No one would ask for suffering. We don’t desire to go through times of adversity, but it is one of Satan’s favorite fiery darts because that’s what he can use to defeat us. It can readily destroy our faith and cause us to doubt God’s love and faithfulness. It often brings bitterness to our heart. It can lead us to throw in the towel and walk away from serving God in obedience. But it can also deepen our faith and teach us to walk in the Spirit.
As I look back on these first-term experiences, our personal trials pale in comparison to the grief and disappointments we felt when new converts would turn their back on following Christ or newly planted churches dissolved in conflict and dissension. As Paul reflected in 2 Corinthians 11, he was subjected to imprisonment, stoning, being beaten, shipwreck, hunger, and hardships, but also the daily pressures of concern for the churches. All we wanted was to serve the Lord and to be used of Him. But it seemed we were constantly subjected to suffering, grief, and affliction.
Did God know this would be our course when we answered His call? These experiences did not take Him by surprise. He knew what we needed to survive for the long term. He knew what we needed to experience if we were going to lead and to minister and to encourage others in the future. He knew we needed to discover the depth of His love and that we needed a stronger faith to withstand what would become a continuing pattern of personal challenges. We had no clue as to what God had for us in the future, but He did. The Bible says plainly that walking with the Lord does not exempt us from suffering. In fact, it is assured. It is a lie of Satan that tells us, “If you live a holy life and are committed to obeying God’s will, He should be expected to put a hedge of protection around you; He is obligated to prosper and bless you.” The whole health, wealth, and prosperity doctrine is distortion of God’s Word. To the contrary, to walk with Christ is to suffer. Why? Because it necessitates denying the flesh, the comforts and conveniences that come from compromise and living for oneself. Suffering does not mean that God has forsaken us, that He is no longer in control, or that He doesn’t love us. It’s just that He has something better for us, and we can never learn that and acquire that deeper relationship with Him apart from suffering.
Adversity is Satan’s favorite weapon because it is common to everyone and causes us to focus on ourselves and doubt God.
This needs to be understood in the context of what we identified as God’s purpose in the first chapter. God’s desire for your life is to be glorified. Does He know how He can be most glorified in your life? Yes, and it’s not by putting a hedge of protection around you so that you never have any challenges and struggles. God’s desire is to be glorified and exalted among all peoples throughout the world. But His greatest glory doesn’t come by missionaries living in nice Western-style houses, having the affluence to shop for whatever they need at the international market and, when trouble comes, using their American passport to retreat to the comfort and security of home. Focusing on our own comfort and welfare does not result in God being glorified among the nations. However, when people see us suffering and experiencing adversity, when they see us with a debilitating illness or reacting to the loss of a loved one, it is an opportunity for them to see the reality of our faith and the victory we have in Jesus Christ. It is not a matter of whether or not we suffer but how we respond and react.
That’s how He was glorified in Christ. The Passion of the Christ film focused on the agony, the brutality, and the suffering of Jesus. But only Christ realized it was all for God’s glory. Through His obedience and suffering God was glorified by redemption being provided for a lost world. This is what Peter wants us to understand regarding our suffering and afflictions. “Dear friends, when the fiery ordeal arises among you to test you, don’t be surprised by it, as if something unusual is happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). We should not presume God has abandoned us as He may be providing an opportunity for you to claim the victory, the reward of faithfulness and obedience.
Jerry Rankin and Beth Moore, Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God’s Glory (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2009).
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