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Understanding The Mind of God:
A Message To The 'Charismatic Church'
Understanding the place for suffering in the Christian life is far from easy. I do not condemn those who misunderstand. It is my desire that we may all come into the fulness of understanding, having the mind of Christ, that we can be truly united in spirit and in truth.
This chapter surveys the causes of suffering and suffering’s purpose for us in this physical life. God did not make us subject to distress for no good reason.
Our Sins Can Cause Our Suffering
The Word of God is averse to those who preach a selfish Gospel, pandering to the desires of their hearers. Isaiah warned the people in his day to beware of those who prophesy solely pleasant things (Is 30:10). Paul cautioned Timothy:
Preach the Word; be prepared… correct, rebuke and encourage… with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (II Tim 4:2,3).
God is a God of immense compassion, but He is also a God of justice (v 18). There is more to understand about God’s nature than only His wonderful compassion, mercy and forgiveness.
Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God has paid the penalties of all sins. These penalties include sickness, physical suffering and poverty. Some ‘faith teachers’ emphasise these physical blessings which Jesus has purchased for us, at the expense of the spiritual principles which ought to underlie such teaching. This is how they deny the Lordship of Christ, as the Azusa Street prophecy fore- told. Their ‘prosperity gospel’ is at variance with the fulness of the spiritual message of Jesus Christ. It contains truth, but it is only part of the truth. Half truths can be as devast- ating as total error. You must be spiritually discerning to perceive the traps Satan has laid for you through incomplete teaching.
It is true that we can receive physical healing through the vicarious sufferings of Jesus. He paid the price for our total deliverance. However, it is also true that there are times when God ‘steps back’ and permits Satan to impose his afflictions upon us. In the long run, God uses the trial to perfect us, and help us learn important spiritual lessons (e.g. Ps 119:71). One reason the book of Job was recorded is to help us understand this point.
From the beginning, God did not intend mankind to be sick. That was not His perfect will for you or me. It was the adversary’s. Sickness is of the devil, yes. Mentally, we should not tolerate it, but neither should we tolerate sin in our lives. And sin is the greater enemy. As long as our thinking is at variance with God’s (Is 55:8), we must expect to have to tolerate things which are not ideal. There can be times when God deems it spiritually beneficial for us to endure suffering for an ultimately good end, just as Job did. Who are we to argue? (Is 45:9). We cannot demand healing in Jesus’ name. It is a gift of God according to God’s grace. Grace can never be demanded; it can only be gratefully accepted.
On one side of the road which God wants us to travel there is a ditch – thinking that we can always claim our physical healing Jesus has bought for us. Yes, we can receive healing. Yes, God does want to heal us. That is His ideal. But there are times when it is expedient for us to suffer before His perfect will can be expedited. Paul left Trophimus sick at one time (II Tim 4:20). Epaphroditus also faced such severe sickness that he nearly died (Phil 2:25-27). God had His reasons for not healing them immediately. There can be a place for suffering in the Christian life. It is presumptuous to think that you never need it.
We must not fall into the ditch on the opposite side of the road – thinking that God always wills us to endure hardship and suffering. That is not His ideal either. He wants us to enjoy every good thing (if it is good for us) and positive pleasures. However, we live in a far from ideal world, and God is not in the business of making sweet liquorice out of sour lemons to pander to our physical whims and fancies. His ultimate spiritual aims and objectives are far more important than our temporary physical comforts. God is primarily interested in our learning to become like Him through all human experience, whether suffering or pleasure.
There was a time in Paul’s ministry when the deep-seated sin in the life of a man in the Church at Corinth caused him to be delivered into the hands of Satan. God’s desire was to deliver that person, but his serious blindness and callousness towards sin prevented him receiving what God wanted to give him. Paul declared under inspiration of God that the man ought only to expect to come under Satan’s physical destruction. It was essential for him to learn by cruel experience so that his spirit could ultimately be saved (I Cor 5:5).
Sometimes our spiritual approach can be a barrier that prevents the fulfilment of God’s greatest desires for us in this physical life (Is 59:1,2). If we are resistant and stubborn, we will waste away in our sins (Is 64:7; Prov 1:20-33). It is to the humble and contrite man that God looks (Is 66:2). Not the proud, arrogant and self-assertive. So, there are times when suffering is self- induced, because we have not orientated our lives obediently according to the immutable and life-giving Word of God.
