Have you ever seen a book on evangelistic suffering? I know plenty of “why” books on suffering and some theological treatises on “how God could let this happen,” but nothing that I can recall on “how to use your suffering for the sake of the Kingdom.” Perhaps the book is out there, but it certainly has never become a bestseller!
In a recent set of meetings with global leaders from 30 countries, we heard stories of God working to draw people to Himself – in spite of anti-Christian governments, through Christian responses to earthquakes and floods, and even in responses to the horrors of ISIS. Suffering, it seems, can be an opportunity for witness.
Subjectively, I got thinking of this as I sat recently at the diabetic clinic waiting for my quarterly appointment. I’m a Type 1 diabetic (which means at least 4 blood tests a day, 4 to 6 insulin injections daily, and never being able to eat food without first calculating the carbohydrates). I thought about how God has used this disease to put me in touch as a witness with all sorts of people who I’d otherwise never have met – from my Jewish doctor who is fascinated by our missionary travels to other diabetics struggling with depression as the seek to manage the disease.
The Bible is full of stories of God taking suffering and using it for His purposes. Joseph’s suffering in Egypt as a slave and then a prisoner was ultimately to save the twelve tribes of Israel. Esther endured hardship and risked her life for the preservation of God’s people. Daniel and his three friends suffered at the hands of Babylonian and Medo-Persian kings so that they could point these pagans to the one true God. The apostle’s valued their suffering because it helped them to identify with Jesus and it put them (as witnesses) before Kings and rulers and influential leaders.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that God comforts us in our afflictions so that we can in turn comfort others with the same comfort that we’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). What he’s teaching pertains to a perspective on suffering.
When we encounter hardship, if God doesn’t answer our first prayer (and our first prayer is always, “God, please take away the pain”), then we can pray: “Okay then Lord, please use the pain for your purposes. Put me into ministry with others who need to know your comfort. I wish I had a job, but use me this week in the unemployment line. I pray for a relief of my loneliness, but use me to reach out to people lonelier than me. I’m praying that you’ll heal this cancer, but if you don’t, please use me this week at my chemotherapy treatment.”
Jesus provides the ultimate example of evangelistic suffering. Though he wanted to be relieved of the Cross ahead of him, he nonetheless prayed, “Not my will, but yours, O God. Use my pain. Use my suffering. I release myself – and my suffering – to you.”