Not too long ago, I was reading about a pastor in another country who had been falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and was waiting to be executed. There were cries for his release and requests for people to be praying for his release. However, the story went on to say that while his was in prison, he has conducting Sunday worship, Bible studies, and prayer meetings. People were coming to the Lord; in fact, one man testified that he came to faith because of this pastor’s incarceration. So how are we supposed to pray? Do we pray that God would deliver that pastor from death, and even from his cell; or do we pray that God will continue to use him in his affliction? (Actually I do both . . . if you don’t understand that statement, email me and I’ll explain it some more).
I believe it all boils down to your attitude toward suffering in the Christian life, and Paul puts his finger on it:
“And now, you see, I am going to Jerusalem, bound by the Holy Spirit and obligated and compelled by the convictions of my own spirit, not knowing what will befall me there—Except that the Holy Spirit clearly and emphatically affirms to me in city after city that imprisonment and suffering await me.
“But none of these things move me; neither do I esteem my life dear to myself, if only I may finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have obtained from which was entrusted to me by the Lord Jesus, faithfully to attest to the good news of God’s grace” —Acts 20:22-24
“. . . we begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul replied, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be tied up, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’” —Acts 21:10-13
It was prophesied that in Jerusalem he would suffer and Paul understood that his friends didn’t want him to suffer, but if Paul’s goal was to avoid suffering, he would avoid going to Jerusalem. Well, let’s make it personal. If it was your friend, and your desire for someone you loved was to escape suffering, then you will do eerything you can do to keep them from suffering. And that’s what Paul’s friends urged him to do.
Many times I have seen this same counsel repeated today by well-meaning Christian friends. A Christian woman finds herself in a painful marriage relationship, and some “Christian friend” will give counsel such as, “I wouldn’t put up with that; you’re entitled to be happy.” Now that counsel assumes that God can’t change lives and heal broken marriages. It also assumes that the primary goal in life is to be happy and to be free from pain. God’s Word makes it plain that we live in a fallen, broken world, one in which all creation suffers and groans under the weight of sin. Such counsel assumes that God isn’t in control of our circumstances, or that He never sends suffering our way. But God often uses suffering in the life of the Christian:
“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles [Why], so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort that you experience in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we also suffer” —II Corinthians 1:3-6
“For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” —II Corinthians 4:17-18
“. . . Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Notice the Lord didn’t say, “No.” He said, “My Grace is sufficient for this problem. You are weak, but my Grace is strong..” That’s why Paul was able to then say, “So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” —II Corinthians 12:7-10
“Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse. For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” —I Peter 2:18-25
“My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death” —Philippians 3:10
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body – for the sake of his body, the church – what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” —Colossians 1:24
Look, Paul knew he would suffer in Jerusalem. God revealed this to him so he would be prepared for what lay ahead, not so he could avoid it.
Imagine you are in an Algebra class, and the teacher told you, “Tomorrow we are having a test.” Did the teacher tell you that so you would skip class the next day, or to allow you alert you to study that night for the test? Get my point?
Paul understood this and was willing not only to suffer in Jerusalem, but if need be, to die for the name of the Lord Jesus, who died for him. As an unbeliever, Paul had undoubtedly watched many suffer joyfully at his own hand. He was likewise ready to suffer in the same way.
Now, before all of you send me emails, the suffering we’re called to endure is persecution and torment brought on by our testimony of Jesus Christ. Not one of those verses I just sited includes suffering sickness or disease. Jesus redeemed us from all manner of sickness. If you have cancer—you better believe I will curse it and allow you to be healed; if you have diabetes, you bet, you should seek healing. Jesus died on the cross to bring healing to your whole being—spirit, soul, body!
There is no contradiction here. It is simply an opportunity for us to expand our understanding of our Lord and his plan and purpose in our lives. It also requires us to pursue His Wisdom and Understanding—to live closer to Him!
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts