How Well Do We Suffer?

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?'”

John Newton, Exodus 3:2

It seems that pain is the best teacher. I suppose as we navigate through life we find the ‘capacity’ of our hearts expanding. We learn the hard way to come under God’s direction, and we finally learn to love others. Maybe this is how God changes us? After all, isn’t the crushed grape that yields the wine?

C.S. Lewis once made the comment, (and it’s worth thinking about,) that “experience is the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” We face many obstacles, run into quite a few dead ends, and along the way we learn that when we really hurt, we really start to learn some things.

I look over my life and it seems chock full of challenge. I’ve lost the use of my right arm, I have struggled with depression. I had a brain tumor removed, and must walk with a cane. I struggle with intense fatigue. (I no longer can pastor a church or teach in a Bible college.)

My wife and I have lost a child. I have prayed earnestly for a complete healing and had others pray for me. It’s funny, but all of this has happened after I became a Christian disciple! I often ask myself why?

What did I do to deserve all of this?

Paul and Barnabas came into an interesting place (we can read about it in Acts 14.)

“They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” 

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Some of our Bible teachers we listen to minimize suffering, and we adopt a lot of our own theology to factor out pain and difficulty. But is this what the Bible teaches? If we read Hebrews 11, we find that life could be pretty grim for those with faith in God.

“Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”

Why does it have to be so hard for believers in Jesus?

Common sense suggests that things should get easier for those who believe. We somehow think that God rewards faith with instant glory. I painfully discover that my discipleship, my faith, doesn’t mean some wonderful existence on this planet. It seems that pain becomes the way we grow up and mature in Him. I honestly believe, after over 40 years of following Jesus, that suffering is part of God’s plan for me.

It has never been easy. I wish it was.

No matter what you are going through, remember that God always loves you. He has chosen us to navigate us through much difficulty. We must however, convert these painful things by our faith in Him. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gather Around Jesus

“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.”

Mark 6:30, ESV

You couldn’t find a more amazed group of disciples on the green hills of Galilee.  Coming from the four points of a compass they gathered at the predetermined time around Jesus. They excitedly told Him of wonders and miracles beyond.

It’s good to share with Him all that we see and experience.

I believe that the Lord desires that we come to Him and share the details of our day.  The things that happened–in His name, and in our heart.  We should tell Him all that we did, how we endured temptations or failed.

Jesus will not condemn or judge you for any sins or mistakes–that is a given.  But as we tell Him about these things, He can transform these things so good will come from them.  Difficulties encountered also are to be communicated.  He is fully absorbed with our sharing, and He devotes Himself to you during these times. I believe that He even understands when we come back carrying nothing.

This “inventory” needs you to be honest, and completely forthright. Jesus is wonderfully attentive; as we share and release things to Him (and in His name), we become more like Him. 

To be a witness is our calling. We probably won’t ever get it right. But we must remember that His treasure is in clay pots.

What God is bringing you through will be your testimony that just might bring someone else to Him. Without your witness of Jesus’ love they may never find Him. That is tragic.

Your story is the key that can unlock someone else’s prison. Touch others with your testimony.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Am I Like Peter?

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:66-68, ESV

To be an authentic follower of Jesus can be really hard sometimes. There doesn’t seem to be any contingency plan for anyone who is looking to escape. Jesus either is, or He isn’t our Lord. The question is posed daily, “Do you also want to leave?”

That’s a question that will be asked to every disciple–I will hear it every morning for the rest of my life.

These are moments when I must make a decision. Will I take up my cross and go with Him? I’ve looked around and there doesn’t seem to be any room in Jesus’ band for ‘almost’ disciples. But Jesus loves Peter, and Jesus loves me. I believe this.

“And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself],

And take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also].

Luke 9:23, Amplified Bible

Being obedient to Jesus is far from easy these days. Today’s cross is waiting for me as my feet hit the floor each morning. I’m afraid at times that I won’t be able to take the next step as a true follower. Am I just fooling myself? Will Jesus keep helping and holding me? (Matthew 11:28-30.)

All of heaven seems to stand on tiptoe to watch and see what I’m going to do next.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.”

Psalm 73:25, NLT

Is He Your Friend, or Just a Doctrine?

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”

  ~D.L. Moody

Friendship with God can be a liberating secret for the believer. It releases us from the terrible bondage of religion and ritual with all its negative connotations. Intimacy with our Lord will carry us beyond creed or doctrine to the place of true communion.

It’s not that the Law is bad, but in the intense light of God’s grace, it’s a poor substitute. We value legalism, and that is precisely what we believe when we bypass the relationship. Doctrine is a good servant, but a poor master.

Grace always trumps legalism. Love truly surpasses rules.

As good evangelicals, we can talk big about “a personal relationship.” That is indeed crucial. But few be the believers that walk in a daily friendship with their Savior. That is truly a tragedy.

As a teacher of God’s Word, I mourn over my students when they miss out on what is real and true. I’m afraid for them.

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends since I have told you everything the Father told me.”

John 15:15, NLT

Friendship with Jesus will bring true guidance. He shares secrets and wisdom with his friends. We are brought into a true knowledge of the Kingdom through the relationship of friendship with the King. We are not slaves– or drones, slavishly serving out of slavish fear.

We are now His friends!

Jesus wants to confide in us; sharing wisdom and truth hidden by time and sin. And his kingdom is chock full of great mysteries! He is looking to bring us into a willingness of daily communion. Only through intimacy with Jesus can we handle what He wants to teach us. (see Psalm 25:14; John 15:15.)

He will heal our wounds, and forgive all our sins. He is truly our savior as well as our friend.

Friendship comes with a price. It means we are now tethered to the Lord. That can get old, especially when I want to do my own thing. I will continually have to lay something down and choose to accept being tethered and follow Him.

But my soul now has a best friend. Or just maybe, Jesus has been my friend all along, and I just didn’t know it.

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