Blessed in the midst of your suffering
“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin," 1 Peter 4:1.
“Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler, but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right," 1 Peter 4:15-19.
To those who are hurting,
The Bible is filled with God’s promises to bless His people. We must exercise extreme care however, not to place guilt or condemnation on those who are suffering (or carry this condemnation ourselves). It is important to understand that suffering and blessing are not necessarily in opposition to each other. Our faith is filled with heroes who rejoiced in their blessings under great pressure. Imagine Paul and Silas singing hymns in the midst of the Phillippian prison cell (Acts 16)...or the other Apostles rejoicing after being beaten. They were grateful they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5).
Hebrews 11 tells us that faith not only obtained promises, subdued kingdoms, protected from the sword and brought the dead back to life, but also carried our brothers and sisters through trials, mockings, imprisonment, torture and death. How do we reconcile these two seemingly opposite sides of our faith?
First of all, it helps to understand that there are different kinds of suffering. One is a response to our own foolish actions. Another is the pain we feel when we deny ourselves, or God denies us, the comfort of something we formerly relied upon for strength. It seems that the highest form of suffering is a persecution God allows in order to direct us to deeper dependency upon His council and strength.
The bottom line here is that God can bring great blessings out of painful circumstance. He never wastes anything and is well able to redeem the most difficult things we have endured. It is, however, highly possible for us to suffer in such a way that brings no glory, whatsoever to God. We must be careful, therefore where we place our faith in our times of need. I’ll explain this more fully in a moment, but for now, let me give you a little test to determine where you personally are in the midst of your pressure.
Romans 14:17 tells us the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. This is the litmus test. If we lack any of these three things, our current stance in Christ has been compromised. They are a progression. We cannot have joy without peace, and we cannot have peace without right-standing. So here is a series of questions to ask yourself in the midst of your pressure:
- In the midst of your trial, are you maintaining a spiritual joy that strengthens the resolve of your heart? Is the face of your spiritual countenance lifted towards Christ? Do you have strong confidence that everything is well, and working together for your good, in spite of what your circumstances are? Can you count it joy to the degree that you can sing, shout and dance to the Lord for His goodness? If you cannot give affirmative answers to these questions, then your position of peace and/or righteousness in Christ have been weakened.
- Is your mind anchored in the peace of Christ? Is it single, focused and unwavering. Is there strong confidence that your security and significance have never, and will never, be at risk because He is your covering? Are you assured that in each and every circumstance your needs have already been met according to His riches in glory? Is your confidence in His character, knowing that He, alone, is all that you need and that He is your Rewarder because of your pursuit of Him (Hebrews 11:6)? Do you believe that He will liberally supply wisdom, and tell you exactly what to do, each time you ask Him (James 1:5-8). If you cannot give affirmative answers to these questions your position of right-standing with Christ needs to be strengthened.
- Can you look toward God’s face without guilt, shame, fear, doubt or condemnation? Do you have confidence that you are unconditionally loved and have no need to perform for acceptance or approval? Do you realize that through the blood of Christ you have every spiritual right to stand in His own righteousness, as a gift of grace? Does your faith confirm you are His son or daughter, and as such, a joint heir through Christ of all He purchased with His blood? If you are not faring well to these questions, there needs to be an adjustment in the focus of your faith. Make sure you hear me here...It’s not necessarily that you don’t have faith, it’s just that your faith needs to be re-focused.
There is a time for every purpose (Eccles. 3:1-8). The purpose for one season in our lives can be vastly different from the purpose of another season. It is important to understand and cooperate with the purpose of each season. Our lives should be disciplined to follow the written Word of God, and the voice of His Spirit. God allows seasons of discipline in order to correct foolish behavior in our lives. He also allows seasons of discipline in order to deepen our character and faith. We must remember in the midst of all this that discipline is never the intended end. Discipline for discipline’s sake is anything but love. It is abuse. Loving discipline is always the instrument of blessing. God’s desire is to use it to deliver us from all of the mental attacks that rob us of the knowledge that through Christ, we already have perfect right-standing with Him. In other words, the purpose of discipline is to give us righteousness (and thus peace and joy) in the Holy Spirit. To the degree that we realize our righteousness in Christ (by faith), we do not need to be disciplined.
“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it, Hebrews 12:11.” “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord -- that the Lord is compassionate and merciful, James 5:10-11.”
Faith is always now. It becomes the substance that our tomorrow is built upon. Our faith must be in the loving goodness of our God and His desire to abundantly bless and reward us as His children. No good parent takes delight in the discipline of his (or her) children, except to the degree that he can envision the good that will come from it. His focus is never on the discipline. In fact, the very thought of it, brings pain to his heart.