Suffering Due to ‘Time and Chance’
Solomon declared that ‘time and chance’ happen to all men (Eccl 9:11). There are so many things in life which are unpredictable and impossible for us to fully understand why they occur.
Ron Steele relates the following experience of international evangelist Reinhard Bonnke which occurred in Africa 25 years ago:
Carelessly, he had drunk some water without boiling it first. It had been a blazing hot day, with hardly a cloud in the sky and he had been driving along the twisting, dusty mountain roads visiting some local pastors. He arrived at a small village by the name of Kolonyama. His throat was parched and he felt as though he had trekked across the Sahara desert. The offer of a cool drink of water was like stumbling into a green-fringed oasis. He gulped down the water.
That night in Maseru he fell violently ill. At first he thought it was a bout of dysentery. But by the next morning he was desperately ill. He lay in his bed exhausted, slipping into fits of delirium. At his bedside his wife prayed and the message went out to his fellow African pastors: “The Moruti is sick. Pray for him.”
The fever raged and he got steadily weaker and weaker. He was unable to eat and he was fast losing contact with what was going on around him.
On the third day he experienced a strange vision. His eyes were wide open and he saw a blanket, a black blanket floating down towards him. It wanted to cover him. Instinctively he knew what the blanket meant: death. Suddenly he found that he could see through the blanket and on the other side there was a face – the face of the Lord Jesus. Despite his delirious condition a soothing comfort came over him when he gazed into His face. Then something even more strange happened. He was suddenly conscious of someone praying. Someone agonising in soul, crying, pleading with God… begging and praying for his life. He knew the voice. It was that of Mrs Eliese Kohler, a dear loyal and devoted member of his father’s church in Germany.
As he listened to her praying, the blanket began to fade away and Reinhard recalls that he slipped off into a quiet, restful sleep. The red hot fever that seared his body subsided. The crisis was over and Reinhard would live to preach another sermon.
Jesus promises us healing, but we have to work sometimes to claim it. We have to beat off the attacks of the devil with the spiritual weapons He gives us. In the above example, the intercessor worked all day to secure the victory that is in Christ.
We can only speculate as to why Jesus allowed Reinhard to go through that suffering. There may be a spiritual corollary. It was such a simple mistake of innocent carelessness, yet it led to great discomfort and nearly death. Is there a spiritual parallel? You bet! Often in life, God will permit us to go through a negative physical experience to teach us a vital spiritual lesson.
Spiritual sins of ‘innocent’ carelessness can have equally devastating results. We don’t always see their effects on us or on others, but sin is always very damaging whatever its cause.
At times, the righteous or the strong may suffer for the benefit of the weak. It is possible that the above experience of Reinhard Bonnke was just such a trial – for the benefit of others in the Body of Christ. It illustrates, too, the value of dedicated intercessors who are seldom seen or heard, but who selflessly bear the burdens which others are unable to bear for themselves.
Suffering For The Sins of Others
There are times when we have done nothing to induce the suffering that falls our lot. Yet, as part of God’s overall plan, He does not physically deliver His people.
To those in Smyrna, Jesus says:
I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!… Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you into prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you a crown of life (Rev 2:9-10).
There is no condemnation to these Christians, and yet their lot in life is suffering, poverty and death! Why? They aredeprived physically, but not spiritually!
Peter explains that sometimes it can be God’s will that Christians suffer for doing good (I Pet 3:17). That is not His perfect will for us, but in the circumstances, so that a greater ultimate spiritual objective can be achieved, God allows it.
All the persecution and martyrdom of Christians that have occurred throughout history fall into this category. No Christian martyr has spilled his blood for no good reason! The death of God’s saints is very precious to Him (Ps 116:15). It can produce a dramatic effect!
Tertullian declared: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
When Stephen died, his heroism and outspoken witness generated greater faith and boldness among the disciples. It had a massive impact on believers (Acts 6-8). Rather than causing believers to feel defeated, it had the effect of strengthening them! As a result, persecution caused the Gospel to spread further (Acts 8:4).
