2 Corinthians 1:8-9 “We do not want you to be ignorant brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. for we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
One of the key questions I get asked as a pastor is, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?”
Well, the bible teaches us in Genesis 3 that suffering is a result of sin entering into the human heart due to our own rebellion against God. To be alive after Genesis 3 means you and I will suffer in some way. It’s not a question of “IF” but “WHEN”.
Jesus confirmed this when he said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation but take heart I have overcome the world.” This doesn’t mean that you and I will escape suffering but that we will in fact have Gods grace in the midst of the suffering we endure. Suffering won’t be avoided because you have a lot of faith or neither is it necessarily a punishment for your sin (however, we can suffer for making poor choices in life or willfully living in sin).
It’s important that before we move to a therapy of how to deal with suffering, we develop a biblical theology of suffering. A theology of suffering precedes and informs the therapy of suffering if we are going to understand and respond appropriately to God’s purposes for us in our suffering.
The key question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not the suffering we endure will be purposeful (something to be accomplished) or purposeless (nothing accomplished)? How we respond to suffering determines whether or not we gain anything from it. Will you suffer in a way that allows God to do something good in you or not? God encourages us to not waste our suffering because suffering can turn out to be for the benefit of God’s work in us and through us, if we respond from a Gospel perspective.
3 Questions to ask yourself when facing suffering:
- Will you see your suffering as a God-allowed opportunity to advance the gospel?
- Will other believers grow in their faith because of your suffering?
- Will unbelievers become believers in Christ because of your suffering?
The biblical response to suffering always comes back to rejoicing in Christ. What the…? Yes, that’s right, REJOICE! The Apostle Paul said, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1:12-18).
Hidden roots of brokenness prevent people from being able to do what God has designed them for. We are unique by God’s design and intention, however, our uniqueness is distorted when hidden roots, of sin, offense and pain undermine the unique call of God upon our lives.
When there are blockages in the root system of our lives, it stops the flow of the Spirit moving through our call. We need God to help us identify the blockages and have them removed. The primary function of roots is to hold a plant in place and supply it with nourishment from the soil to help it grow. Likewise, roots are found in the hearts of each one of us and if these roots are infected with deep hurts, wounds, fears and insecurity, then we will not grow as we should. We are known by our fruits. Healthy tree, healthy fruit. Unhealthy root system, unhealthy fruit.
If we suffer from a distorted identity (all of us as fallen beings do in some way), we need to enter a process of healing and restoration so that the Spirit can move freely through the root system of our lives. Your identity is who you are, not just your perception of who you are. Someone once said, “We are three people. We are who others think we are. We are who we think we are and we are who we actually are.” The challenge is to live out of who we actually are in Christ, as God has designed us and intended for us.
In Scripture we see that God would give a new name to certain people to symbolize a new identity or a sign of God’s promise in their lives. God renamed Abram, Abraham and Jacob to Israel. God renamed several of the disciples, including Peter, whom originally was Simon. These new names represented significant God encounters in these people’s lives and were marks of God’s call upon them.
Your identity is linked to your call. Your call is limited by a lack of self-worth and false perception of who you are. We need to know who we are in Christ and how God sees us before we can move freely in our calling. Whatever you and others have thought about you in your past, God wants to declare new things over your life that positions you to move powerfully in your call in the future. Bring your hurts to Jesus and allow the healing process to begin. As you do, your identity will be restored as God intends for you and your call will carry more weight as you live it out from who you really are in Christ.
Nehemiah 1:4 “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days and I continued in prayer and fasting.”
Nehemiah was a Hebrew living in exile as a slave to the king of the Persian Empire when he received news of the welfare of his people. Nehemiah’s heart was burdened by the plight of his people and it compelled him to deny himself food and seek God in prayer. In fact the rest of Nehemiah’s story is the out working of God’s call to lead the rebuilding work back in Jerusalem.
Not every burden is a call from God but every call will be accompanied by a burden. Too often we misinterpret passing burdens as holy crusades that we must pick up and pursue but not every burden is a call from God. God created you for more than filling a vacancy in a company and receiving a pay cheque each week, he created you to fulfill a unique call.
The burden you carry is a key to recognizing your call. Ask yourself the questions: What drives me? Why do I do what I do? I’m not talking about unhealthy and sinful motivations for acting in inappropriate ways but I’m asking you, what is your holy discontent?
Popeye the Sailor Man was a popular cartoon character many years ago. Popeye had an on again, off again love relationship with Olive Oil and any time Olive’s well-being was threatened or someone was threatening Popeye in some way, he would down a can of spinach and his forearm muscles would grow to twice their size and he would proclaim this phrase before he cleaned up all the baddies, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.” (As you can see, Popeye had an incredible command of the English language)
A burden from God is a holy discontent that declares “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.” Someone once said, “Deep change only comes out of deep pain.” Sometimes it isn’t until we experience a “That’s all I can stands” moment that we rise up and act upon our holy discontent.
When God calls you, a holy discontent will consume your heart and compel you to take action but before you run out and act on the burden, pray into the burden like Nehemiah did. Prayer purifies the burden and releases the power of the Spirit to enable the burden to hit its target. Pay attention to the signals the Spirit of God is sending your way. A call is always accompanied by the right burden.