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Are you Suffering?

Aug 22, 2011

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Why do bad things happen to good people?  We mustn’t shrug our shoulders and say things happen for no reason. Why does God allow the intense suffering caused by broken hearts, betrayals, natural disasters, accidents, wars, carnage and death of loved ones? Because of heinous unspeakable sufferings such as the Holocaust, some people have abandoned their belief in God.


I don’t presume to be able to answer (to everybody’s satisfaction) the question of why God allows suffering, I’ll attempt to tackle the question with some thoughts in harmony with God's Word.


The subject of suffering is very broad, including mental and physical pains, agony, anguish and emotional trauma. Suffering and carrying our own individualized crosses are also part of doing exploits for God. Anybody who strives to live a godly life will be ridiculed, misunderstood and persecuted for speaking and living out the truth.  In the midst of our sufferings, God draws near to us and proves himself as “the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3)


Our world is governed by natural laws of cause and effect, sowing and reaping.  If we violate any of these laws—if we eat too much junk food, or loose too much sleep, or become emotionally shattered over a period of time-- we will suffer the consequences.  But what’s really difficult to handle is when we suffer because of external catastrophes or somebody else's foolish action….like a drunken driver car wreck or……the whole terrible topic of child abuse. Why, God why?


Suffering can be because of the breaking of natural laws, it can be due to disobedience, or it can be, as the Bible teaches, also because of the works of evil spirits, even Satan himself. The late pastor David Wilkerson called suffering the “School of Surrender.”  Suffering gives us the opportunity to fall on our faces and cry out to God, “I surrender all to you because I just can’t handle this situation.”  And God’s response is, “Good.  I’ll handle it.  Your part is to TRUST ME completely.”


When we suffer from sicknesses and disease, we can petition God for healing, for healing is part of the Good News of the Gospel.  But some of our sufferings are the result of events over which we have zero control.  Therefore God allows sufferings to teach us to surrender to his will.


In one of the oldest books in the Bible, we learn of a godly man who suffered greatly.  The curtain is drawn back on spiritual realities and we see a drama that Satan, as our great antagonist, is the cause of much suffering.  Here's the story in a nutshell from the Book of Job: One day the members of God’s court presented themselves, and the Accuser, Satan, entered also. The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?”


And the Devil replied, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything.”  Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He’s blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and shuns evil.” Satan replied, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God because You have always put a wall of protection around him. But take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”


“All right, the Lord said, “you may test him by wiping out his possessions, but don’t harm him physically.” After the terrible trials Job endured, he still maintained his integrity. But Satan said, “This time if you strike his body, he will surely curse you to your face.”  By the way, I've heard a number of Bible teachers ask....have you ever considered that the trial you may be going through is because the Lord has made a boast to the devil about you, like he did about Job?  Well, truly the Lord would have to know us through and through to count on our character to make a boast about any of us today.  But apparently, the LORD did know that Job would stand up under trial, so he said to Satan--“He's in your hands, only spare his life.”  Now Job was tested in miserable physical afflictions from the devil but he never cursed God; and in the end, God restored Job's health and blessed him twice as much as before.  Satan, the accuser of the brethren, lost the challenge.


What can we learn from this story? First of all, we learn that satanic forces have an agenda, to make people curse God. God gets a very bad rap every day.   Even insurance companies describe natural disasters as “acts of God.”  The book of Job teaches that Satan is often permitted to bring suffering upon the righteous.  His purpose is to devour us.  But by the grace of God suffering can be used to perfect, establish, strengthen and settle ourselves as the children of God!


The Jewish sages taught that nothing happens to us by random chance or by luck.  The secular concept of fate would say to a woman who can’t conceive children, “It’s just bad luck that you were born with a barren womb. You must learn to live with it.”  But a Hebraic sense of destiny says, “God allowed this affliction for a reason.  God is calling you to seek him.” As we study the lives of barren women in the Bible, they sought God in their sufferings until they were able to conceive children. The suffering of the trial of barrenness brought the blessing of special children, as was also the case of Elizabeth & Zechariah, who gave birth to John the Baptist.  The Bible teaches that even the woman who is never able to conceive can rejoice greatly in her spiritual children.


Now stay with me please….Although it’s not a popular teaching, the Bible teaches that God often allows suffering to befall us as a chastisement in order for us to correct our ways.  Suffering as chastisement—not as punishment-- is taught in both the Old and New Covenants. The concept of chastisement is different from punishment.  The word chastisement has the connotation of our being disciplined, with the hope that we will amend our ways,  whereas punishment, in the strictest sense of the word, has a ring of finality, “to inflict a penalty.”


The Hebrew word for suffering is a plural noun, יסורים “yisurim,” which connotes not only tribulation, trials and testings, but also chastisement and teaching.  The word implies that there is a purpose to suffering, a lesson to be learned, resulting in spiritual growth.  Yisurim also includes life’s disappointments  and the suffering caused by unfulfilled expectations.


