As with other posts, I sense that someone reading could use some help in understanding the suffering they are going through. I’ll try and do this via reference to 3 different biblical contexts: James, Jericho, and Jehoshaphat. They’re not perfect analogies, but I think you’ll get the point. Feel free to share this if you think it’s helpful.
The key, in my thinking, is to first understand 1) the source of our “suffering”; 2) what it’s designed to do; and 3) how we should respond.
JAMES: Suffering for our growth. In James 1:2 we’re told to “consider it pure joy, when we face trials of many kinds.” Why? “Because the testing of your faith develops perseverance, which must finish its work so that you may become mature, and complete, not lacking anything good.” 1 Peter 1: 6-7 confirms this. These are tests, trials, or discipline, that often feel like suffering, but which are allowed or brought to us by God, for our growth. Proverbs 3:12 / Hebrews 12:6 tells us that God will bring discipline into the lives of those He loves. Just as when done properly by parents, discipline is designed for growth and is motivated by love.
We live in a suffering-adverse culture. “Free us from all suffering!” is our cry. But, as believers, it is very important that WE DO NOT RUN from that which God uses to make us stronger. Many of us feel weak spiritually, and not up to the task God has laid before us. Could it be because we regularly run from the trials He would use to make us “mature, complete, and not lacking any good thing?” I always had the first part of Philippians 3:10 highlighted: “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection…” Indeed, I wanted that power. But the second part of the verse explains where this spiritual power comes from: “…through the fellowship of his sufferings. Christian persecution falls in this category; Jesus refers to this in Matthew 10:22, and John 15:18. Never did Jesus respond to persecution by fighting.
When we face these trials, we’re not called to fight. We’re called to patiently endure, pray, and share our burdens with the Body.
JERICHO: This symbolizes something that arises that gets in the way of God’s best for our life. This type of suffering may be considered a stronghold in our life, or an attack on us, our families, our health, our church. The source is evil. In this case, God doesn’t tell us to be patient, but to fight! 2 Cor. 10:4 tells us that our weapons are spiritual, and can be used to tear down strongholds. Eph. 6 describes our armour. Now, as with Jericho, the way God instructs us to fight might seem strange; how many battles are won by walking around the enemy? But fight we must.
JEHOSHAPHAT: This type of attack comes from the enemy (1 Chronicles 20 tells us this story – Jehoshaphat was outnumbered 20:1). It doesn’t call for patient endurance – it calls for battle. But in this case, God’s people are told to show up – but God would do the fighting; still a battle, but this time God’s battle. This fight was actually won by putting the choir up front – a testimony to the power of praise in the midst of attack.
James: trials, persecution, or discipline designed for our growth. Calls for patient endurance.
Jericho: an attack upon us, or stronghold, designed for our destruction. God calls us to spiritual warfare.
Jehoshaphat: an attack upon us, designed for our destruction. God calls us to stand still, and see him fight for us.
So here’s the rub: It is important to know what you’re facing! I believe many in the church are rebuking the type of trials that God has sent for our growth. Others are patiently enduring an attack of the enemy designed for our destruction. Neither approach is helpful: rebuking the work of the Lord won’t get you anywhere, and patiently enduring the enemy’s attack only makes his job easier. We must discern, by the Spirit, what it is that we’re facing in our lives, homes, or health. Then, we discern how to properly respond. Patiently endure? Go to battle spiritually? Show up to watch God do the fighting? Discernment is key.
In all things, remember that suffering of any kind is never wasted. God uses our suffering to help us connect with and minister to others who are similarly suffering – nothing connects with a broken person like someone else’s brokenness, openly shared. Each experience you go through, and emerge from victorious, is another “tool in your toolbox,” as I tell students, to connect with the hurting.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”