Suffering on Mission
I Peter 4:12–19 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
Back in March I traveled overseas to do disaster relief work for nine days. Short-term medical missions work and being part of an inner city church plant are two things God has called me to at this time in my life. Our team went to an area that was recently hit by a large typhoon. People have asked me before, but especially with this high risk trip, “Why do you go to far away countries to do missions work?,” and, “Why do you choose to go to a church in Camden?” Sometimes I ask myself the same question. Before I left for this trip, I concluded that it’s because I’m not afraid to die. But I didn’t ask myself the question of what to do when God asks me to continue living for Him in the midst of difficulties.
When I returned home, I had a mild case of various gastrointestinal symptoms, pretty typical when working in a disaster area overseas. Over the course of two weeks, mild discomfort slowly turned into severe symptoms, forcing me to take about 10 days off of work. My skin was in a constant state of hives due to different medications. At the same time, I was in the middle of trying to plan an upcoming move, visiting my ailing grandmother, and preparing for a friend’s wedding. I spent some days barely able to get off the couch, and many other days only able to tolerate fruit juices and liquids. For someone who is rarely sick, just having to stay at home was torture. I spent a couple weeks trekking back and forth to the doctor’s office.
One night, after being sick for a month, I found myself reaching a point of utter exhaustion and frustration. It was very late in the night and I was lying there in bed, flat on my back, my arms stretched out. I had just put a medicated cream on my arms and hands and they were stinging very badly. I was miserable. I was tempted to- maybe I even did- ask God, “Why?”
There in the dark a tear trickled down the side of my face.
I thought of my Lord Jesus Christ.
Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.
And stretched out His arms for me.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate picture of suffering. The recent movie Son of God clearly depicts this. The Roman method of crucifixion is one of the most painful, humiliating, and prolonging ways to die. And yet, he took the pain joyfully upon himself for my sake. My stinging hands and upset stomach were nothing compared to the weight of taking on the world’s sin.
I realized in that moment that my short and momentary affliction was from God. He allowed this in my life for His glory. I was trying to obey God when I went overseas; it was very clear to me that I had to go. I wanted to blame the sickness on Satan and spiritual forces, but a look at Job in the Bible told me otherwise. God has more power than Satan. Job was a very righteous man, probably one of the most righteous men ever to live other than Jesus, but God gave permission to Satan to allow him to suffer. God allowed Satan to afflict Job with the death of his family, financial ruin, and physical illness. Through it all, Job remained faithful to God. His response was: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job’s decision was to continue praising God and give Him glory for who He is.
Now, I don’t claim to be righteous like Job. But that night lying in bed I was faced with a decision: will I continue serving God when it causes me to suffer? I had the option of becoming bitter over the fact that I had become sick while trying to be obedient or I could choose to praise God and find comfort in Him. I decided to start a thankfulness journal and wrote down things that I was thankful for each day. Slowly my tummy began to return back to its normal self, but God taught me a lot in five weeks and brought several important questions to mind.
Serving God comes with a price tag. When missions is no longer “fun,” what drives us to obey God? When the price tag of life on mission starts to hit closer and closer to home, will we continue to serve? Suffering might mean not being able to buy that computer you really need because you’ve used up all your savings to pay for airfare. Perhaps it is foregoing a family vacation because you’ve already used up all your time off for the year or coming down with a strange illness no doctor in the states knows how to treat. If you choose to serve God by living in the inner city, it might mean having your car broken into or breaking up fights at 1 in the morning or finding that the sewer system has overflowed into the street.
Instead of focusing on our temporary losses, let us consider the price Christ paid for us to become His. He gave up everything so that we could have eternal life. May that be our motivation as we strive to glorify Christ in our lives and may we strive to give up our lives so that others could know Him.