It was the sins of others that caused Stephen to suffer. The wickedness of godless men under the influence of Satan led to the death of all the first century apostles other than John. Such men were far from being spiritually inferior. They were spiritual men of valour! Their own lives were of far lesser consequence to them than their spiritual purpose for living.
Just as Jesus suffered and was persecuted for doing good, so we should not expect preferential treatment either. Jesus tells us not to forget His words:
Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also (Jn 15:20).
They will put you out of the synagogue [place of organised worship, i.e. the church]; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God (Jn 16:2).
Persecution and suffering are predicted for those who will live godly in Christ Jesus (II Tim 3:12). Any pastors who do not warn their flocks of impending persecution and suffering of Christians are not preaching the full Gospel. Jesus warned His first disciples (Jn 16:4). His words of warning are not a negative report to be overlooked. They may seem negative but they are part of the Gospel. They are recorded for our benefit. To be forewarned is to be forearmed!
The Refiner’s Fire
None of us can expect a ‘cushy’ ride into the spiritual Kingdom of God. The righteous must expect to have to take the Kingdom by force (Matt 11:12). It is only through much tribulation that we can enter (Acts 14:22).
We must not be surprised, nor be afraid of the fiery trial which is to try us (I Pet 4:12). Jesus was tried. Likewise, we also must be prepared for any physical opposition which God permits to come our way.
There are many Christians, primarily in the West, who are being deceived today by the ‘prosperity gospel’, expecting the loving hand of Jesus to nurture and protect them from physical harm and adversity. He can protect us physically in every way, but He does not always choose to do so.
It is not in your spiritual interests always for Him to ‘envelop’ you in some sort of ‘cocoon’ preventing the winds of life from blowing on your house. Indeed, Jesus predicted that the rains will come, the streams will rise and the winds will blow and beat upon our spiritual houses to test their construction. We must be sure we build upon the Rock – Christ – not upon ourselves, nor upon some other shaky foundation (Matt 7:24-27).
Paul, in a similar analogy, pointed out that “you are God’s building” (I Cor 3:9).
Each one should be careful how he builds. For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is (I Cor 3:10-13). It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work (vs 13,14).
Paul also made an allusion to us being “jars of clay” (II Cor 4:7). God is the Master Potter (Is 64:8). And the fires of life’s trials are meant to bake the clay, creating the durable end-product, useful to the Maker. The beautiful glaze on His workmanship can only be fired onto the finished article with great heat.
You are a spiritual jewel God is forming (Mal 3:17). No diamond or other precious stone was formed without intense heat and pressure. Although it is no different in chemical composition from its surrounding physical constituents, it is dramatically different is its appearance. Besides its lustre, it has durability, clarity and value.
A diamond is such a contrast to the black carbon from which it is formed that it is hard to believe that it is composed of the same chemical element (carbon). It is simply that the extreme heat and pressure have caused its internal structure to become changed, not its chemical composition. You are no different in composition from others in the world, but as a Christian, your internal structure which God is forming is radically different in value. It is what is being formed inside you that is of inexpressible value.
Jewels are exceedingly precious compared with the relatively worthless rock which surrounds them. God is forming in His children spiritual jewels in the hostile environment of this world.
Darkness Always Precedes Light
Sickness and suffering go hand-in-hand with healing and deliverance. It is impossible to see the power of God to heal without first being sick. Likewise, if there were not suffering, how could we witness God’s deliverance?
Evils are unpleasant. None who have suffered would deny that. But there can be no summer without winter in this world. In every day, darkness always precedes light (Gen 1).
In whatever situation a Christian finds himself, if he relies upon God implicitly, God can work out the best for him and for all in that situation, no matter how bad it is.
In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
It may be hard for us to understand the purpose God is working out, particularly when we suffer, but if we hold onto the promises in His Word, we will be able to walk by faith and have firm assurance.
The following is a quotation from Danyun’s book Lilies Amongst Thorns, an account of the remarkable endurance of Chinese Christians in recent years under an oppressive totalitarian regime. The persecution and suffering many faithful Christians have had to endure under such atheistic, restrictive governments is almost beyond comprehension.
