WHAT ABOUT SUFFERING?
Few topics raise as much controversy in the Body of Christ as this question of suffering. We hear every possible viewpoint expressed from the one extreme that says, “All suffering is from God, and should be embraced!” to the other extreme that says, “All suffering is from the Devil and should be refused!” We do need to answer the question once and for all. What am I called to suffer, and what I am not called to suffer?
As I travel throughout the Body, I encounter this question fairly often. Well, just like anyone else, I don’t want to be guilty of teaching false doctrine, so one day I went to the Lord about it in prayer. While I was driving my car down the street, I asked Him to clarify it for me. Just as I was approaching a Stop sign, I heard a voice, very clearly, that said, “Whatever I have suffered, you will suffer. Whatever I have not suffered, you do not need to suffer” I recognized the voice immediately as that of the Good Shepherd. I’ve learned to trust that voice.
However, the “teacher” in me instantly began to process the word through the Scripture computer in my head, to find out if it lined up with the written word of God. We cannot believe every voice we hear. We must try the spirits. Within a few seconds, my “memory bank” began to spit out the following scriptures to confirm the word:
a) “Remember the word that I said unto you, ‘The servant is not greater than his master.’ If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20)
b) “This is a faithful saying: For if we die with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him…” (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
c) “That I should know Him…and the fellowship of His sufferings…” (Philippians 3:10)
As I considered this word further, I began to ask myself, “What exactly did Jesus suffer?” I quickly made a mental list: sorrow, hunger, tiredness, crucifixion, etc. Looking then at what Jesus suffered, I asked myself if these were things that Christians were called to suffer. Again, certain scriptures came to mind. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus said we would be rejected, afflicted and betrayed (Matthew 24: 9-10). I read how Paul was beaten shipwrecked and stoned, suffered hunger, nakedness and peril, for the sake of the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). I recalled how some were martyred for the faith. In short, I saw everything that Jesus suffered, was endured by his disciples as well.
But what were the things that Jesus did not suffer? Well, first of all, we do not see Jesus suffering from sickness or disease. Instead, we see him “healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). God has made provision that we likewise do not need to suffer the pain of sickness without remedy. There is a gal in Gilead. Space does not permit us to outline the named scriptures, which teach us that healing belongs to us. Every believer has the privilege to live in divine health. Jesus purchased it for us by his stripes.
We also do not see Jesus suffering lack or poverty. His needs were always met in response to the prayer of faith. Whether it was food for the multitudes, money to pay his taxes, or a donkey to ride, he constantly experienced the provision of God. Again, the same is true for us. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” Psalm 23:1). And Matthew 6:33 that says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
The third thing we do not see Jesus suffering is “premature death.” We note on a couple of occasions how they tried to stone him or to throw him over a cliff, but because it was not his time, he just walked out of the midst of them. Every one of us has the potential to finish our course. None of us needs to be taken out of the race before we have crossed the finish line. Jesus finished the work God gave him to do and so should you and I. Jesus did suffer martyrdom. Because it pleased the Father, He gave his life as a ransom. He said, “No man takes my life. I lay it down” (John 10:18). And obviously, there are those in the Christian faith who follow him even in this.
While I have tremendous compassion for those suffering from poverty, sickness, or premature death, in short, I believe the voice I heard that day was Jesus. I believe that we are called to suffer with him and that if we do, we will also reign with him. But I am convinced that we should not suffer anything that he did not suffer, for if we do, we gain nothing. We are simply experiencing what the thief comes to do, which is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).
For the last several decades, God has been restoring to the church a more complete revelation of who we are in Christ. There has been an abundance of wonderful and necessary teachings regarding our authority, rights and privileges as believers. No longer are we willing to just lie down and passively allow the enemy to walk all over us. We have seen Jesus in a fresh light as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and have made room for this manifestation of him in our lives. Hallelujah!
But Jesus is not only the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He is also the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world. There is a lamb-like side to the nature of Christ which, as the Father chooses, is willing to “open not his mouth” and to quietly lay down his life in surrender – – even to death. Now the danger is that we would lean too heavily to one side or the other in these two expressions of Christ. We all know individuals or churches who walk in the extremes. Yes, there is a time of battle, where having done all, we stand. But there is also a time of surrender where we discover, “It’s in losing that we win.”
Intercession involves an interesting blend of these two dimensions. We learn when to be “as bold as a lion” and when to be “as meek as a lamb.” There are many and varied weapons that God has given to us to disarm and defeat the enemy. Some of us are used to only the aggressive “war-like” weapons, so familiar in battle. But there are numerous secret weapons available to us that seem very unlikely at first glance, yet are strategies which the enemy doesn’t understand, and cannot resist! Who would have thought that it would be through “weakness” and “death” that Satan’s plan would be destroyed at the cross? There was something about the plan of God that the princes of this world did not know, or they would never have crucified the Lord of Glory.
And it is still true. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The enemy is still defeated every time we choose to manifest a Christ-like spirit, whether the Lion or the Lamb. But we must discern the times and seasons. How inappropriate and frustrating for us to roar like a lion when what’s needed is the gentleness of a lamb. The converse is also true.
When we are willing to “suffer with Christ” we see an on-going fulfillment of Christ’s words found in Matthew 20:23 where he tells his disciples: “You will indeed drink my cup and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with…”.
Here we see underscored for us again, the fact that we will suffer with him. This cup is a cup of suffering. This baptism is also a baptism of suffering. Intercessors will discover that many times as we empty ourselves, we will have an experience where God hands us a cup.
We sense immediately that it is a cup of suffering. Our first response, like Jesus, is to ask if there be any way that this cup could pass from us. Our spirit, our souls, even our physical bodies, recoil from the contents of that cup. After wrestling with the cost, we finally yield with the words: “Not my will, but thy will be done!” And we drink the cup; all of it. With the drinking of the cup, comes a strange identification with the burden of God’s heart. We find ourselves filled up with the feeling of the people who need prayer. We then pour these feelings out to God, like a drink offering, through confession and repentance on their behalf.
This is one more way we enter into the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. In doing so, we also tear down the works of the enemy.