Christian believers are not immune from suffering. In fact, sometimes
it seems that sincere Christian believers suffer more than others! God
has promised us many things, but He has not promised us immunity from suffering
in this life. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord
delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:19). “Yes, and all who desire
to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Suffering will be a reality for us in one form or another until Jesus returns.
The issue of suffering is a complex one, since there are many kinds of
suffering, many possible reasons for each kind, and often many perplexing
mysteries. Our faith in the goodness of God may be tested through sufferings,
and our responses to suffering in this life have the potential to make
us or break us.
How convenient it would be for us if God somehow guaranteed that we
will never be severely tested in this life – that all will be sweetness,
comfort and prosperity! It is a false teaching, sadly often found in charismatic
circles, that says that if we are in covenant with God we will escape serious
suffering – either by simply rebuking it in Jesus name or by calling upon
God, our covenant partner, who will immediately come and rescue
us. No, God will rescue us, but it may well be that deliverance will not
come about quickly as we would like. God has his reasons for this, and
the answers are generally not simple, nor can we always know them while
we are suffering.
There is sweetness, comfort and prosperity in the gospel, but there
are also fiery trials, afflictions, sufferings, persecutions and rejection.
Paul knew what it was to be abased, and he also knew how to abound –
sometimes he had more than enough, other times he suffered need and hunger
(Philippians 4:12). This was not because he lacked faith, but because he
faith. True faith takes us out of the comfort zone into areas where
we enter into conflict with Satan’s kingdom and must demonstrate both patience
and faith in the face of delays and difficulties. The person who has it
as his goal to enjoy an easy life here and now is not following after love,
but is living selfishly. God calls us to combat with a real enemy. Yes,
He has given us power to overcome, but not without a fight (see teaching
on spiritual warfare).
Our Response to Suffering
When we suffer, our response is very important. We need to remember that
God still loves us, and while there is life, there is hope. The subject
of our response to suffering needs to be explored further and developed
with further teaching. Briefly, if you are suffering because of your sins,
repent. If you are suffering
because of mistakes, seek to learn and gain wisdom. If you are suffering
because of sickness, give thanks to God for His promises and learn how
to receive the healing God
has for you. If you are suffering because of the sins of another Christian,
confront him or her according to Matthew 18:15-18, forgive him or her and
seek wisdom from God. If you are suffering persecution from unbelievers,
offer your suffering to God, pray (James 5:14), give thanks to God and
rejoice (James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 4:13)! You are also called to love your enemies,
pray for them, and bless them. (Matthew 5:44). If you are suffering because
the events of life seem to be conspiring to frustrate you, seek God about
it, be patient in your wilderness experience and look forward to the promised
land of blessings God is leading you into. Don’t allow discouragement and
bitterness against God to enter your heart. Learn from the experiences
of the children of Israel. Also try to get as many as possible to pray
for you and your situation. This will help, but you still need patience.
Do not yield to discouragement because of suffering. This is one of
the greatest battles we will ever face – the battle to stay encouraged
and joyful. PRAISE is a major key to making it through trials. If
offered sincerely, in faith, to God, it will help you get out of troubles
faster than anything, and you will get stronger and feel less pain in the
whole process, because God dwells in the praises of His people. Just consider
how quickly God delivered Paul and Silas from the jail in Philippi when
they praised Him in the middle of the night (Acts 16) ! This is a good
example for us. Here is where major spiritual battles are won or lost.
Praise God instead of grumbling. It will make the world of difference.
I’m not saying all this is easy. On the contrary, it takes a lot of
faith. But remember, God is faithful and He will always bless you in the
long run if you obey his commands here.
Different Reasons for Suffering
Pain and suffering reveals the presence of a problem. Suffering reminds
us that the Kingdom of Heaven has not manifested itself fully on earth.
I remember speaking with a young Christian businessman in Romania, who
had just lost his daughter in a car accident. His remark was “we can’t
build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth”. And until the Kingdom of God manifests
fully, there will always be problems, and corresponding pain to remind
us of their existence.
Our own mistakes
Actually, this young man was speeding in his new car when he hit an
unreliable patch of dirt road and ended up in an accident in which his
wife was hospitalised, his daughter killed, and himself scratched on the
face. Some suffering is indeed caused by our mistakes. Many times the mercy
of God does prevent us from suffering serious consequences, but not
always. God is sovereign, and there are usually factors in His decisions
that we have no knowledge of whatsoever. We have to trust that indeed He
is “working all things together for good for those who love Him, who are
the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We can suffer loss when we get involved in investing in things without
first getting enough relevant knowledge. God is not the one to blame when
we rush headlong into business ventures or investments without getting
the facts, and without getting a true assurance from God that it is indeed
His plan. He may help us out of these problems of our own creation, but
experience and observation is that He usually does not rush to
help us out of these situations, especially where we have wilfully disregarded
wise counsel or in cases where we have declared that in getting into
the problem we were acting on His instructions. We should be very cautious
about saying “God told me to do this or that” because in doing so we risk
God’s honor, not to mention our own integrity before men.