…Zizhong as a Christian was constantly under observation. All around him people sent by the PSB (Public Security Bureau) were watching him daily. Once, as he was secretly preaching the Gospel they discovered him. Several prison wardens tied him up. They forced him to kneel on a small wooden stool that was only as wide as four fingers. The people swarmed around him and one by one they smacked his ears, spat on him and mocked him saying, ‘Where is your Saviour? Tell him to come and take vengeance on us!’ Zizhong knelt on the stool and put up with this for several hours. Due to the cords, his wrists became swollen and his legs turned numb. Everything suddenly turned black and he fell from the stool unconscious.
On several occasions they used a fire grate from the oven and had him hang it from his neck. This fire grate was made of cast iron and weighed more than 40 pounds. The prison warden then put a sign on it saying ‘Miao Zizhong, the leader of counter-revolutionary superstition’. He was then forced to parade with this. After that they put handcuffs and feet stocks on him and put him in solitary confinement for several months (p 11).
Despite the horrendous ordeals this man of God was forced to endure, his unwavering love for God saw him through. Jesus never left him all through the tragic circumstances. Had he looked to the physical factors, he could have concluded that God had deserted him, but Zizhong walked by faith, not by sight (II Cor 5:7).
Danyun continues this true story:
During one winter the weather was much colder than normal. Throughout Heilongjiang the temperature fell to -45 degrees Celsius. Many old and weak people froze to death. Later a plague swept through the labour reform camp. It spread quickly and the temperatures of the patients soared to 42 degrees C. As a result, their eyes bulged out and their hands and feet went into convulsions as they died. It was a horrifying scene. Within a few days, of the 1,300 prisoners in the labour camp, 1,050 had died. The authorities dug a huge ditch nearby. They used trucks to move the dead bodies to this ditch and threw them into it in a mass burial.
Zizhong was also infected by this horrible disease and was examined by the doctor who shook his head saying, ‘Here is another one.’ Then he had some people take Zizhong to a room specially reserved for dead bodies from where they were taken for burial. Zizhong, lying among many dead bodies, though barely alive, was alert in his spirit. He prayed in his heart, ‘Lord I ask you to save me. Don’t allow me to die here whereby your name will be reproached. Heal me and allow me to return home in peace. I will serve you all the days of my life and do the work of an evangelist.’
Then an angel dressed in a white robe whose face showed forth glory came and stood in front of Zizhong. On his back was a medicine box in the form of a cross and tenderly he said, ‘Is your name Zizhong? Do not fear, only believe.’ Then he stretched out his right hand and taking hold of Zizhong’s left hand, led him out of that building. He was taken to a room that was very beautiful, of pure white beyond description. The angel had Zizhong sit upon a white chair and then he took a stethoscope from his breast. He took a white tube and put it in his mouth. The angel blew on it and all of a sudden he felt a cool sensation and became very comfortable.
When he came to, his sickness had left him. He immediately knelt among the dead bodies and loudly praised the Lord. He again dedicated himself and turned his whole life over to the Lord. He quickly ran away from the dead, running and singing ‘Hallelujah’. He went to the doctor to ask for food. When the doctor saw him entering he was so shocked he broke into a cold sweat and stumbled backwards.
He cried out, ‘You… you… you… are… you… a… ghost?’
Zizhong laughed and said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am Miao Zizhong. My God has already healed me and saved me from death. He has sent me to proclaim the way of salvation to you. Therefore you must believe in Jesus.’
Upon hearing that, the doctor immediately, very calmly knelt down saying, ‘Your God is true. Jesus is alive. I now believe and ask Jesus to receive me.’
Hallelujah! Time and time again the Lord brought Zizhong from the fringe of death. In this desolate land of snow and ice enduring much tribulation and suffering he miraculously survived those 15 years. Very few people who were taken to the labour reform camps in Heilongjiang came back alive (pp 11-12).
In all that transpires in life, it is difficult for us to see with God’s eyes why everything occurs the way it does. We cannot always put each experience – especially the negative ones – into context according to the overall plan which God is working out. Our responsibility is to do God’s will and to trust Him implicitly in faith, regardless of the appearance of the physical circumstances.
