Recently someone told me what her parents were enduring. They had spent 45 years on three different mission fields—India, Hong Kong, and Suriname, learning a new language in each location. Raising five children, they never had money to put away, so at age 70, they retired to subsidized housing in Florida. Now they were experiencing health problems and repeated hospitalizations. “Why can’t God treat them better?” my friend asked. I did not know what to say.
The Suffering Servant
An older man wrote to a younger man he had mentored like a son. Being housebound and lonely, he asked his young friend to visit him and bring another friend if possible. He said he needed warmer clothes and something good to read. He wrote, “I know I will soon die. I feel drained, but I look forward to seeing God. He will reward me for serving Him.”
Then he wrote about some recent disappointments. Close friends had betrayed him and parted company. One man had intentionally damaged his reputation. This hurt a lot. It made others turn against him too. No one had stood up for him, and he felt like his only friend now was his doctor.
This senior saint deserved better. He had sacrificed his life as a pioneer missionary, taking the gospel to foreign lands. Most were hostile to the message of Christ and had persecuted him. He had been arrested and imprisoned more than once. In some middle-eastern countries, he had endured public beatings. Twice he had been mugged and left to die.
Because of those dangers, his busy life, and frequent travels, he had chosen not to marry. As a church planter, he had borne the daily pressures of caring for many young churches and their leaders, whom he had trained. Now, near the end of his life on earth, he expressed some of his needs in this letter, the last one he ever wrote. Soon after, he entered glory.
Surely this man of God “deserved” a better end. He had denied himself most of the comforts people enjoy. Despite a chronic, incurable physical affliction, he had served God tirelessly. Could not God have rewarded him with some rest in his old age, or at least a more comfortable death?
Hope In Suffering
When we are in physical or emotional pain, broken-hearted, shamed, violated or falsely accused, we fellowship with Christ’s sufferings. Do you deny yourself certain luxuries to support ministries that are doing God’s work? Have you lost your credibility or had friends turn from you? Do you endure chronic pain? If you suffer like Christ or for Christ, you will share in His glory.
Suffering hurts big time. But the Bible attaches value to all our losses when we respond in submission and trust—bending the knee, not shaking the fist. God’s sanctifying purpose is to draw us closer to Him. We pray more—committing our problems and needs to Him and then waiting. And it makes what we read in His Word much more relevant and meaningful than when we aren’t experiencing hardships. Does this give you hope?
It did for the old suffering servant named Paul, who wrote that last letter to his spiritual son Timothy. He had previously written these words.
We rejoice in hope of the glory of God…but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”Romans 5:3-4
What about the retired missionary couple mentioned earlier? Could it be that God is giving them extra opportunities to “lay up treasure in heaven” just before they get there? Perhaps He wants them to have even more “eternal weight of glory” in proportion to the “momentary light afflictions” they endured on earth. 2 Corinthians 4:17 indicates that our eternal glory will far exceed our earthly griefs. Romans 8:17-18 adds that we are
…joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together…The sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is going to be revealed in us.”Romans 8:17-18
Like Paul, we can look forward to exchanging earthly grief for eternal glory.
From my observation, it seems like the people who know God best are those who have suffered most. Compared to them, I’m a spiritual babe. But I…
…press on, so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ.”Philippians 3:12
Perhaps the best way Christ lays hold of us is through our fellowship with His sufferings. It makes Him real to us. Someday, partaking in His glory will be real also.