Suffering and the Plan of God – Pastor Ben Phillips, Online Contributor
No one likes hardship. When others go through it, we do our best to help and pray – all the while silently thanking God it isn’t us. We may ask God why, but we do not wonder where He is because we know that hardship is part of life. We even tell each other that the hardship is part of God’s plan and that “all things will work together for good.” When we go through hardship, we are grateful for prayers and those who stand with us and somehow we make it through. No one likes hardship.
Suffering on the other hand is a whole different animal – cruel, relentless, unyielding. We hear of the Church suffering in far away places of the world, but never close. We know of the underground church in China and the Middle East, but not at home. When suffering manifests itself upon the church we do not understand why. We wonder and ask, “where is God in all of this?”
What if suffering is part of God’s plan? Actually, let me rephrase that. What if suffering is part of God’s plan to win the lost? In my Theology 3 online course we tackle the question of suffering at the hand of the enemy. Why would God allow his people to suffer? Why does God not always deliver his people from their enemies? Especially when we see and believe the repeated stories in the Bible of God doing so with a mighty and miraculous hand?
A close look at the Seven Churches of Revelation reveal that many of them have assimilated into their culture and look more like the world than they look like Jesus. They have lost their witness, they tolerate false doctrine, they have become useless for the kingdom. This is the church we see headed into the darkness of persecution and suffering that will take place in the first and second centuries. Where is Jesus in this hardship? The first three chapters of Revelation depicts Christ as the Kingly Priest who stands in the midst of the church, encouraging and preparing them to shine brightly in the midst of the oncoming darkness.
Jesus places a challenge before each church. He says, “the one who overcomes…” How do we overcome when we face hardship, suffering, and the attacks of the enemy against our lives? There are two verses in Revelation that help answer this question for us and give us the proper perspective when we face the darkness.
The first is Revelation 5:9. “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” How did Jesus win victory for God? How did Jesus redeem humanity and bring them before the Father? Jesus overcame by means of His sacrifice. It was His death that made it possible for people to come to God.
The second is Revelation 12:11. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” I love this verse because it rests at the very center of the book and I believe it serves as a major interpretive key for understanding Revelation. How do we overcome when we face the enemy? (And always remember who the enemy is – the Devil, NOT people). We overcome the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. Hardship, persecution, and suffering are meaningless pain unless they are coupled with the life changing message of the Cross of Christ. When our lives and message looks like His life and message – God moves!
Here is the point. Christ suffered so that the world could be saved. When we suffer as Christians, God takes our suffering AND the message of the Gospel we proclaim and uses it to save the lost.
So the next time that you go through a hardship, are ridiculed for your faith, or read a news article about Christians losing their lives for the name of Christ, remember these three things:
- Jesus suffered and died to save the lost: that includes you AND the person who persecutes you.
- Christ is with you in the midst of your hardship as a means of strength and encouragement. You are not alone!
- Your hardship and suffering may be part of God’s plan for someone else’s redemption.
Pastor Ben Phillips