“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil.3:20).
A.W. Tozer wrote,
In the early days, when Christianity exercised a dominant influence over American thinking, men conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin and the devil and hell as constituting one force; and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other. These were opposed to each other in the nature of them forever in deep, grave, irreconcilable hostility. Man, so our fathers held, had to choose sides; he could not be neutral. For him it must be life or death, heaven or hell; and if he chose to come out on God’s side, he could expect open war with God’s enemies. The fight would be real and deadly and would last as long as life continued here below. Men looked forward to heaven as a return from wars, a laying down of the sword to enjoy in peace the home prepared for them…
How different today: the fact remains the same but the interpretation has changed completely. Men think of the world not as a battleground but as a playground. We are not here to fight, we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land, we are at home.
As I prepare Sunday’s sermon on patience in suffering from James 5:7-11, I can’t help but think Tozer is right. Far too often I hear surprise over suffering, as though it shouldn’t happen to the Christian. If not surprise, regret, as though it is a wasted season in one’s life. Both surprise and regret seem like natural reactions when we forget we have a supernatural God, and we are his soldiers (2 Tim. 2:3-4).
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:19).
Why do we tell Christians today that they are not truly suffering if they are not being martyred for their faith? Suffering comes in many shapes and sizes, and according to scripture the least worrisome kind is the kind that kills us. Jesus said not to fear the one who can kill the body, but the one who can kill both body and soul and send both into hell (Luke 12:5). There is an internal component to suffering we don’t acknowledge enough which is every bit as real, and even more important, than physical suffering.
It’s the death of our flesh as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. We suffer as we lay down our lives, our wills, our wants, our loves, and while denying ourselves take up a cross and follow the life, will, wants, and loves of One greater than ourselves. There is a war being waged for our hearts and we are fooling ourselves if we think this is not something to suffer, or perhaps even worse yet, we think we’ve avoided suffering because we haven’t been beaten or imprisoned. The Christian who has effectively externalized suffering may find him or herself imprisoned by Self more than they realize.
But it’s no surprise that when we come to Christ we suffer as we leave the things we loved in this world behind. This may not happen all at once, but a death begins in us nonetheless the moment we say “Yes Sir” to our new Master. We discover that we are selfish and the way we treat others must change. We learn that the things that once brought us pleasure must be cast aside. We discover that we need to change the way in which we spend our money or use our time. We find we cannot just say whatever comes to mind, or type whatever we feel, or love what or whomever we desire. We discover that we have no rights, not even the right to be offended. All of this and more goes on inside the Christian, and we rarely honor this as suffering. Isn’t this a mistake? Would it not be correct to say that if we are not suffering then perhaps we should examine whether or not we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5)?
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your laws (Psalm 119:71).
Suffering need not be a wasted season in the Christians life because God works all things – all things! – for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). Those who love God can stand on this promise that all things, even our sufferings, will be used for good. Like the Psalmist declared, even afflictions are something to give thanks over because by them we can learn God’s laws. Suffering, more than anything else, can draw us deeper into the heart of God because God is a suffering God.
Consider Jesus, who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood (Heb. 12:3-4)
We may not have suffered by shedding blood as Jesus has, but we are no less suffering as God’s Spirit confronts the spirit of this world and seeks to banish it from our lives. Don’t grow weary or fainthearted in this battle, but consider Jesus, who endured much for us while looking ahead to the glory that would be his (vs. 2), and will also be ours.
James says we should not regret the suffering or trials, but to “count them all joy!” because these trials test our faith, helping to make us complete and perfect, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). Suffering is to be expected. And need not be wasted if we are watchful, prayerful, and expectant.
We are in a battle. What side will you choose? Life or death? Heaven or hell? This war will have a victor. Establish in your hearts which side you are on (James 5:8) and suffering will take on a supernatural aspect you did not know nor could know before coming to Christ.