It is not God’s will for us to be sick. Jesus provided for our healing.
However, if we continue to abuse our bodies by eating junk food and drinking
lots of caffeine, overworking, not exercising and denying ourselves sleep
for extended periods, we may indeed suffer sickness because of the mistake
of failing to take reasonable care of our bodies. God would be more interested
in us correcting such bad habits than providing us with a quick and miraculous
healing, in most cases.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy Word” (Psalm
119:67). “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn
your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). “I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are
right, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:75).
The sin of worry can weigh us down and cause mental, emotional and ultimately
physical suffering. Why should we worry if we trust in God’s goodness?
Why should we fear what man can do, especially since our God is in control
over all things and will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability
to endure? (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Many times fear is a sin. People fear many things. The only fear
we really need is the fear of the Lord, and of course the natural fear
of doing something stupid like putting our hand in the fire or jumping
from a high place. Natural fears themselves can become obsessive for some
– and it then becomes a bondage which must be broken. The fear of the Lord
is really a deep reverence and even a trembling before the Word of God
and before the presence of the Lord (Isaiah 66:2). The fear of the Lord
is to hate evil, and God defines this holy fear as the key to true wisdom.
We need more of this fear of the Lord, but many of the things people fear
have nothing to do with this clean and holy fear at all.
Fear of disaster brings a kind of mental torment. The fear itself often
brings a suffering worse than the experience of the thing feared. The fear
of rejection can paralyse us and cause much suffering in the social sphere
of life. Fearing evil spirits is the foundation of much false religion
and brings terrible bondage. Fear is a kind of “faith” for as yet unseen
negative results. We need to avoid it as it attracts demons which can then
often cause the very problems we are fearing. God wants us to be courageous,
not unbelieving or fearful.
Unbelief can cause all kinds of suffering, for ourselves and others.
Unbelief keeps the blessings of God such as healing, forgiveness, fullness
and freedom locked out from our lives. Unbelief is something God can’t
stand. Christians with unbelief are dishonouring God by their thoughts,
words and deeds.
Sexual sin in the body can open the door for God’s judgments and discipline
in this life. It can also bring a sense of shame and misery which robs
us of the blessings of God in our soul – blessings like peace, joy and
innocence. Sometimes sexual sin opens the door for sexually transmitted
diseases. Other times it opens the door for other diseases. We’d be better
off to always keep our hearts and minds pure. See teaching on sanctification
for some understanding of how this can happen.
Any kind of sin can open the door for satan to afflict us, and might
also attract the discipline of God. The ways of God in this regard are
complex and defy simple rules. But let’s bear in mind that sin always costs
more than it gives.
Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake
It is a serious mistake to conclude that suffering is always due to
our sins or mistakes. No, the Bible affirms that many times we are called
to suffer for righteousness’ sake. Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians:
“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe
in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). The same
is true for a large section of believers around the world today. The apostle
Peter wrote, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial
which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but
rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when
His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1
Sometimes we suffer because of honesty or obedience to God’s commandment
to preach the gospel. Other times we suffer because of the hatred of those
who are still under the power of the evil one to a greater or lesser extent,
though we interact little with them. In these cases Jesus himself instructed
us to love,pray for and bless our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and to overcome
evil with good (Romans 12).
To be continued…
Can We Overcome Suffering?
A lot of our suffering is due to our own unwise choices. But we are
actually guaranteed by God that we will suffer persecution if we truly
want to live for Him. Sickness and disease – both physical and emotional
– can generally be overcome in this life by faith in God, but suffering
will remain part of our lives on and off until we pass beyond this temporal
existence into what God has prepared for those who love Him.
For the Christian, suffering helps us to keep our eyes on things of
eternal value, to have compassion on others, to develop patience, to prove
our love and loyalty towards God, and to prove to men the genuineness of
our convictions and our love. It helps us to understand the heart of God
better, because God suffers constantly – because He loves so much.
Don’t just think of your own suffering, but consider the suffering of
God Himself. Jesus Christ was no stranger to suffering. As God in the flesh,
He was certainly willing to take some of his own medicine. He lived, suffered
rejection and died a horrendous death of agony – and it was for you. Couldn’t
you trust in a God like that?
I welcome responses to this message.