following Christ can even be risky to your spiritual health.  I had a seminary professor who loved to remind us that “Being a minister is hazardous to your soul!”  Why?  Because those who follow Christ paint a giant target on their back for Satan.  If you look in scripture, those who are following God are often targeted for spiritual attack.  Job, Judas, Paul, and Peter–all four followed God and were targeted by Satan for spiritual attack.  Three ultimately withstood Satan’s ploys, and one (Judas) gave himself over completely to Satan.  (But, even Job and Peter were rebuked at some point for caving into Satan’s schemes.)  Of course, the true believer need not worry about being indwelt by Satan as Judas was, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer Satanic attacks.  In fact, it basically guarantees it. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”  2 Tim. 3:12 (ESV)

Still, some people seem to think that following Christ is the safe bet.  “After all,” they reason, “If it turns out that I’m wrong, I’ve lost nothing.  I’ll at least have lived a good life.  But, if the Bible is true and I am found an unbeliever, I’ll suffer eternal Hell.”  Unfortunately, those people do not have Paul on their side.  Paul seemed to think that the costs of following Christ were so incredibly high that if it all turned out to be a lie, “…we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19, ESV)  So, to those who think they have nothing to lose by following Christ, I think Paul would say “Then you’re not really following Christ.  If you’re doing it right, you’re going to suffer loss.”  Almost every single “hero of the faith” in the New Testament (and many in the Old Testament) died a horrible death because they followed Christ, and, I would argue, EVERY believer WILL suffer if they choose to follow Christ.  When you have as the goal of your faith oneness with a man who died a brutal death on a cross, you are guaranteed to suffer.

The simple fact is this–following Jesus is NOT safe.  It never has been, and it never will be.  The only way in which following God’s will is safe is in view of your eternal destiny.  But that’s not how this saying is most often used, and if that’s what you intend to communicate, then saying that “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will” is unhelpful and downright confusing.  It would require a disclaimer that smacks of a pharmaceutical commercial.  “Except in the case of physical, mental, social, financial and other non-eternal destiny types of safety.  Side effects may include: homelessness, spiritual attack, poverty, sickness, ostracization, crucifixion, shipwreck, flogging, and, in not so rare cases, death.”

So, how should we think about the cost of following Christ?  When we make a choice based upon risk, we usually evaluate it based upon the likelihood and severity of both the risk and reward.  There’s four questions to consider here:

  1. What is the likelihood of incurring loss?
  2. What is the severity of the loss that might be incurred?
  3. What is the likelihood of receiving a reward?
  4. What is the value of the reward that might be gained?

Having answered the first two questions (“100%” and “Severe, possibly death,” respectively), we should now turn to the last two questions.  For the believer, the potential for reward for following Christ is guaranteed.  (Note the guarantee in 2 Tim. 4:6-8 below.)

So, the only question left is of the value of the reward.  And, since our rewards for following Christ are eternal, we can say that our rewards are “infinitely valuable.”  Near the end of his life, Paul had this to say about his impending death:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6–8 (ESV)

The New Testament is rife with the subject of eternal rewards for following Christ.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.   Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

1 Corinthians 9:24–25 (ESV)

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

Luke 6:22–23 (ESV)

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Colossians 3:23–24 (ESV)

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,  sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Hebrews 10:32–36 (ESV)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12 (ESV)

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Revelation 2:10 (ESV)

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.

Revelation 22:12–14 (ESV)

When the Bible speaks of the risks we must take as believers following God’s will, it doesn’t speak in terms of “safety” versus “danger.”  The New Testament never offers safety as a motivation for following God’s will.  Instead, it speaks in terms of “cost” versus “reward.”  It was not for the “chance of safety” that Christ endured the cross, but “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2); he gained strength to endure the cross because he set his eyes on the eternal reward that comes from following the Father’s will.  For us, the incentives that scripture gives for the sacrifices we make here on earth to follow Christ include:

  • the crown of life (Jam. 1:12)
  • an inheritance with the Son (Col. 3:24)
  • a throne in heaven/co-reign with Christ (Rev. 3:21, 20:6)
  • “…a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mk. 10:30)
  • rewards which will be so great that our earthly struggles seem insignificant (Rom. 8:18)

No doubt there will be more rewards than these listed here, but that gives you a glimpse.  Can you imagine sitting on the throne with Christ himself?!?!  In addition to these, scripture often doesn’t specify the nature of our reward, simply calling it a “reward.”  But, even if no specifics were ever given in scripture concerning the nature of our eternal rewards, considering the source, we can rest assured they’ll be worth it!

