The Fellowship of His Suffering
No matter what is occurring in our lives, keeping our eyes and our focus upon Jesus Christ is essential. He is not only our Savior, our Lord, and our King, He is also our role model and our example. He showed us how to live the Christian life perfectly.
As Matthew 26:38 says, "Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in His footsteps."
Suffering is the means by which God has chosen to bring redemption to a fallen world. Jesus suffered for us, giving us His example to follow.
Just as He "bore our griefs and carried our sorrows," so we are to participate in His suffering - by barring ourselves from sin and self and choosing instead to follow what He would have us do.
Thus, we are to identify with Christ, not only by verbally assenting to, ascribing to, and holding on to what He did for us on the Cross, but also by daily experiencing the crucifying of our own "self."
The apostle Paul speaks to this topic in Philippians 3:10 where he declares, "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. "
Suffering can come as a result of our own sin, the sins of others, the schemes of Satan or from the fallen state of the human race. But God is above all of these things, and if we allow Him to, He will use any or all of them as He sees fit to accomplish His perfect will in our lives.
The Bible tells us that only through death can there be life. Unless we are willing to participate in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, we will not be able to participate in His exaltation. As 2 Timothy 2:11-12 states, "It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him...." (Romans 8:17)
Maybe this answers the question of "why" some Christians suffer and why some do not. The result of suffering with Christ is the privilege of reigning with Him.
An Example: Corrie ten Boom
An example of one who suffered greatly for Christ and who surely will be reigning with Him, is Corrie ten Boom. I'm sure most of you have read her book, The Hiding Place . If you haven't, I highly recommend it; it will totally change your life.
Corrie lived in Holland during the 1930s and 40s. She and her Christian family soon became sympathetic to the plight of the Jews and harbored some of them in their own home. Soon the ten Boom house became known as a "safe sanctuary."
Eventually, finding out about the secret room in their home, the Gestapo began rounding up all who were involved. They picked up Corrie, along with her sister, brother, and father. The police abused and slapped Corrie around as they tried to find out about the others involved.
They finally ended up taking all the ten Booms to prison where they were put in "cages" 6 feet by 6 feet.
Corrie was put in solitary confinement because she was believed to be the "ring leader." The only break in the monotony of her days without human contact, came when a little ant began visiting her. At first he came alone, but later he came back with his family and friends. Corrie would actually get down on the floor and watch him for hours.
The other thing that lifted her spirits was when she realized there was a window in the ceiling of her cell. Even though it had 28 squares of bars, nevertheless, she could occasionally see the sun.
What sustained her throughout her ordeal was the fact that she could read the Scriptures. When she had first come to prison, she had asked a nurse to get her a Bible. It, then, became her lifeline.
Daily, she would read verse by verse until she had gone through the entire Word of God. Then she would begin all over again. Continually, she would ask herself, "What would Jesus do?" "How would He have handled this situation?"
Finally, one of the guards allowed her to speak to him and, after several weeks, he even allowed her to talk to him about the Lord. This was the biggest and greatest blessing of all - not only to be allowed to talk to another human being, but to be able to talk to them about her precious Lord. Eventually, the guard opened up and shared how much he hated working in the prison and shared some other personal matters. Because of their friendship, Corrie was finally reunited in the same cell with her sister, allowed to take a shower once a week and even given a new sheet for her cot.
Even though Corrie suffered greatly the year she survived the horror of solitary confinement, she, nevertheless, committed herself to God every moment of every day. And, just as He had promised, He was faithful to never leave her or forsake her. As she used to point out, "there is no pit so deep, that Jesus is not deeper." Eventually released from prison, Corrie has ministered God's Love to hurting people all over the world.
In the same way, God desires to make our souls a reflection of His own, just like He did Corrie's. In order to reflect Him, however, we need to be willing to walk as He walked. He entered in by the "narrow gate" and He walked the straight and "hard road." Are we willing to do the same?
This is "Brokenness"
John Collinson wrote a short piece about suffering and "the narrow road" that I think sums everything up perfectly:1
Sometimes it is asked what we mean by brokenness. Brokenness is not easy to define but can be clearly seen in the reactions of Jesus, especially as He approached the cross and in His crucifixion. I think it can be applied personally in this way:
When to do the will of God means that even my Christian brethren will not understand, and I remember that "neither did His brethren believe in Him" and I bow my head to obey and accept the misunderstanding, this is brokenness.
When I am misrepresented or deliberately misinterpreted, and I remember that Jesus was falsely accused but He "held His peace," and I bow my head to accept the accusation without trying to justify myself, this is brokenness.
When another is preferred before me and I am deliberately passed over, and I remember that they cried, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas," and I bow my head and accept rejection, this is brokenness.
When my plans are brushed aside and I see the work of years brought to ruin by the ambitions of others, and I remember that Jesus allowed them to "lead Him away to crucify Him" and He accepted that place of failure, and I bow my head and accept the injustice without bitterness, this is brokenness.
