Thursday, March 10, 2016

Suffering Well--Paul, the Man who Suffered Well

One of the most influential people in the early church was Paul. He was a Jewish man who was devoted to the Jewish faith. As a leader of the Jews, he defended the Jewish faith against Christianity and was responsible for persecuting members of the early church. He approved the execution of Stephen and ravaged churches, dragging both men and women from them and throwing them into prison. When Paul was on his way to Damascus, he could be heard was breathing threats and murder against the believer--so strong was he hatred of believers.

On that journey to Damascus God revealed Himself to Paul and confronted him for persecuting His church. God struck Paul with blindness so he couldn't continue his journey and then sent Ananias to lay hands on Paul so he could receive his sight. Ananias was reluctant to go because Paul had a reputation for harming and murdering believers. But God assured Ananias because He had chosen Paul to become  an instrument to carry the gospel to Gentiles,to kings, and to Israel. He also told him that he was going to show Paul how much he would suffer for His name's sake.

The first way Paul suffered was in facing the truth that he had been responsible for brutally persecuting Christ's church and born responsibility for stoning Stephen. We often think grace is easy, but to fully experience it we must fully acknowledge sin and grieve the harm we have done to others. When Paul fell in love with Jesus, He also came to the realization he harmed the people Jesus loved. Because of the depth of his sin, Paul experienced heights of grace and that grace motivated him to lay aside everything to serve God with His whole life. He suffered well by choosing not to wallow in shame and grief, but to embrace God's grace, drawing joy from doing what God called him to do.

There were many other ways Paul suffered. He would go to one community and share the gospel and be received and invited to stay. He would build relationships and teach those who were saved and then he would prepare to leave and the painful goodbyes caused great grief. Then were other communities he entered only to be rejected and cast out. The call to the missionary life required him to love well even with the possibility of rejection. It required that he love well and not let his heart grow cold with the many goodbyes he faced. He suffered well by choosing to keep his heart open to all people.

Paul's testimony even landed him jail with Silas. They were  arrested, stripped of clothing, beaten with rods and thrown into prison because they shared the gospel. Paul and Silas chose to suffer well by spending their time in prison praying and singing hymns to God. While they were singing, there was a great earthquake which shook the foundations of the prison causing the doors to open and the bonds to fall off. When the jailer woke up and saw the doors open, he was going to kill himself, but Paul intervened and led him and his family to the Lord. The magistrates ordered the city to let Paul and Silas go, and it would have been easy for Paul to just leave, but he chose not to leave. Instead, he asked, as a Roman citizen, to be given a public apology.

Paul also was caught in a horrible two week storm on a ship. The sailors wanted to abandon ship and escape on the life boats, but Paul told them they would survive if they stayed with him because God had told him he would speak to Caesar. Food ran low and they went without food for two weeks. They were cold and hungry when their ship wrecked on Malta. While building a fire, Paul was bitten by an asp, causing many to believe he was a sinful man. But when he didn't die, they changed their minds and he held a healing ministry and out of gratitude they provided their needed supplies for the rest of the journey.

To share the gospel Paul endured affliction, hardship, calamity, beatings, imprisonment, riots, labor, sleeplessness, poverty, hunger, and cold. To share the gospel Paul faced slander, being treated as an impostor, being beaten and left for dead, being stranded in the sea. To share the gospel Paul faced both the humility of having others provide his needs and at other times he worked all day and preached all night because no one funded his mission.

Paul faced a life of service with full knowledge that he would suffer and he suffered well by facing it with patience, kindness, and love. He suffered well by speaking truth in every circumstance no matter the risk. He suffered well by depending on the Holy Spirit to empower him. He suffered well by being obedient to share the gospel whether it was received or not. Paul chose to suffer well by dying to self and living to God. He suffered well by accepting the sorrow that came with being God's instrument of grace. He suffered well by learning to rejoice and keeping his heart open. Paul gave the reason that he suffered well, "But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."

I think one of the reasons we don't suffer well is that we believe we deserve a life of ease, but we haven't been promised ease. We've been called to be his ambassadors and the greater the darkness the brighter we can shine. No matter where we live and what we experience, we can choose to suffer well by remembering these things:

  • Nothing happens in our lives that hasn't been filtered through His love scarred hands.  
  • God cares more about sanctification and grow than He cares about comfort. 
  • We are called to love like Jesus loves and loving like Him can hurt, but God will comfort us as we lean into Him.
  • God may have us suffer so others will be drawn to Him through our testimonies. 
  • The suffering we endure now is nothing compared to what we will experience in glory.
  • Suffering is never proof that God has deserted us. 
I wonder what impact we would have on our world if we became more like Paul and quit valuing comfort over obedience and the suffering that may come with it. I wonder what impact we would have if we choose to focus on Jesus and stay the course He's plotted for our lives instead of running from discomfort. I wonder what would happen if we ceased being surprised by hardship and embraced the work it does in our lives. I wonder how differently we would approach life if we kept in mind Peter's warning, "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." Oh, that we would choose to suffer well by facing trials with faith and allow God to walk us through them. Oh, that we would trust the work that suffering does in our hearts and in the hearts of those we love.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!