The question is not, “Is following God’s will safe?”  The answer to that is obvious, “NO!!! It’s the most dangerous thing you can do with your life!”  But, following Christ is definitely worth it.

A hope of eternal reward–not the false hope of temporary safety–is what will give comfort to the believer in the midst of suffering.  When you’re struggling to pay your bills, laying in a hospital bed, or being ridiculed or persecuted because you followed Christ, it will be of little comfort to hear that following God’s will was the “safe” choice.  The worst day of my life was the day I watched my wife–the most precious thing to me in all this world–get loaded into a plane to be flown to another country for treatment and wondered whether I would return to America as a single dad.  I love my wife dearly, so I don’t take this lightly.  I can imagine no greater pain than losing her.  But, even as I sat in that plane holding her hand, not knowing whether or not she would make it, I had a comfort and peace from God.  And the thing that gave me comfort was knowing with all my heart that if God decided to take my wife, she would go to be with Christ.  Her earthly sacrifice would be instantly rewarded with a crown of life and the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  She would spend all eternity with Him, and the cost she paid here on earth would have been worth it.

May 11, Jennifer getting into the Kodiak to fly to Cairns.

So, when we are called to make tough decisions and are weighing the cost of following Christ–be it to a new job, into a rough neighborhood, into a new ministry, or into a new country–let’s stop asking “Is it safe?”  Let’s not fall prey to the delusion that following God will be safe.  We ought to ask instead, “Do I believe that following God’s will be worth it, regardless of the cost?”  And the answer to that, for the believer, should be obvious.  When we finally get that perspective, we can live our lives in a way that shows the world that our Savior is worth whatever the cost may be.  He is infinitely worthy.  And then we can say with Job,

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…”

Job 13:15

When it rains, it pours

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Well, after many years of preparation and training, we are finally here in Papua New Guinea. Way too much has happened in the month since we left the States to update you on all of it, but it you want a snapshot of our lives here, I suggest you check out our ministry page on Facebook.

The only problem is that when you look at all of the beautiful pictures of gorgeous sunrises, natural caves, hidden spring-fed pools, and lush jungle, you might leave with the impression that we’re on an adventure filled vacation.

But life is not all sunshine and roses. It often rains, and when it does, it pours.

There are many wonderful things about living in a new culture, but the fact remains that adjusting to a completely new lifestyle takes a toll on you–physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Just for example, back in the States I lived a fairly sedentary lifestyle. I have a fitness watch which tracks my steps for the day, and back in the States I would rarely exceed 7,000 steps in a given day, unless we were especially active–like spending the day at the zoo or something like that. But since we’ve left the US, I don’t recall a single day when I’ve tracked less than 10,000 steps, and many days have me exceeding 15,000. Yesterday, for example, I never left our compound, didn’t go on any hikes, and did nothing except the basic chores like preparing meals and such and my step count was 11,537. Why so high? We spent the majority of the day chopping firewood, preparing meals, cooking over an open fire, and running back and forth to the bathroom to retrieve drinkable water. In order to help prepare us for life in a remote village, on the weekends we prepare all of our own food outdoors over an open fire using no refrigeration–all while trying to take care of two little kids. If I’ve had a day more mentally and physically draining than yesterday, I can’t remember it. On top of these weekends, we have class daily from 8:00-4:00, and occasional jungle hikes and open water ocean swims. Then there are all the new foods. Some are pretty good, but others are…well…interesting. Food has become much more of a commodity which is consumed for fuel here, rather than for fun like in the US. The physical drain is intense for someone used to a sedentary American lifestyle. I’ve lost over 25 pounds since we left the US without even trying.  (I’ve lost another 15 pounds since drafting this post almost a month ago!)

In addition to the physical demands, there are plenty of mental stressors, too. In the absence of local trash pickup, we are discouraged from using disposable paper and plastic goods. You don’t realize how dependent you are upon trash pickup until you’re forced to switch to cloth diapers (which must be hand washed…😳) and have to try to figure out alternatives to Ziploc bags and paper towels, which are nowhere to be found. When your kids are adjusting to new foods (read “explosive diarrhea”), cloth diapers can be the thing that just ruins your day. It seems like every other morning we wake up and the first thing we have to do is change diapers and wash bedding. It’s not a pleasant start to the day. On top of this, when you’re living is such close community with people you’ve just met from all over the globe, there are cultural stressors even amongst your fellow missionary colleagues. Add to that the exhaustion of spending hours a day learning a new language, making new friends, and learning the culture of the people to whom you minister, and even days which are physically less stressful can get the best of you.

