December 11, 2008 | President's Slice
By Joe Hale
She was walking to teach an English class…another day of serving the people of (unnamed country)…just two blocks from our school.
Trying to dodge yet another motorcycle headed her way on the busy streets, the mid-30’s single lady’s last visual was the motorcycle’s passenger pointing a gun directly at her…pop, pop, pop; all goes black. Nearby students sit, awaiting their teacher, while passersby stare at the blood-soaked body of the foreigner, wondering what just happened. Streets of dust become streets of gold for another martyr.
No, she wasn’t one of our teachers, but she could have been; they walk the same streets. Others walk where armed robbery is common or pickpockets regularly prove their skills, while others merrily head to school knowing they are in the range of a madman’s threatening missiles, while still others live in the country of the madman where civil unrest is just a way of life and evacuation plans are reviewed regularly. For the sake of balance, others feel safer than they ever felt back “home.”
Morning devotions in Hebrews 11 prompt a sickening feeling in my stomach as I rehearse some “what ifs.” What if she had been one of our teachers? Are we being responsible by putting people in places where they might be in danger…or have to suffer…or even be killed? These words are chilling:
“…others were tortured…”
“…others were mocked and scourged…”
“…chained and imprisoned…”
“…they were stoned…”
“…they were sawn in two…”
“…they were slain with the sword…”
The real issue is not about being overseas…just ask the families of those who went to work at the WTC on 9/11/2001. The question is if/why God’s plan for His own sometimes includes horrible suffering and, yes, even death.
In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago,” he makes the piercing observation that when a Christian goes into prison for his/her faith, it is critical that he “die” first. If he/she does that, he says, anything beyond death is “extra.” I truly wonder how many of us have “died to self” already, so that if and when God’s will for us includes that painful enemy-friend called Suffering, we are able to endure?
I’ve been re-reading John Piper’s Let the Nations be Glad, in which Piper dedicates a whole, lengthy chapter to the place of suffering in God’s global cause. I strongly urge you to read Chapter 3. Piper quotes Hebrews 13:12-14, “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth with him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” Piper states, “Jesus suffered first in a way we can’t: ‘to sanctify the people by his blood.’ The death of the Son of God is absolutely unique in its effect. But then notice the word ‘therefore.’ Because Jesus died for us in this way, therefore let us go forth with him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. It does not say: since he suffered for us, therefore we can have an easy life free from suffering and abuse and danger. Just the opposite. Jesus’ suffering is the basis of our going with him and bearing the same abuse he bore.”
Piper continues by listing six reasons God appoints (not just allows) suffering for His people. When an innocent, servant-minded, lady gets shot down in the streets, we all tend to ask “Why?” Here’s Piper’s list:
1. God’s purpose for His own is deeper faith and deeper holiness; He uses suffering to accomplish this (Heb. 12:10, Heb. 5:8, 2 Cor. 1:8-9).
2. Suffering brings new meaning to our ultimate worship in heaven. God rewards those whom He chooses to suffer for His sake.
3. Saints who suffer embolden the church to deeper faith and action. Think of the story of Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian, and the tremendous impact their martyrdom has had on thousands of people.
4. Those who are being reached with the Good News are drawn to the Savior when they see the servants willing to suffer for their faith.
5. Suffering repositions the church. Even after Christ’s command to “go” in Acts 1:8, they “stayed.” Persecution scattered God’s people into places the Gospel had never gone before. While persecution can have harmful effects on the church, prosperity’s damage goes much deeper. Today’s suffering church in places like C%$#^^$ are growing at an incredibly rapid rate.
6. Piper’s sixth observation is that “The suffering of missionaries is meant by God to magnify the power and sufficiency of Christ. When God declined to remove the sufferings of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh,’ he said to Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness.’ To this, Paul responded, ‘I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities; for when I am weak then am I strong’ (2 Cor. 12:9-10).”
John G. Paton’s call to missionary service in the South Sea Islands was met with opposition from an elderly man who confronted him with, “You’ll be eaten by Cannibals!” Paton’s response was “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
I love Piper’s conclusion of the chapter, so I’ll let it be mine: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And the supremacy of that glory shines most brightly when the satisfaction that we have in him endures in spite of suffering and pain in the mission of love.”
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Acts 14:22b (NIV)
Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994. p. 71-112.