The consequences of sin that result in chastisement are taught in both the Old and New Covenants of the Bible. Let’s look at Deuteronomy 8:5 in the Torah: “You shall also consider in your heart, that, as a man chastens his son, so the LORD thy God chastens you.”  And also in the Book of Proverbs, our Bible book of daily wisdom, because there are 31 chapters, one for each day of the month,  let’s look at Chapter 3: verses 11 and 12. “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:  For the Lord corrects those he loves; even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.”


This teaching of the Lord’s correction is echoed in the New Testament. Let’s turn to Hebrews Chapter 12, verses 5 to 8, “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, not faint when you are rebuked by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens and scourges every son whom he receives.  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is he whom the father does not chasten.  But if you are not chastised, then you are  illegitimate children.”


Let’s look further in the New Testament; in the last book, the purpose of chastening is underscored again in Revelation 3: 19, where the Lord says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten:  be zealous therefore and repent.”  The Lord does not enjoy correcting us but chastisement is necessary to wake and shake us up! When we don’t have the presence of mind to correct ourselves, He lovingly chastises us to stop us from straying so that we’re not condemned and punished with the rest of the world.


Now to sum up what we’ve noted so far, first of all, suffering can be the natural result of violating some law of nature; and secondly, suffering can be caused by a flat-out vicious attack. Spiritual warfare is a direct persecution from enemy satanic forces; after all the Bible says Satan himself roams about like a roaring lion seeking vulnerable persons to devour.


Thirdly, our suffering could be the discipline of the Lord himself because of rebellious sin or our shortcomings.  His correction is always good because He’s alarmed that we are headed in the wrong direction, and if left unchecked, our actions could result in the damnation of our souls!   Because God does honor our free will, he will not stop us from sinning, but his Spirit will strive with us to amend our ways!


A fourth reason for some of our sufferings is because God prunes us.  Jesus is the vine and we are his branches.  That’s the analogy He used. We are connected to Him and to his life.  In John 15:2, Jesus told us that He will prune, or cut, every branch. Why? Any vineyard keeper will tell you the reason for pruning is to bear more fruit.  Oh, pruning hurts but it’s very necessary.  God is the gardener and he arranges painful circumstances and humiliating episodes in our life to break us of pride and so we can be more useful. The greatest ministries of fruitfulness and comfort result from our having experienced our greatest prunings and sufferings, giving us the insights and brokenness to reach out compassionately to others who suffer.


There’s a fifth category-- voluntary suffering.  This is suffering by cross bearing.  Jesus said that every disciple who chooses to follow Him must pick up our individualized crosses, and carry them to follow His example.  We suffer when we are misunderstood or tempted or when we are treated with contempt, persecuted, avoided, imprisoned, disowned, physically beaten or martyred like so many of our brethren in Africa, Asia and the Islamic world.


"Pick up your cross & follow me..." is a relational command. The "vertical" beam of the cross represents developing an intimate relationship with the Lord and being transformed into His image and likeness. The horizontal beam of the cross represents our human relationships when reaching out to others...loving when we are hated; blessing those who persecute us, dying to self, making sacrifices.


A sixth reason for suffering-- it prevents us from loving this world too much. For we’re in training for eternity in this present life, and we are, in fact, pilgrims and sojourners here, because God has prepared a better world for us. If there was no suffering in this life, would we be motivated to prepare for our eternal home?  The Apostle Peter said in the New Testament that suffering is like fire that purifies gold, and the apostle James said suffering produces maturity through trials, a maturity that we would not receive any other way.


A seventh reason: Not only does suffering makes us much more compassionate, sympathetic people, but also going through hardships moulds us into a praying people in a way that we just don't learn to pray in easy-breezy times. The School of Suffering teaches us how to pray earnestly, with perseverance and for the right things.  I moved into a new level of prayer when I was attacked physically and spiritually.


As believers in Jesus, let’s consider Him as our master and supreme example.  Isaiah 53:3 plainly predicted that His lot in life would be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  Jesus himself told his disciples that the son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected, treated with contempt.  His suffering was both spiritual (inward) and physically outward.  Think of just some of the sufferings that He patiently endured:  the humiliation of leaving realms of glory to be born in a lowly manger; a 40 day fast; rejection by family and religious leaders.  He wept over Jerusalem, saying He had wanted to gather Jerusalem unto himself as the Messiah but they would not come to Him. He was betrayed; His own disciples didn’t understand Him most of the time. He sweat blood during prayer in the garden of Gethsemane; He was struck, spat upon, scourged and crucified as a notorious blasphemer.