Lastly, there’s the spiritual stress. You don’t realize how refreshing your Sunday church service is until you’ve sat through an entire service in a foreign language and only understood several words here and there. After a long, physically and mentally draining week, you look forward to the spiritual refreshment of Christian music and teaching, only to find yourself straining to understand bits and pieces of the sermon, and not recognizing any of the songs that are sung. Church service becomes just another culture and language learning session leaving you more exhausted than you were before. The Holy Spirit may be alive and well in the church you visited, but the spiritual truths of God’s Word are locked behind the gate of a foreign language and culture, inaccessible to you.  One positive takeaway from this experience, however, was being able to empathize with the many people who attend service every week in PNG in a language that is not their mother tongue, read scripture in a language that is not their mother tongue, and sing songs that are not from their culture or language. It gives me a greater appreciation for Bible translation and mother tongue scripture use.

In addition to the stress of cross-cultural church attendance, Satan is no fool when it comes to wartime strategy. If the Word of God is the Holy Spirit’s weapon, then those who advance the Word of God through ministry, missions, and/or Bible translation are spiritual weapons dealers. We endeavor to supply people with the very weapon the Holy Spirit uses to vanquish Satan…which puts a giant bull’s-eye on our backs. Indeed, since we’ve been here, we’ve noticed a sharp increase in spiritual warfare. Kids have had bad dreams, seen apparitions, and there have been various illnesses that just won’t go away. Satan doesn’t play fair, so unfortunately, it’s often the kids that get the brunt of the attacks. Satan is no match for God’s power, but Paul still describes the fight as a “struggle” for us.

Of course, as a missionary entering the field for the first time, all of these stressors (and many more!) hit you all at once. When it rains, it pours. The stress of adapting to all of this change while struggling to be a good spouse, parent, student, and minister can be crippling.

The last few days, it has felt like all of this stress and change of the past month has finally caught up to me. I found myself thinking this morning, “I know that God is supposed to provide grace for each day, but I just don’t see it. Where’s the grace I need to get through the day? Where is God, and why doesn’t he lend me a hand?”

Then it started raining–really raining, not just meataphorically raining. We were supposed to go to the beach today. Now you might be thinking, “What a bummer!” But actually, the rain was just what the doctor ordered. See, a trip to the beach here is no mere vacation in the sand. It’s a big ordeal, especially with kids. There’s all the normal preparation of swimsuits, sunblock, last minute (cloth) diaper changes, etc., but then there’s also a very bumpy 45-minute drive down the mountain in the back of a packed truck with 50 other people. Then there’s baths for kids and the inevitable rush to the bucket-showers, and the long wait in line for your turn at one of the three showers in each bathroom which serve over 50 people. After a long stressful week, I was not really super excited about the beach trip.

So it rained. Rather, it poured. One of those relaxing tropical rainforest monsoon-season gully-washers. So, the beach trip was cancelled. I wasn’t terribly disappointed, though I did feel bad for the kids at first. But, as I watched the rain, it felt as if God was washing away all of the stress of the past week. The kids all made the best out of it and had a blast playing in the rain, throwing water from the downspouts all over each other, and rolling in the mud puddles.  (Missionary kids, or “MKs” as we call them, are a creative bunch!)  Turns out, most of the other parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of a beach trip either, so in the end, God provided just what everyone needed–rest for the adults, and water to play in for the kids. He brought the beach to us, all the way to the top of the mountain.

Some of the kids at POC playing in the rain with their dad.
One happy baby, playing in the rain! (Our kids were napping, so they missed out on the fun.)

God provided just what I needed to get through the day.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Learning Obedience through Suffering

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭5:8-9, 14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is one of those passages in the Bible that is deceptively complex. I’ve read this passage before, but I think I have often missed some of the crucial truths buried within this passage. First of all, let’s take a closer look at some crucial parts of this passage.First of all, notice that the writer of Hebrews is talking about Jesus–the perfect, sinless God-man who always obeyed his Father. Second, allow me to highlight some important words in this passage:

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect…”

Some important and puzzling questions arise from these words. Wasn’t Jesus already obedient to the Father? How can someone who is perfect and omniscient learn obedience? Doesn’t that imply that he was not sufficiently obedient at one point in time? How can someone who never sinned be made perfect? How could Jesus be more perfect than he already was? Does this mean that he lacked some aspect of perfection?

