Suffering is a pesky and pervasive pest that doesn’t seem to hold any special regard for the Christian. It finds a way to enter our well-ordered houses. It slithers over the walls of our gardens. Whether by our own doing or because of the sinful state of the world, it will visit us. The Christian may find common ground with the Buddhist who says that life is suffering. After all, our Christ is a tortured and crucified Messiah who told us to pick up our cross daily and follow him.
Many of you will be familiar with the story of Jim Elliot. He and four other missionaries were intending to minister to the Waorani of Ecuador, a tribal group in the Amazon well-known for their violence. After some promising first encounters, the five men were confronted by a group of warriors and murdered, their bodies found downstream. Steve Saint, the son of murdered missionary Nate Saint, wrote a beautiful story of redemption in The End of the Spear, which I read as a young man.
There are many in prosperous America that claim the blessings of finances and health because, some say, God wants the best for us. If only we have the faith. I do believe that God wants the best for us. But then, did God not want the best for Jim Elliot, and Nate Saint, and Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming, and their families?
Closer to home, I ask: Am I not a faithful Christian? In fifteen months of ministering to youth in Mexico I have spent as many as five weeks in bed fighting two bacterial infections, a parasite, and nerve pain. Every time I think I’m well, something new strikes. But I pray and read my Bible and work with orphans boys. What gives?
My very first overseas mission trip as a twelve year old to the Dominican Republic. I went with my dad and a group from our church for two weeks. It was one of the best two weeks of my young life. I also spent several days with an illness, stuck at the compound. I was confined to bed while the rest of our group went about doing what I longed to do. The local doctor, who gave me a shot in the rear, even hit a nerve, causing much more pain.
But I haven’t even had it too bad, not really. Not compared to the murdered missionaries’ families. Not compared to the apostle Paul, who five times received the forty lashes less one, three times was beaten with rods, once was stoned, three times was shipwrecked, and imprisoned. So the question is really whether or not we trust God enough to let him define what’s “best for us?”
In the midst of your suffering, God is working something beautiful and meaningful. Paul, shipwrecked and beaten, says in his letter to the Romans, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.”
And hope does not disappoint! What a verse. If suffering is the discomfort we feel as we’re being molded into who God desires us to be, I will gladly pay the price. Even now, I write with a parasite in my body. Yes, it makes it that much harder to find my patience with the boys. Yes, it makes it that much harder to get out of bed and walk up the hill to where I give classes.
But hope will not disappoint.
At the end of our trip to the Dominican Republic, the locals who work at the compound held a farewell party. People took turns sharing how each individual in our group had been a blessing to them. What could they say about a kid who spent half the days sick, lying on the floor of the compound? “Your faith and presence in the middle of your suffering greatly encouraged me.” Was God merely doing what was best for me and molding me? Or was he also weaving in what was good for my sister and my brother?
Perhaps God was even warning me what ministry in Latin America would be like should I choose to follow His lead.
Whatever the case in your situation, in the present or approaching suffering, you would do well to try the advice of the apostle Peter who says: let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Pe 4:19).
What is your alternative? May you live in hope while doing good.