It seems that every day I peruse Facebook, I see posts claiming health, wealth and prosperity to everyone who is reading. Some preachers even teach that if you are suffering, you are falling short of God’s will for one reason or another. I was even at a funeral once where a “Prophetess” told the daughter of the woman who died that if she had had enough faith, her Mom would still be alive. I have addressed some of this before, but today I would like to take a little different approach.
The Bible tells us that we should encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I believe that is the intent of most people, and that their motives are pure. The problem is that a gospel with no suffering simply doesn’t represent scripture well.
I remember many years ago while I was serving as an Assistant Pastor of a small church, having the assignment of preaching the Sunday night service. As I prayed and sought God’s direction for the message, I sensed His urging to preach on suffering. I argued with God. A good friend of mine named Jean was going through Parkinson’s and I knew she would be there. I wanted to preach about healing or joy or frankly anything but suffering.
Despite my objections, God remained unmoved and I knew what obedience required of me. I studied, organized my notes and did the best I knew how to preach the uncompromised Word of God. Jean was there, just as I had expected, and I had trouble even looking in her direction as I preached about how God sometimes allow us to suffer more than we can bear.
“8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
I know many of you are probably thinking that something must be off. After all, haven’t we heard over and over again that God WILL NOT allow us to go through more than we can bear? The saying – that we all know so well – is nothing more than an often repeated misquotation of scripture. In his first letter to the same church at Corinth, Paul said that God would not allow us to be TEMPTED beyond what we can bear. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Ironically, many people think that giving in to sin is inevitable whereas suffering is avoidable. God’s Word says exactly opposite. We never have to give in to sin, but sometimes suffering will be more than we can bear. The great news is that when suffering is too much for us to handle, Jesus is with us to share the load and promise us that things will not always be this way. He absolutely 100% promises a future that is free of suffering for those who follow Him.
Still not convinced that suffering is often the will of God? Consider the following:
· “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15 ESV)
· “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 ESV)
· “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:19 ESV)
· “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71 ESV)
· ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:10 ESV)
· “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27 ESV)
· “…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 into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
· “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18 ESV)
· “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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings… if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:12-19 ESV)
· “…after you have suffered a little while, the god of all grace… will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10 ESV)
· “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV)
· “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 ESV)
· “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:10 ESV)
· “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 ESV)
· “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3 ESV)
I know the message is neither comfortable nor popular, but it is true. I have witnessed far too many people who have bought into a soft gospel, going south when the going got tough. We need churches filled with Saints who are on-board for the whole ride, even when the waves get rough.
As for Jean, she approached me that night after I preached with the broken language that had become symptomatic of the horrible progression of the disease. I didn’t know what to expect, and she absolutely blew me away. She told me how encouraged she was by God’s message about suffering.
I watched her live out her love for Jesus and her unshakeable faith over the next several months despite horrible and unspeakable suffering. She finally received her healing when God took her home to be with Him.
Those of us who were left, were in awe and strengthened by the faith of a Saint of God who didn’t need things to be easy in order to praise Him. I still have the song she wrote and allowed me to put to music during her trial. It will always be close to my heart and it will always inspire me to sing in the middle of the storm.