I think the key lies in the type of perfection and obedience that is being described here. Of course, Jesus was in one sense already perfect and obedient. He never sinned, even in his youth, and he never disobeyed the Father. But I don’t think the author is primarily talking about sin here–he is talking about the perfection of faith. To be sure, sinlessness and perfect faith are related very closely, but they’re not the same.

Sin is, to put it simply, doing something God forbids. But faith is taking an action or attitude that is rooted in a trust or belief that God will do what he says.  We see this in the definition of faith provided by the writer of Hebrews himself:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We see in this definition that belief is a crucial part of faith, but we also know from James that “Faith without works is dead.”  Furthermore, when we read on in the examples of faith provided by the author of the letter to the Hebrews we can see that all of his examples are people who demonstrated their belief with an action or attitude:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph…

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents…

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin…

By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land…
[These people] through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1, 17, 21, 23-25, 27-29, 33-38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Notice that all of these examples of faith use action verbs (I.e., “offered, blessed, crossed, etc.”).  Faith is not merely belief, it is belief that results in action.  Jesus, while he was sinless, had to learn obedience and be made perfect just as we do because the perfection the author is talking about is perfection of faith.  Jesus’ faith was perfected through suffering.  He suffered as a homeless man trying to find food and shelter.  He suffered the rejection and persecution of the religious and political leaders of his time.  He suffered constant temptation by Satan, and no doubt, the temptations that accompany the lifestyle of a single man.  He suffered rejection and disbelief by his family and close friends.  He suffered the stresses of ministry and constant relocation.  He suffered the frustration of having to wait to begin his ministry until he was 3o.  He suffered knowing that many of his followers were only there for the miracles and free bread.  He suffered the weight of the knowledge of what was to come on the cross.  If ever a man on earth knew suffering, it was Jesus.  Isaiah describes the Messiah as “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV)

When Jesus began his ministry, he was perfectly sinless.  But he had not yet reached perfection of his faith.  That may sound strange, but perfect faith only comes through trials (See James 1:2-4 below).  Furthermore, Hebrews 5:14 seems to indicate that these trials (or “opportunities to practice discernment”) will be constant.  Why?  Because faith, unlike belief, requires action to be made complete.  For example, you can’t really say that you have faith that God will provide for your finances if you’ve never had to choose between being obedient to God in your finances (I.e., tithing) and paying your bills.  If there is no action accompanying the belief, then it’s just a hypothetical belief at best, or dead faith at worst.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

‭‭James‬ ‭2:14, 17, 26‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There is a significant lesson for us to learn in Hebrews 5.

If Jesus, the God-incarnate Messiah, was required to undergo trials of such severity and frequency in order to achieve the perfection of faith necessary to be obedient in the mission that the Father gave him, how much more trials are required for sinners such as you and I!

So many times when we undergo trials, we’re surprised by it.  Oftentimes it seems like pointless pain and suffering.  But for the believer, there is no such thing as pointless suffering!  All suffering, in the life of a believer, is designed by God to bring us in conformity to the image of his Son.  So, whatever suffering you may be enduring right now, know that God is with you in the midst of it and there’s a purpose behind it all.

Let these words of scripture sink into your heart as you meditate on what God is doing in your life:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. 

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans‬ ‭8:16-39‬ ‭ESV

What verses or passages from scripture give you comfort when you’re suffering?  Share them with us in the comments below!

Suffering Well

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Job 1:20-22

This Thanksgiving, we take time to be grateful for all that we have been blessed with.  But for many, the holiday season is not such a joyful time.  Many people around us are suffering through tragic losses and difficult times.  Each of us, at some point in our lives, will go through similar experiences of suffering.  All of us will, most likely, suffer financial difficulty, health problems, and the loss of loved ones.  It’s not really a matter of “if,” but “when.”  But isn’t it interesting that we don’t all react the same way, even when our problems are basically the same as everyone else’s?  Why is it that some people seem to collapse when tragedy strikes, while others blossom?

There’s a few things from the story of Job in the Old Testament that we can learn about suffering.  But first, let’s take note of a few of the most important details in the story.  First of all, notice that Job’s suffering was not a result of sin that he had committed.  Job is described as being “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (v. 1) We shouldn’t assume from that truth that our own suffering is never a result of our sin—oftentimes it is!  Take a speeding ticket, for example.  Ultimately, all suffering is indirectly caused by sin, because sin has ravaged the perfect creation that God made.  But suffering is not always caused directly by our sin.  Sometimes bad things happen to godly people.

