“God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” — St. Augustine
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-5 (NIV) What advice would you give Christians undergoing sufferings? The Apostle Peter (1 Peter) took up that challenge just as ominous rumblings from Rome were striking fear in every Christian community. Half-crazed Nero had seized on believers as scapegoats for the ills of his empire. Should the persecuted Christians flee or resist? Should they tone down their outward signs of faith? Give up?
Peter was able to counsel after persevering under great tribulations and being flogged for living for the Audience of One. He had a mind to suffer and prepared the minds of his people to also suffer and live for the Audience of One.
Most Christians don’t know what it is to suffer, meaning that they don’t know how to endure it. When trials and tribulations come along, they succumb to the pressures. They don’t endure it in the manner in which God would say, there, that’s my disciple. In moments of persecution, we tend to blame others or cry out to God to take away those moments of suffering. I’m not endorsing the view of constant disease and suffering. I’m talking about the breaking process, the process of making us strong Christians with the character of Christ.
Watchman Nee, one of the great servants of Christ who was a prisoner until death in communist China for preaching the Gospel, in his book ‘Character of the Lord’s worker’ said this: “There are some brothers and sisters who endure suffering but they have no conception of the preciousness of the suffering. They go through it without any sense of gratitude to the Lord. They may even murmur and complain continually, hoping for the day when they will be delivered from their suffering. They pray, but they never praise. They do not heartily accept the discipline of the Spirit which comes upon them. Instead they pray that these days will go away quickly. Their attitude betrays the lack of a mind to suffer.” Christians are supposed to be immune to sufferings and disasters. Christians, even the godly Christians sometimes go bankrupt and even get cancer and other diseases or may be they lose their jobs. Trials and adversity are real, even for believers—perhaps especially for believers. They touch every one of us and they hurt (and they usually have nothing to do with our faith level).
Athletes know that in order to grow stronger their muscles must be stressed and stretched in exercise so even stronger tissue will generate. This principle of “no pain, no gain” even applies to the Christian life. We cannot grow without pain and resistance. A butterfly has about seven stages of transformation. If it skips one stage, it is not whole. It is the same with a Christian, unless we allow God to fully work in us, we would not be whole. There is no ready made character – it is developed.
When I had come back to India after a mission’s trip to Kuwait and Dubai, I realised that God was doing something that He had tried to do earlier, but I was resisting and just wouldn’t learn. God was trying to teach me to have the mind to suffer because, in the past, I would succumb to pressures and persecution and react. Many times when certain areas of our lives are touched, we react with a fluctuation of our temperaments and attitudes.
During the time that the Lord was teaching me lessons that would mould my Christian character; a series of events had taken place. One evening after Church service, I had taken a cab back to my apartment. On the way, the cab guy had demanded extra. As I refused to give him extra money, he had become agitated, which resulted in an argument and he ended up hitting me leaving severe bruises on my face. The public had come and everyone wanted to beat up the cab driver and take him to the police. A man even drove me to the police station to lodge a complaint. But, I told that man, that I choose to forgive the cab guy and bless him instead.
A few days later, three members of our Ministry had gone for printing of some banners and stopped by a restaurant for dinner. It was quite late when we had gone out. On the way to our vehicles, there were mobs of police officers. They suddenly came up to us and scolded us for being in that area at such a time. The police inspector then hit me and another ministry member. At this point, I was shocked and shaken and still in pain from the previous incident. This was about two in the morning. I had all the connections to have this police inspector suspended, transferred or even dismissed. After about an hour after sourcing the Inspector’s mobile number, I called the inspector and told him who I was. He was very apologetic for what he had done and explained that he was under pressure because in the last week there were a few murders in his jurisdiction. In any event, I told that I had called to forgive him. At this, he was in tears when I told him that I had forgiven him. I won a brother because I did not react to him in anger, or revenge, but instead, I reacted in love and understanding. A few days after this, while I was on my way to the mountains for a silent retreat, the bus I was travelling in stopped over for dinner, so I took the opportunity to use the pay phone. When I had gone to the pay phone, the phone meter was malicious. So I had a conversation with the owner of the phone booth. Suddenly he and his friends in the shop hit me and cut my lip and ripped my chest. I just surrendered that to Christ.
All these three incidents happened for a purpose. I had every opportunity to cry out to the Lord. In the first incident, when the cab driver hit me, I cried to the Lord and asked Him if He had abandoned me because no one has ever been able to hit me on my face. To add to the frustration, I had been under severe persecution and pressure in the previous two months. I was shattered and broken. It was during this time that I realised that God can work best in my sufferings so that I may see His glory.
When I had gone up to the mountains, three thousand feet above sea level, just to be in isolation with the Lord, there, I met a Christian monk and confided in him. He counselled me and prophetically, told me this, ‘You are scared to suffer.’ That prophetic statement changed me forever. Since then, I asked God for the mind to suffer. The mind that does not mind suffering, but enduring it all for the Cross.
I endure each moment of my suffering with great joy, simply because I’m aware that God is in perfect control and that He’s making me out to be what I’m supposed to be. God had to break me in order to make me. In the end, all I could hear was this “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Isaiah 48:10.
It’s seems to be of such irony, that anyone would rejoice in their suffering, does this philosophy seem absurd to you? In moments of grief or suffering, how many times have you been able to rejoice? Let’s do a study on what the above Scripture means. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:16-17