Faith is sometimes blind. It is blind to the physical means or manner of God’s working. What it is not blind to, is the fact of God’s working. Faith knows that He is totally in control.
Faith knows that God’s light always follows darkness.
Richard Wurmbrand describes some of the horrors of living as an active Christian under the satanic governments of Eastern Europe before ‘perestroika’. He was beaten half to death on so many occasions that he has lost count! He had four vertebrae broken in his back, and many other bones. They carved him in a dozen places, and burned and cut eighteen holes in his body.
For fourteen years he was imprisoned and tortured for declaring the name of Christ. He suffered unimaginably. His wife and family also endured equal deprivation and hardship. So have thousands who dared to live as disciples of Christ during hard-line communist rule.
In 1967 Richard Wurmbrand related:
The tortures and brutality continued without interruption. When I lost consciousness or became too dazed to give the torturers any further hopes of confessions, I would be returned to my cell. There I would lie, untended and half dead to regain a little strength so they could work on me again. Many died at this point, but somehow my strength always managed to come back… Doctors seeing [all the scars of his inhumane treatment]… have declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle! According to their medical books, I should have been dead for years. I know myself it is a miracle. God is a God of miracles.
I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the Underground Church behind the Iron Curtain. He allowed one to come out alive and cry aloud the message from your suffering faithful brethren (pp 37-38, Tortured For Christ).
God allows nothing without a purpose. However, it is difficult for some to understand why God permits these diabolical horrors, because we do not naturally think like God thinks.
Richard Wurmbrand continues:
One of our workers was a young girl of the Underground Church. The communist police had discovered that she secretly spread Gospels and taught children about Christ. They decided to arrest her. But to make the arrest more agonising and as painful as they could, they decided to delay her arrest a few weeks, until the very day she was to be married. On her wedding day the girl was dressed as a bride. The most wonderful, joyous day in a girl’s life! Suddenly, the door was pushed open and the secret police rushed in.
When the bride saw the secret police, she held out her arms towards them to be handcuffed. They roughly put the manacles on her wrists. She looked toward her beloved, then kissed the chains and said, “I thank my heavenly Bridegroom for this the jewel He has presented to me on my marriage day. I thank Him that I am worthy to suffer for Him.” She was dragged off with weeping Christians and a weeping bridegroom left behind. They knew what happens to young Christian girls in the hands of communist guards. After five years she was released – a destroyed, broken woman, looking thirty years older. Her bridegroom had waited for her. She said it was the least she could do for her Christ (p 36 Ibid).
Many other Christians endured equally brutal physical and psychological tortures. You can read the accounts for yourself in Richard Wurmbrand’s books such as Tortured For Christ, The Overcomers, and From Torture To Triumph; also Danyun’s Lilies Amongst Thorns, and Haralan Popov’s Tortured For His Faith.
Haralan Popov, a Baptist minister in an Eastern European country, was imprisoned and systematically tortured for thirteen years before finally being released a physically broken man. He was forced to stand for hours on end, day-in day-out, and was beaten over the head every time he blinked. His legs swelled up like an elephant’s. Eventually he passed out. When he came to, he was subjected to the same cruel ordeal of beating and torture – for thirteen years with little respite! In his darkest moments, angels ministered to him to strengthen him. His body was broken but his spirit was not.
He did not fear man whose powers are limited to the physical realm. He feared the One who has power to destroy both body and ‘soul’ (life) in hell (Matt 10:28).
These martyrs for Christ have been starved, beaten, tortured, humiliated, spat upon, lied about, kicked, burned, cut, stabbed, drowned, lashed, whipped, raped. One Christian in China I read about had his legs and arms cut off and was blinded. Another pastor in Russia had his eyes gouged out and his tongue cut off before he eventually died.
A man and his son were imprisoned in Rumania for being Christians. The guards beat his son. They beat him to death in front of his father’s eyes. His father was forced to watch as they repeatedly smashed his young son’s head against the wall, splattering blood everywhere.