Secondly, notice what Job lost.  First, Job lost his oxen and donkeys.  Oxen were the combines of that day, so this loss would be similar to loosing one’s livelihood and food source simultaneously.  No oxen, no food.  Secondly, Job lost his sheep.  Sheep were used for sacrifices to God, clothing (from the wool), and perhaps for food as well.  The third thing Job lost was his camels—his primary mode of transportation.  Last, and most importantly, Job lost his family.  All seven sons and three daughters were killed when the roof over their head collapsed during a feast.  And, while he was still mourning the loss of these, he was stricken with boils on his skin.  In the span of just moments, Job lost his job, his food, his clothing, his transportation, his children, and his health.

Thirdly, notice that there were things going on “behind the scenes,” in the spiritual realm, that Job was not privy to.  Now, we don’t know for sure why God allowed Satan to afflict Job.  Certainly God could have prevented Satan from doing so, but for whatever reason, he decided to permit Satan to afflict Job to a certain extent.  Perhaps God was trying to grow Job’s faith.  That certainly is one of the outcomes of this whole ordeal.  But while that may be the case, I tend to think that the purpose of Job’s afflictions was for our spiritual benefit.  We get a behind the scenes look at suffering that we don’t get anywhere else in scripture.  So perhaps one of the greatest lessons we learn through Job is that sometimes our suffering is the means God uses to encourage others during their suffering.  Because of the introduction of sin into the world, suffering is an inevitable part of life.  But when Christians endure suffering well, we show through our testimony that there is hope in the midst of crisis for those who are in Christ.

But how do we “suffer well?”  The answer lies in Job’s response to his suffering.  Job’s first reaction to suffering was both grief and worship.  Now Job’s grieving comes as no surprise to us, given all that he had lost.  But worship?!?!  God had just allowed unspeakable disaster to strike Job, and all Job had ever done was live a godly life!  Of course, Job wasn’t without sin, but even God himself describes Job as “blameless and upright.”  How could Job resist the incredible urge to blame God for his suffering?  Job was able to suffer well because he had developed a godly character long before tragedy struck.  Job didn’t wait around for disaster to hit and then look in the “What to read when you are suffering” appendix in his Bible.  Job didn’t have to frantically scramble around asking advice from godly people on how to endure suffering.  Job didn’t wonder what kind of God would allow such suffering.  Job didn’t question God’s character because Job already knew God’s character.  The time to figure out how to handle suffering is not when you’re in the middle of it—the best time to figure that out is when things are good.  Job could worship God in the middle of suffering because he had made up his mind long beforehand that he would do so.  Job had a faith “emergency fund” that he’d been saving up for years, funded by the realization that every blessing was a gift from God.

Job recognized that “the Lord gave…” When times were good, Job didn’t take it for granted.  Job realized that his oxen, sheep, camels, servants, wealth, health, and family were all gifts from God that he didn’t deserve.  That’s why Job prayed for his children after every feast—because he realized that his family’s health and wellbeing was simply a product of God’s grace and mercy.  Job was able to weather the storm because he practiced a lifestyle of thanksgiving.  Job didn’t worship God because God had taken all of these blessings away from him; Job worshiped God because that’s just what Job did—he worshiped God.  Every day.  Continually.  Every blessing that Job received he praised God for.  Every ox, every donkey, every sheep, every servant, every penny of his wealth, every son, every daughter, every moment, every hour.

You see, when we stop taking things for granted and start praising God for every blessing we have, then our attitude changes.  Instead of feeling that God owes us all these things—that we’re entitled to God’s blessings—we begin to see God’s blessings for what they are: grace.  Blessings from God are his grace—unmerited favor.  Suffering is not when God steals things from us that belong to us (our health, family, wealth, etc.), it’s when God simply takes back what was rightfully his to begin with.  If the Lord gave, then the Lord has the right to take away.  And it helps to keep in mind the truth of Romans 8:28—“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  God never takes back his blessings just for the fun of it.  There’s always a purpose, and it always works together for our good.

So how do you suffer well?  You start right now—especially if things are going well.  You live a life of thanksgiving—not just one day every year.  You suffer well by making every day Thanksgiving Day.  And then when tragedy strikes you simply repeat what you say every day: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”