But Hebrews 2:10 declares that Jesus, our Yeshua, was made perfect through the hardships that He suffered and because He was tempted on all points, He is able to help us who are suffering and tempted.  Hebrew 5:8 also says that although He was a son, Jesus (Yeshua) learned obedience through the afflictions and hardships that He suffered.  Now can we expect better treatment than our master? After all, a servant is not greater than his master, and the Lord plainly told us that we would be hated for His name’s sake.


Like Yeshua, the Apostle Paul also was graduated summa cum laude from the School of Suffering. Paul received a prophetic word in Acts 9: 15-16 that He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: [who wouldn’t want to receive such a grandiose prophetic word? But wait-- the prophecy continued] for I will show him how many great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” So Paul was promised a glorious ministry, but he would also have to endure great sufferings to fulfill it. Indeed, he experienced a continual thorn in the flesh, literally “a messenger of Satan,” as well as tortures, mockery, malicious gossip and slander; at times he felt lonely, confused, restless in his spirit.


Paul listed a catalogue of his afflictions in 2 Corinthians 11, but please notice that disease was not in his list. Paul said “five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the 40 lashes less one [39 lashes in other words.  So 39 times 5 equals 195 lashes that Paul suffered].  In addition on three occasions he was beaten with rods. One time he was stoned with rocks seemingly unto death, but miraculously he got up to his feet and moved on to preach in the next town. He was also ship-wrecked three times and spent a night and a day adrift at sea; he was in constant danger on frequent journeys from robbers and from both Jewish and gentile enemies out to kill him.  He toiled in hardships through many sleepless nights in hunger and thirst, often exposed to the cold.  In 1 Corinthians 15:31 Paul went so far as to say, “I die daily!”


The early church prized suffering for the Lord as a privilege; the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. How different is the average believer today!  Do we consider it an honor when we are contradicted, or do we pout and become angry?


The Apostle Peter said that Messiah suffered for us, leaving us an example to follow in his footsteps.  The apostle James, the half brother of Jesus, advised us to count it all joy when we experience various trials.  Why? Because the testing of our faith will produce steadfast character.  Both Paul and Peter were two suffering apostles and both were martyrs.  Paul said in Romans 8:18 that he considered the hardships and sufferings of this present time not to be worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.  And Peter admonished us to rejoice when we share Messiah’s sufferings because if we suffer with him, we will also rule with him.


Israel at this time is suffering from anti-Semitism and we suffer with Israel. To stand with the unpopular people of God will be increasingly difficult and controversial, demanding courage and suffering.


But there’s a difference in suffering for Messiah and for His causes vs. suffering from the devil’s sicknesses and diseases. We need to be able to differentiate between suffering for God and suffering due to sickness.  Provision has not been made in the Gospel to escape from persecution, but provision HAS been made for healing in the Atonement. Hallelu-Yah! This is why the Gospel is called Good News, because not only are our sins eternally forgiven but also healing is available for our bodies now in this lifetime.  Divine health is the portion of all of God’s obedient children.  In Acts 10:38 the Apostle Peter preached that Jesus was anointed and went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.  Jesus also taught in John 10:10 that Satan’s agenda is to kill, steal and destroy.  But the Lord’s agenda is to give us abundant life.


In Philippians 3:10, Paul said that he wanted to know the Lord in “the power of his resurrection and in the fellowship of his sufferings.” What does that mean….the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings?  In short, I believe the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings is sharing His heart for souls, for the perfection of his Bride and for his people Israel. While Yeshua ministered here on earth, though He never sinned, yet He became exasperated with His disciples’ lack of faith. He exclaimed in Mark 9:19, “You unbelieving generation! How long must I put up with you?” My sweet Jesus, I sometimes think I comprehend how you felt! Exasperaiton with the unbelief and lack of understanding of other believers is part of the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings!  Will He returns, will he find faith on the earth?


I don’t know what you are suffering at the moment, but I do believe that every family is suffering many things because we are living in a fallen world and in the time that the Bible calls the birthpangs of messiah. Grief, bitterness and despair are like weeds in a garden in summertime; you have to keep rooting them out until the season changes! I want to invite you to trust the Lord in the things you are suffering and to know that He will work things out for good for all those who love him and are called according to his purposes.


Some of you may have experienced the death of a loved one or a crushing divorce. You’re hurting from the deep pain of loss, and some of you might even be angry with God.  If you’re suffering from sickness and disease, the very good news is that healing is available in the Gospel if you will humble yourself and ask the Lord to heal you.


Some of you have not yet begun a relationship with Jesus, but today is the time to start ……If you have a broken heart, if you are suffering in any way, or if you want to connect with the Lord, I invite you to pray with me, because we will all need the Lord sooner rather than later:


Gracious Abba Father, people are suffering. I believe that you are a God of love, a God of compassion. Wrap your arms around those who are suffering and enfold them in your love. Relieve our own suffering and give us eyes to see how we can help to relieve the sufferings of others. I ask this in the name of your Messiah and Son Jesus, Yeshua. Amen.