Likewise, no good can come from a child who places the focus on his (or her) own need for discipline. The key word here is “focus.” The child who focuses on his failure and weakness becomes a sin-conscious individual. In essence, the enemy subtly twists his faith towards his own need to be corrected. In his own eyes, he always falls short, and therefore is “bad” and in need of more correction. You can see how this is diametrically opposed to his confidence that he has right-standing with God. This weakened stance causes double-mindedness, robbing him of peace and stripping him of joy. He cannot approach God without feeling shamed and condemned. The enemy religiously cloaks this as “suffering for the Lord.” All the while, this tribulation is not bringing the believer any closer to his promised land (unless you believe all your promises are all reserved for you after you die).
The problem here is one of expectation. This person cannot fully receive or enjoy the blessings of God because their faith has been deceitfully diverted. Sin-consciousness has taken the seat of God-consciousness, and expectation has been turned toward correction rather than blessing. This translates into, “God wants me to suffer so He can teach me a lesson.” God does not want you to suffer! No good parent ever wants to punish his children. Whatever suffering God allows is intended for your blessing. We often prolong our own suffering because our expectation is misplaced. This becomes the target for our faith. It literally creates our next step...more suffering.
Will we suffer? YES! Are we to count our suffering as joy? YES! Why? Because we refuse to exercise our faith in a manner that calls those things that are “as though they are.” Biblical faith is seeing the joy set before us (Hebrews 12:2)...the goodness and the blessing... and considering that they are already a reality (Romans 4:17)...Faith is always now (Hebrews 11:1). The promises of God are “yes” and “amen” and are finished before we ever see them (2 Corinthians 1:20). God is simply looking for people who will place their agreement with Him rather than with the oppressor.
Does God want us to learn and grow through our trials? ABSOLUTELY! There is, however, a proper time and way for us to learn. Let’s think of it in terms of football. Practice is never for more practice sake. You practice to win. You cannot win unless you play. When you play, you never want to approach a game expecting to lose. If you do, your entire concentration will be on defense and you will never move the ball forward offensively. If you start to lose, you must keep your eyes on your Coach and on the goal of winning. If you should happen to lose a game, your Coach will later, review your mistakes with you play by play...both offensively and defensively. He will teach you, and you will be the better for them. One lost game should never translate into a lost season. Each corrected mistake should make you more of a winner. In a game, you never concentrate on your enemy, nor on your own mistakes. This is especially true when the enemy seems to be prevailing against you. Most of all, younever want to convince yourself that it’s your Coach’s will for you to lose so He can teach you to be a better player. Your loss is His loss! Stay focused on His instructions every play of the game. Maintain faith in His ability, and use every ounce of your strength to turn lost momentum around so you can win the game!
Remember, satan, not God, is the accuser of the brethren. He is the one who will remind you how bad you are and how far short you fall. Stop agreeing with Him. Place you expectation and faith in the loving goodness of God!
Now let me give you one more good reason why this is so important. Your thoughts and judgments towards other people will be parallel to your thoughts and judgments toward yourself. If you see yourself as being undone, incomplete, sinful and in need of correction, then this is the perception through which you will address and interact with other people. You probably won’t mean to, but you’ll become the oppressor, reminding others of the things that are yet undone in their lives. Your focus becomes centered on what they should and could be, rather than on enjoying and blessing who they are right now.
Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. You and I need to do the same. Once we understand God’s covenant of blessing, we can be free to release blessing to others. Rather than accusing and judging unrighteously, we can undo heavy burdens.
Jesus never broke a bruised reed or extinguished a smoldering flax (Isaiah 42:3). There is no condemnation in Christ. There must not be in us either. Our mission as the blessed of God is to open prison doors, heal the brokenhearted and proclaim the acceptable year of our Lord (Isaiah 61). He has called us to speak a word in due season (Proverbs 15:23). This means understanding that there are times and seasons when our fellow heirs will be suffering for one reason or another. We must recognize this, and issue words of life and blessing rather than death and cursing. We can only do this to the degree that we receive our own inheritance.
Truly, if there is more life in you, God has more of His goodness to reveal. Courageously believe Him for His best. Rejoice in whatever trials you face. Glorify His name in, and through, them. Be careful not to limit your future by your present or your past. God is not through with you. Seasons of rain are intended for seasons of harvest. Don’t let today’s hardships limit your faith for tomorrow’s possibilities. God’s blessing is yours today, whether you have fully recognized it or not. Your faith for it must be now! Believe in His perfect and loving character and know that His love for you is unwavering and unchanging. His glory in your life will arise to the level of your faith in Him. He longs for you to believe Him for more. While you are waiting...count it all joy. The best is yet to come!
Until God graces me to share again,
Randall Paul Pipes