Suffering for Jesus

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We use this term loosely in ministry, usually followed by a stay at an all-inclusive resort or a trip to some exotic place no one would consider “suffering” at all. But, despite our quips, suffering is a part of ministry; it is a part of relationship with God, in taking on His work in the Kingdom. No one knows that better than those that have been there, and yet we use comments like “Jesus isn’t suffering, broken, ill, or misused so neither are we.” Where does that asinine train of thought come from? True. Healing is in the name of Jesus, but Jesus didn’t heal everyone from everything. So if we suffer it isn’t because we do not believe on the name of Jesus.

 In fact, if you think about sovereign saints that believed whole-heartedly and passionately in the healing work of God and the manifestation of His grace, don’t you think of all people, the disciples would have been spared from suffering? And you cannot speak of suffering without bringing up Jesus Christ, a man who suffered and died a cruel death in a state of innocence so that we would forever be cleansed from the cancerous cruelty of guilt and shame. Therein you will find freedom, but we are never guaranteed freedom from suffering. If that were the case, what do we make of the words of Jesus that say, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.” He didn’t say “might” or “may  have” but a definite “WILL.”

 The words that got John and Peter and countless other martyrs through weren’t based on the denial of their pain, but the Truth that got them through was the understanding that no matter what, God had not forsaken them, and any sacrifice or suffering was worth the love of Christ. It is the same Truth that gets the countless Christians persecuted daily for their faith through to the next day even as they bury their children, spouses, and friends.

 We have to stop pointing at suffering as punishment and pain as an act of disobedience. The truth is, we are all going to suffer in one way or another in the flesh as long as we are earth bound. We have a choice in how we react to that suffering, in bitterness or in joy. Let me explain, joy is not happiness. No one is happy to suffer, no one laughs through chemo or transplants, but at the end of the day, they walk through it knowing they are led by Hands that know suffering and unfair pain. It doesn’t mean they are not afraid or they do not have moments of hopelessness, but in the end, they rest in the knowledge that He sees, He knows, and He promises that there is more on the other side.

 We cannot be afraid to suffer, and we cannot condemn those that do, questioning their faith, and challenging their obedience.  If you do not suffer, praise God! It isn’t because of anything you have or have not done, and if you suffer, praise God, because He has seen fit to send a message through you. Some of the bravest souls I know, didn’t deny their pain or their suffering or their illness, they acknowledged it, embraced it, and made it a part of a lasting testimony of faith. 

Walking In His Will

20140106-102426.jpgI’ve had quite a few conversations lately with people who are downright scared they are messing up, that God is disappointed in them, and that He is one more bad decision away from disowning them altogether. Have you had that thought? It’s actually rather common. I admit I have had those fears before, and let me say these things they are fearful of aren’t because they are sinful but because they are so afraid of missing His will, His plan, and His mission for them.

Two things come to mind:
1) We are not big enough to undo the will of God.
2) Who do we think He is?

Now I realize that some might have trouble with that first point, but have you thought about it? Never once as far as I have read does anyone ever undo the will of God. I have never read a single passage that says, “And so the will of God was thwarted.” I have seen mistakes and failures and delays, but ultimately the will of God was done. It’s humanity’s influence on faith that says we can mess it all up or we can utterly destroy the will of God in our neglect. Seriously? Think about the most heinous sins in the Bible and their consequences. Go on. I’ll walk through some with you:

Adam and Eve – the first sinners, placed in a Garden to live a charmed life but it wasn’t enough to know God, they wanted to be like Him. Did their sin send God in a cataclysmic conniption fit? “Whatever shall I do!? My creation has turned on me!” No. It set into motion His plan before the beginning of time – that Jesus would be the sacrifice.

David – Here is a man who not only had an affair with a woman but murdered her husband in order to cover His sin of passion. Do you think God said “David?! How could you?! I had a plan and now you’ve gone and ruined it with your rebellion!” No. In fact, Solomon, the second child birthed by Bathsheba had been selected as the one to build the temple long before David ever took a walk upon the roof… How is this so? God’s will cannot be thwarted. Might there have been another way? Perhaps, but the most infamous sin of the king didn’t undo the will of God.

Who else? Let’s talk about Jonah for a minute. He was a man that ran far and long from the direction of God, but did the Ninehvites never hear the Word of God? No. Not his rebellion, not a storm, not even the putrid vomit of an oversized fish could undo the will of God!

Do we think we are more powerful than they? Do we think God is so small?

Which leads us to the second point, who do we think God is? One of my favorite parables in the Bible is that of the talents. We hear this story and always we become afraid, “Am I the first servant or am I the last? Am I making the most of what I have been given or am I squandering it?” And we fear our punishment, our removal of blessing. Here is what I want you to see. Do you think the Master was angry because the servant had only the one talent? Do you think if in humility the servant had said “I didn’t want to lose what you had given me because I didn’t want to have nothing to give to you,” that the Master would have been so upset? I don’t think so. You know why I think the Master was so upset? It was because the last servant painted a picture of Him out of fear. Instead of admitting his failure and taking the blame, he cast the blame and labeled the Master cruel and unyielding. So what did the Master become? Cruel and unyielding, sentencing him to death and distributing his wealth. Fear can mess us up, but it doesn’t change who God is. How do we know this? Because to those that had gladly multiplied their talents, he gave more. The cruel task Master was in actuality a generous and giving Lord.

One of the most powerful things I have heard to describe our relationship to God in this faith journey was spoken by Graham Cooke. He challenged my image of God by these simple but compelling words, “Too often we see God as the overseer in a concentration camp than a loving Father teaching us to walk.” We see life in Him as a chore and an unyielding obligation, where He has said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Fear of messing up fills us with dread because we fear punishment. Cooke encouraged the image of a parent as his child is learning to walk, and I want us to imagine God in the same capacity:

The daddy holds the child under the arms and speaks to it, lovingly and telling it to walk. The child lighting up with anticipation, or nervous and unsure depending on their disposition, positions itself to stand on wobbly legs. Once he sees the child is stable, the daddy slowly loosens his grip. Smiling in the direction of the child, he moves back a pace and beckons it forward. The child unsure takes the first step. Seeing that the child has it, the daddy backs up yet again and beckons one more step. The child, usually growing in confidence, takes that next step and so it goes until the child finds itself back in daddy’s arms. Such a lovely picture, isn’t it? Their is a side of you that cannot fully believe the loving nature of God like this, and you are immediately pointing to discipline, aren’t you? After all, the father disciplines those whom He loves.

Yes. He does.

So, we suppose the child gets excited and before it can make it to the other side of the room falls. Does the parent get upset and demand the child to get up and walk! Or say that as the child is walking, it sees something that captures it’s attention and suddenly it’s back on all fours chasing after it. Does the daddy yell and spank and refuse to allow another go? No. He catches the wanderer and he begins the process yet again until eventually the child is in it’s daddy’s arms. Discipline resembles this type of correction, not punishment. Discipline as it is referred to in that passage about disciplining out of love is in the intent to better the child and to steer it in the right direction, not to punish the child out of anger or hostility.

Too often we put our earthly natures onto our Supernatural Father. Knowing these two things, can you honestly believe the fear that you will mess things up, that your mistakes are too many and you will miss the will of God, His mission for your life? Not if you are honest. God is a good King, kind and generous and also lovingly corrective. Do not mistake Him for less. He has a plan for you, before you ever took that first breath or gathered strength on wobbly legs for that first step. Don’t dismiss His correction anymore than you would dismiss His love for you. He loves you. He has not lost sight of you, and you cannot undo His will.

Keep walking.