A young Christian woman was told by communist thugs that her five-year-old daughter would have boiling water thrown in her face unless she relinquished her faith and denied Christ. She explained to her daughter what they would do to her, but that she couldn’t deny Jesus’ name. Her daughter was not spared. Her mother refused to submit.
Another in Rumania had his back broken and was left on the floor of a concrete cell to lie in his own mess and lick up morsels of food from the floor. For twenty years he suffered for others’ sins before being released. When, years later, he finally met the one who broke his back, he was not vindictive or vengeful. He only wanted to extend forgiveness to his assailant.
The unspeakable tortures which were inflicted on innocent victims by demonic prison guards are too vile to repeat to sheltered minds. Yet, some endured and overcame despite the fiendish cruelty.
These are the ones of whom the world is not worthy (Heb 11:38).
The Love That Conquers All
How did they endure? What made them carry on and never give up? Not only did all these suffering Christians endure excruciating physical pain and extreme hardship in communist jails, but they were subjected to constant broadcasting of anti-Christian propaganda for 17 hours a day. This psychological brain-washing was the most dreadful of all tortures.
Richard Wurmbrand explains how they overcame:
Several Christians have asked me how we could resist brain-washing. There exists only one method of resistance to brain-washing. This is “heartwashing”. If the heart is cleansed by the love of Jesus Christ, and if the heart loves Him, you can resist all tortures. What would a loving bride not do for a loving Bridegroom? What would a loving mother not do for her child? If you love Christ as Mary did, who had Christ as a baby in her arms, if you love Jesus as a bride loves her bridegroom, then you can resist such tortures.
God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love. I am a witness for the Christians in communist prisons that they could love. They could love God and men (p 37, Tortured For Christ).
Bishop Vladimir Ghica died for Christ in the Jilava jail in Romania (where I too was once imprisoned). When ordained, he had prayed, ‘Lord, take my heart and never give it back to me. Why was I born if not to love you passionately?’ His last words on his deathbed were these: ‘May the pains inflicted upon me, united to your pain, O Lord, heal and bless those who tortured me to death.’
Too often when we are wronged by others we become resentful and bitter, instead of putting our sufferings in the service of those who inflict them. Let us learn from saints like this bishop to shed every tear and to utter every groan in the spirit of self-sacrificing love for those who wrong us (p 97, The Overcomers, by Richard Wurmbrand).
Luther called the book of James ‘an epistle of straw’ because it teaches faith alone without deeds is not sufficient. He was wrong. ‘We are saved by faith’ – no period [full stop] after this assertion. We have to add many sacrifices to this faith (II Pet 1:5-8). It is a sacrifice to remain always pure, loving, forgiving, active in God’s service. We have to fill up what is lacking in the cross of Christ (p 97, From Torture To Triumph).
The apostle Paul knew suffering, severe trial and imprisonment in his life. Yet there was one thing that kept him going. It was the love of Christ. He asked:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or perse- cution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).
Love is eternal. Love is stronger than suffering and death.
Asked, ‘Why does God allow all the horrendous suffering of Christians?’ Richard Wurmbrand replies by questioning whether we are not asking a wrong question. He says:
Shouldn’t we ask instead, ‘What good can I do with my sorrow? How can I use it to become more loving and more understanding towards others?’ Sympathy will surely do them more good than theological explanations… accept what Jesus said to Peter: ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ (From Torture To Triumph, p 150.)
Evil should not be regarded as a problem, but as a challenge. Problems depress, challenges spur us into activity. We must not wonder so much why these difficulties, as how can we react to them in a Christ-like way?
The Christians who survived their gruelling ordeals in communist prisons overcame because they held onto Jesus Christ. They regarded every difficulty as a challenge – the challenge of how to show the love of Christ in their trials. They didn’t question whether they could do so; they believed they could. All they sought to do was show love to their persecutors, despite what they themselves suffered.
The Great Tribulation
We are now very close to the return of Jesus Christ to this earth in a visible manifestation of glory. Before He returns, He predicted Satan unleashing his greatest fury against God’s people to try to destroy them (Rev 12:12,13). Jesus told us:
They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of My name (Lk 21:12). You will be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death (v 16).
Why? Why will Christians have to endure all this suffering?
This will result in your being witnesses to them (v 13).
