“Even though Jesus was God’s son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
Jesus embraced suffering as a normal part of following His Father’s will. Do we?
Instead of trying to avoid suffering or shrinking back when things got hard – Jesus learned how to obey His Father when it really hurt. When I look back on my life and my experience working with churches, organisations and ministries in various countries – this whole area of how we respond to suffering and hardship is a massive issue.
Jesus promised that His Disciples would be persecuted,
“Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” (John 15:20)
Persecution is when you receive hostility, ill-treatment and oppression – especially because of race or political or religious beliefs. In other words – accordng to Jesus, persecution and suffering is a normal part of following Him.
John Wesley was someone who became accustomed to suffering and persecution. Apparently one day he was riding along a road one day when it dawned on him that three whole days had passed in which he had suffered no persecution. Not a brick or an egg had been thrown at him for three days. Alarmed, he stopped his horse, and exclaimed, “Can it be that I have sinned, and am backslidden?” Slipping from his horse, Wesley went down on his knees and began interceding with God to show him where, if any, there had been a fault. A rough fellow, on the other side of the hedge, hearing the prayer, looked across and recognized the preacher. “I’ll fix that Methodist preacher,” he said, picking up a brick and tossing it over at him. It missed its mark, and fell harmlessly beside John. Whereupon Wesley leaped to his feet joyfully exclaiming, “Thank God, it’s all right. I still have His presence.”
Jesus came to forcefully advance the Kingdom of heaven here on earth. Anyone who joins Him in this work will face opposition from the Kingdom of darkness. This opposition will come in many forms – outright demonic opposition, subtle attacks from religious leaders, family and friends or circumstantial hardships that seem to come up when you are trying to obey Jesus. Whether you are planning to get baptised, visit a town to tell people about Jesus or trying to gather a church in someone’s home. You will experience opposition whenever you try to follow Jesus and do His will.
Let me say it again, this is normal. Pray. Rejoice. And continue!
“They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailor was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening” (Acts 16:23-26)
I hear a lot of “Christians” saying that we need to return to what life was like in the book of Acts. I’ve said it myself! I am not so sure I really want to though to be honest. Yes I love the stories of the church meeting from house to house and sharing meals and posessions. Yes I’d love to see God working great miracles and for people to be added to the church daily. But I’m not sure I want the suffering and hardship that came with that to be honest. We can’t have one without the other though. There is no glory without suffering!
In the New Testament it was normal for God’s people to suffer hardships and to respond with joy and faith. Responding to sufferings and hardships with faith and courage was an integral part of the Apostolic teaching that the early church devoted themselves to.
“We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)
“Where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
The Apostles and leaders of the Church constantly encouraged everyone to continue in the faith and reminded them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. Yes God has a plan for your life. Yes He loves you. And yes He promises you peace. But He’s also made it very clear that this plan will include hardship, trials, sufferings and persecution.
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering…” (1 Peter 4:12)
Jesus went through it Himself so why should we be any different? Don’t shrink back and change your plans when things become hard. Set your sights on what God is calling you to do and who He is calling you to be. Be glad – these things are happening because you are obeying Jesus and becoming his partner!
“Since He himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” (Hebrews 2:18)
Having seen that suffering and hardship is normal – let’s finish up by looking at how God might want us to respond with faith.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-5)
We have had some trials lately. Some others we know have also faced challenges. I felt that I was not facing these trials with joy and was getting overwhelmed by them. Instead of seeing these tests as an opportunity for my faith to grow – I was using them as opportunity to indulge my impatience, anger and frustration. So we had a day of fasting and prayer. Hardships and suffering are not excuses to blame everyone around us – they are an opportunity to become more like Christ. Hardships provide a wonderful opportunity for our faith and endurance to grow.
“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than gold.” (1 Peter 1:6-8)
How we respond when faced with trials, suffering and hardships reveals whether our faith is genuine or not. Many people just talk the talk and shrink back when things get hard. Some, however, come through the fiery trials with a pure faith in God that remains solid and obedient to Him no matter what happens around them or to them.
“And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus” After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-32)
The followers of Jesus had just been hauled before the authorities and warned to not speak about Jesus again. Here’s how they responded.
May God give us faith and courage