Following Jesus Through Suffering
Wed Sep 4, 2013
A few weeks ago, in blistering temperatures, Joel Zantingh and I were training pastors of the
AEM in Haiti in ‘The Way of Jesus.’ Their eagerness to learn was energizing. At one point, the President of our sister Haitian Church commented: “You have given us some new teaching today, that we are to view suffering as a gift. This is contrary to the idea that suffering is a punishment. Can you do more teaching on this?”
Our Lord is very clear: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world
(John 16:33). The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that,although Jesus was the son of God, he learned obedience from what he suffered(Heb 5:8).
The Apostle Paul makes these startling statements: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Cor 12:10) and “I want to know the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.”
There is no question that suffering is a reality. The gift that God gives us in Christ is that He takes EVERYTHING we experience and renders it for good (Rom 8:28). There is no question that God does answer prayer for healing and for deliverance and as He wills, does in some cases, reverse the effects of disease or distress. But this is provisional, knowing that we, like all of creation groan, awaiting the final and complete victory that will come when we, in our mortal bodies, along with the whole of creation, will be made new: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21)
In the meantime we embrace the common reality of all human beings and we embrace the even greater reality of our eternal God: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
(2 Cor 4: 16-17).
In our weakness, we fix our eye on the eternal and we walk the pilgrim way, knowing that He guides us, carries us, sustains us and loves us. The followers of Jesus have always known how to live in the shadow of death: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death”.
The children’s hymn reminds us, ‘We are weak, but He is strong.’ We experience His strength as we daily learn to rest in Him. It is His strength that carries us the next step and the next. Sometimes He infuses some of that strength into our bodies directly. And ALWAYS He infuses His strength into our spirits so that we are inwardly renewed day by day.Paul, who had a physical affliction that God did not heal, received this word from the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore, says Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
He embraced his weakness. He experienced the power of Christ. He lived a life that made a difference. And he changed the world! God be pleased to teach us the Way of Jesus so that we can bring His peace in our little corner.