Due to inclement weather, the 9 a.m. service for Sunday, Jan. 20 has been cancelled. We will have one morning service at 10:45 a.m. as road conditions improve.

Putting Our Suffering Into Perspective

by Gary Hale

I recently had a conversation with a young man who told me that he would like to enlist in the U.S. Army. There was just one detail holding him back—he was afraid that if he signed up, he would have to fight in a war. While I appreciated his candor, he seemed to be motivated by pragmaticism over patriotism; he wanted the benefits, but he did not want to be called upon to make the sacrifice.

I am afraid sometimes, we, as Christians, can have a similar outlook. We may want whatever the perceived benefit of our Christian service affords us, whether they be intrinsic or extrinsic. However, we are often not prepared to face the hardships and suffering that also come with the service. In our enthusiasm to serve the Lord, we can forget that we are entering a spiritual battleground as soldiers – to serve faithfully, there will be a sacrifice required of some sort. Don’t get me wrong, there will likely be many good days and West Virginia “mountaintop experiences” in service to the Lord, where it seems that we could not be any more satisfied. Yet, if we serve long enough, trials will come, and certainly, suffering will find us. We can count on a toll being exacted upon us. It is why many give up and quit serving when challenges come. It is why the apostle Paul encouraged a young Timothy to “endure hardness (suffering) as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). Our motivation to serve must be based first on our deep love for God and not on any perceived benefits or even for the love of people, as these reasons can ring hollow in times of great difficulty.

Make no mistake: to serve in international missions is to enter the frontlines of a spiritual warzone. In many countries, Satan has strongholds that have existed for thousands of years. He does not abandon these areas without a vicious fight. Yet, Paul reminds us that we have been equipped with spiritual armor that will help us stand firm and in victory in the midst of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20). Beyond the direct spiritual opposition, missionaries often face challenges such as cultural and climate adjustments, lack of conveniences they once took for granted, vastly different healthcare options, heightened safety concerns, the uncertainty of support, the absence of a family network close by, among many other things that can make life difficult. One soon realizes it does not take much for a difficulty in one area to suddenly morph into suffering. If we are not careful, our attitude can compound the suffering, and suddenly, instead of leaning into Jesus, we can find ourselves secretly looking for the nearest exit ramp from service, convinced that somehow God has forgotten about us.

Long ago, I came across a statement from C.T. Studd about suffering that has often challenged me in times of difficulty. The former cricketer turned missionary said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”

That really puts our suffering into perspective, doesn’t it? Of course, this is not denying that we suffer, but it does call us back to the footsteps of the apostles who considered it a blessing to be able to suffer for the Lord (Acts 5:41, I Peter 4:14). When we trust that God is using suffering for our ongoing sanctification process (Romans 5:3-5) and is working it for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28; I Peter 1:6-7), we can learn to find contentment in whatever situation we find ourselves in, knowing that Jesus Christ is our strength (Philippians 4:11-13). This then becomes a powerful apologetic to the people that we are called to serve, as they see that God’s grace is always sufficient in whatever circumstance, season, or valley of life (2 Corinthians 12:9). As we are ministered to in our suffering, we then have the credibility and capacity to minister to those that we are called to serve, who undoubtedly will also face their own suffering (2 Corinthians 1:4).

When William Carey dedicated himself to serving in India, he famously said that he “would go down… if you hold the rope.” This meant he needed the support from his friends and home base to allow him to minister in a distant land – or as prisoner Paul likened it, a partner or fellowship in the gospel ministry (Philippians 1:5). As you consider your missionaries, remember that part of God’s encouragement to them in times of suffering is to realize that people are still holding the rope – praying, giving, and doing everything to stand in support of their sacrifice and service. You may not always be able to bring an immediate end to the suffering, but you can be part of a spiritual care package that helps the missionaries feel the love and support of home, as they courageously endure the hardships of a soldier.
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