"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has been poured in to our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
We've had an increase in terrorists' attacks this last couple of years. At the end of last year a Russian plane was blown up, a violent attack occurred in Paris, and then one just a few hours away from me in San Bernardino. I happened to turn on the TV just as the last attack was being announced and watched the story unfold. I thought I was fine until I was driving to church and a large planed flew over me. It seemed to be flying lower than usual and all of a sudden I felt like that child growing up during the Cuban crisis. I remember the drills at school that were supposed to keep us safe in the wake of a nuclear attack and I remember sitting at the dinner table feeling the terror rising within as I heard jets flying over. I never said anything, but I always looked at my dad to see if he looked scared, but when he seemed calm I assumed we were safe. I recently talked to a counselor friend about the fear I was experiencing and asked him if he were experiencing fear as well. In the course of the conversation he said something that resonated with my heart. He said his prayer wasn't the avoidance of suffering, but that if he had to suffer, He would suffer well.
The thought resonated with me because I realized had prayed that same prayer during different circumstances. I prayed that prayer when friends buried young children, finding comfort and hope in Christ. If I were to lose one of my children, I want to suffer well and find my hope in Jesus. That doesn't mean I would not grieve, but that I would grieve with hope as someone fully assured of life eternal. I have prayed that prayer as I watched people suffering an illness like cancer as they found comfort and hope in God in the midst of the pain they experienced and the very real possibility of dying grew. If I were to become terminally ill, I want to suffer well so that nothing in my suffering would cause another to turn away from God. I have prayed that prayer when I saw others living with chronic pain, I prayed it because I tend to get angry when I experience bouts of arthritis and desire to be a person who can find comfort in Jesus and I want to reflect my Jesus to others even in the midst of discomfort and the exhaustion that comes from living with pain. I have prayed that prayer when I watched others go through a season of financial insecurity. If that happens to us, I want to suffer well, maintain integrity, and cling to God who promises to provide. I don't want my fears, my reactions, my actions, or my bouts with unbelief to keep others from coming to my Jesus.
I've read a lot about the refugees and people's reactions to them being placed in our country and I confess the idea scares me. How will we know who is a believer in need of shelter and who is a person planning carry out an attack. After praying about it, I did not come up with the solution, but I did come up with a conviction--I don't want my fear to govern my actions and responses to those seeking asylum. I want Jesus, His will for me, His will for our country, and His will for refuges to be what prevails. That means if He calls me to witness to someone who may or may not be a terrorist, I want to obey rather than giving into my fear. I pray that if I or someone I love is tortured or killed that I would suffer well that others would come to know Christ through the suffering. Others coming to Christ is really what matters and it doesn't matter if it is by my life or my death. I don't want to treat another human being with hatred because of the fear that dwells in this human heart of mine. I want to overcome the fear and extend compassion and love to whom ever God will it. I am not by nature a bold person. I have loads of fear and voice many "buts" and "what if's" to God--What if a culture of men who has not been raised to honor women do harm to wives and daughters here? What if the person claiming to be a refugee is a terrorist who plans to blow up a community? What if a terrorist in disguise as a refugee kills my kids or grandkids? Then I realized the alternative is to allow the slaughtering of other people's children because they have declare the name of Jesus and I want to live brave and moving beyond the fears that dwell deep! All I know to do right now is pray that God will make His will clear, that He will give me the courage to obey, and that if suffering occurs He would enable me to suffer well so others believe.
I fear we're a culture who wants easy. We don't share Christ because we're afraid to offend or afraid of persecution. We don't stay in difficult marriages, because it's hard work and often painful. We don't want to work on the painful baggage we carry from the past because facing the stories we've lived causes exposes the pain we avoid through denial, addictions, eating disorders, pornography use, and business. Yet, we really are suffering silently as we are governed by our efforts to forget. We change friends often because we don't like working through the painful parts that come with loving well.
There are times we even blame God for our suffering when it is really is because of choices we've made. Sarah was such a person. She experienced suffering not of her own doing as a barren woman living in a culture that worshipped fertility. After God promised her and Abraham a baby, she grew weary of waiting and gave her Egyptian handmaiden to her husband to have a baby in her place. The suffering she endured because of the situation was her own doing, not God's. I've heard single pregnant women ask how God could do "this" to them. The "this" they were referring to is an unplanned pregnancy. God didn't do it to them, it was a consequence of the choices they made. Some illnesses we suffer with are the result of being in a fallen world and others are the result of the choices we make--aides, venereal diseases, cirrhosis, and some forms of skin cancer.
The Word makes it clear that God knows the suffering of His people. It makes it clear that sometimes He even allows suffering to draw us to Him. We also know that Jesus responded with compassion to those who suffered and in response He healed bodies, cast out demons, fed multitudes, and raised Lazarus from the dead. He even confronted religious leaders who burdened people with unnecessary laws and kept them from coming to Him. He even suffered a painful death for us so we wouldn't bear the wrath of God for our sin. The suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in the future. Paul made it clear that there will be suffering when the Gospel is lived. The verses above tell us we should even rejoice in suffering because it produces endurance which produces character which produces hope because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. As we go through fearful times, I can't help but wonder if the way to navigate them is to sit in His presence and bask in His love so that we can be among those who suffer well as suffering does its work in us and those around us. Over the next few weeks I plan to study different people in the Bible who suffered well--Joseph, Ruth, Daniel, Stephen, Paul, and Jesus. I hope you will find it encouraging to look at their lives...in the mean time be strong and of good courage, our God is always with us and He is mighty to save!