When in order to be right with my God it is necessary to take the humbling path of confession and restitution, and I remember that Jesus "made Himself of no reputation" and "humbled Himself...unto death, even the death of the cross," and I bow my head and am ready to accept the shame of exposure, this is brokenness.
When others take unfair advantage of my being a Christian and treat my belongings as public property, and I remember "they stripped him," and "parted His garments, casting lots," and I bow my head and accept "joyfully the spoiling of my goods" for His sake, this is brokenness.
When one acts towards me in an unforgivable way, and I remember that when He was crucified Jesus prayed "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," and I bow my head and accept any behavior towards me as permitted by my loving Father, this is brokenness.
When people expect the impossible of me and more than time or human strength can give, and I remember that Jesus said, "This is my body which is given for you..." and I repent of my self-indulgence and lack of self-giving for others, this is brokenness."
Someone once said there will be no revival, either personally or otherwise, until there is first a Gethsemene and a Calvary in each of our own lives.
Life Includes Suffering
I purposely ignored studying the sufferings of Job for years because it scared me. I can even remember one dear lady at a Bible study in the early '70s who came up to me and shared that I was to look forward to "suffering with Christ." Well, I thought she was a crazy heretic, so I stayed clear of her.
Now, of course, I understand what she was trying to say; I just wasn't able to hear it at that time. Eventually, in God's timing, the story of Job became incredibly real to me as I began to experience deep suffering in my own life. I learned I had a choice: to either let the suffering accomplish the goal and purpose that God wanted in my life; or, let the suffering crush and destroy me.
God put the book of Job right in the center of the Bible for a very good reason: it's an example of faith in the night seasons. God intends for all of us to use it as a "road map" on our journey through the dark night, always keeping in mind that at the end of the road, Job finally "saw" God as he never had seen Him before, and it changed his life forever .
So, yes, life itself includes suffering.
Suffering has as its goal the sanctification, the purification, of our souls and spirits. Suffering comes about as God unrelentingly identifies the most potentially damaging hindrance to our relationship with Him, and then lovingly begins to strip that thing away from us. He crushes us, He breaks us, He shakes us and removes anything that is in the way of His accomplishing His will in and through our lives.
Some important points to remember when we are going through suffering are:
oGod allows our troubles to drive us to our knees and to bring us back to Himself. (Exodus 2:23-25)
oGod allows trials in our lives so we may turn around and minister to others in similar circumstances. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
oSometimes our troubles must get worse before freedom comes. Satan, obviously, does not want that; therefore, he does everything he possibly can to stop it.
oIt's important to realize that we can't get ourselves out of trouble. If God has allowed the trial, then He is the only One who can get us out of it. Therefore, it's not our battle, but His . (Exodus 6:6-8)
oOur troubles should always push us towards God, not away from Him. If they push us away from Him, we should check to be sure who is the instigator of the trial. (Psalm 77:2; 2 Chronicles 33:12)
oOnce we understand that God is involved in our trials, it should give us great hope. (Ephesians 1:17-20)
o God wants to use our trials as a way for us to learn His statutes and His laws. (Psalm 119:71)
God always has a reason for the things He allows into our lives. He is preparing us for a future which He alone knows. He is preparing us as His "bride," not only perfect (holy), established, strengthened and grounded in Him, but also joint heirs with Him .
One of my favorite poems about suffering and brokenness was written in the early 1800s by G. D. Watson, a Wesleyan Methodist minister. This poem has brought my focus back to Christ countless times in the past ten years, as I have found myself straying from the "narrow path." I pray it will bless you as much as it has me.
It's called "Others May, You Cannot."
If God has called you to be really like Jesus, He will draw you to a life of crucifixion and humility, and put upon you such demands of obedience that you will not be able to follow other people, or measure yourself by other Christians, and in many ways, He will seem to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.
Other Christians and ministers who seem very religious and useful may push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do it; and if you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.
Others may boast of themselves, of their work, of their success, of their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you begin it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.
Others may be allowed to succeed in making money, or may have a legacy left to them, but it is likely God will keep you poor, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, namely, a helpless dependence on Him, that He may have the privilege of supplying your needs day by day out of an unseen treasury.
The Lord may let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hidden in obscurity, because He wants you to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade. He may let others do a work for Him and get the credit for it, but He will make you work and toil on without knowing how much you are doing, and then to make your work still more precious, He may let others get the credit for the work which you have done, and thus make your reward ten times greater when Jesus comes.
The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch over you, with a jealous love, and will rebuke you for little words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over. So make up your mind that God is an infinite sovereign and has a right to do as He pleases with His own.
He may not explain to you a thousand things which puzzle your reason in His dealings with you. But if you absolutely sell yourself to be His...slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love, and bestow upon you many blessings which come only to those who are in the inner circle.
Settle it forever, then, that you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in ways that He does not seem to use with others. Now when you are so possessed with the living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule [entrance] to heaven.
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To be continued next month: "Faith in the Dark Night, Part Three."
This article has been excerpted, in part, from Chuck and Nancy's book Faith in the Night Seasons.