Here is the purpose of all this suffering. This Gospel must go to the whole world first, as a witness to all nations (Matt 24:14), then Jesus will put an end to all suffering through His righteous and just rule upon earth during the thousand years which will follow (Rev 20:1-6).
Before Jesus returns to exterminate all the vileness with which Satan has filled people who submit to him, God’s people are warned to expect great persecution and suffering for a period of three and a half years (Rev 12:14-17; 13:5-7). This period in prophecy is called the Great Distress or Great Tribulation (Rev 7:14). Because of its horrendous intensity, God has shortened this time from 7 to 3½ years:
Then will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again (Matt 24:21).
If those days had not been cut short no-one would survive, but for the sake of the elect [true Christians] those days will be shortened (Matt 24:22).
Not only will this period see much persecution and martyrdom of saints, but it will also be the time of Jacob’s trouble, spoken of by Old Testament prophets (Jer 30:7). The descendants of Jacob today – principally the English- speaking peoples – will be the main victims of this world-wide wave of persecution and hostility, together with Jews once again. The nations who have had the Word of God, but who have spurned it will come under judgement and punishment.
For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written… There will be great distress in the land and great wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations (Luke 21:22,23,24).
The suffering of Christians will occur alongside the punish- ment of peoples who are presently responsible for preaching the words of Jesus, and who have received the Gospel but who do not repent and obey God (Lk 21:22-24; Deut 28:33, 36, 45, 48-57; Lev 26:14-44). Because of the increase of wickedness the love of most will grow cold. We are promised that if we stand firm in the love of Jesus to the end, that we shall be able to endure (Matt 24:12,13).
Blessed Are The Dead Who Die In The Lord
When I first wrote this book, God spoke a prophetic word through another person for my benefit. Part of that message concerned those who have suffered under communist or other cruel regimes. The relevant excerpt follows:
…you are you and not someone called by Me in a country where I can only be manifested through the spiritual strength of My people in their suffering. I choose to work one way with some people and another way with others.
God was giving us some invaluable information. It helps us to understand why some Christians are rich, some poor, and yet both belong to Christ. Both can be doing God’s will. Christ can be glorified both ways. God said:
Some of My sons and daughters are millionaires because I have blessed them that way. They use their money to serve Me and do My will.
Those imprisoned in communist jails were physically poor and deprived. Yet God regarded them as rich (Rev 2:9). Some became sick through their ordeals, and many died. But their response glorified God because their lights shone brighter than ever in such a dark situation. God allowed them to endure those afflictions for the sake of many of their persecutors. As a result the Gospel has actually spread into the darkest corners of the world! Because of the light that shone from believers who were prepared to endure extreme suffering, many others have been brought to Jesus Christ.
It is not everyone’s calling to be a martyr, but it is for some. Notice what Jesus says to ALL the Church:
He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints (Rev 13:9-10).
Some are destined to that lot in life. It is a great honour. They are highly prized jewels before God.
The deeds of those who die are not forgotten. Martyrs have set an example for the rest of the Church, just as Jesus did for us nearly two millennia ago.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on (Rev 14:13).
Their deeds will follow them. The saints are called to faithfully and patiently endure (Rev 14:12).
Jesus reminded us from the very beginning of the New Testament era that the road would not be an easy one. But those who endure persecution for righteousness’ sake receive a double blessing. The blessing upon the persecuted is repeated in Matthew 5:10-11. Great is our reward in heaven (v 12).
We must not look to the physical. We must look beyond.
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing (Jn 6:63).
Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it (Lk 17:33) and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matt 10:39).
Those who suffer for Christ’s sake will soon hear Him say:
Come you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Matt 25:34).
He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. In that day, there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain (Rev 21:4). Suffering will then be a thing of the past.
If your focus is upon fulfilment and blessing in this life, you could forget that the greatest fulfilment of what Christ has bought for you lies yet ahead. Don’t end up being like the Corinthians who thought that their hope in Christ was only in this life (I Cor 15:19).
We must be prepared to endure any suffering which comes our way as a result of being faithful witnesses for Jesus.
Remember the words of Peter:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or as a thief, or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name (I Pet 4:12-16).
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