Suffering and Serving

As you are probably aware, we are preparing to go to Thailand very soon (11 days from today – see the above Thailand Trip Info tab). One of the most intimidating aspects of this trip for me personally is a request that has been made that I teach a 5 hour seminar on living for Christ through suffering. I’m supposed to be teaching this to a group of refugees who have been driven from their homeland by a genocidal controlling political faction in their home country who, among several other factors, hate the Karen Christians for their faith (they are equal-opportunity faith haters, since they also kill the Karen Buddhists). And I, Mr Comfy-Christian-America, am being asked to talk about suffering. Phew.

As I have thought and prayed about the idea of what our lives should look like as Christians when we are suffering, one thought has kind of stuck out – they probably shouldn’t be dramatically different than when we aren’t suffering. Christ commanded us to obey his commands, to love others, and to preach his Gospel to the world. These are imperative-mood verbs (a shout-out here to Pastor Bob Culbertson for teaching me Greek verb forms when I was a kid); they are not conditional statements. We are required to do these things no matter what. It doesn’t matter whether we are rich and living off of Lake Minnetonka or poor and living in north Minneapolis. It was just as true for early Christians whether they were living under the threat of death under Nero or in a Christian empire under Constantine.

We are called to obey and follow no matter what – the only differences are in the context under which we follow these commands. We probably aren’t being called to stand on a box in the city center shouting John 3:16 if we know that the government will kill us if they find out. That would be really dumb. However, it doesn’t mean we sacrifice what God has called us to do in order to stay out of trouble. Daniel was once ordered to pray only to Darius. What did he do?

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
-Daniel 6:10 (ESV)

Daniel loyally served King Darius, but that was always secondary to serving God. When persecution came, his service to God didn’t change.

The story of Job is a really interesting one. Job was a righteous servant of God, but Satan questions Job’s conviction. What was the charge that Satan brought?

Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.
-Job 1:9-11

Job served God well when life was good. What would Job’s reaction be when things were not good?

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
-Job 1:21

Job’s response is tremendous; he recognizes that everything he had came from God as a gift, and God had the right to take it. Whether or not life was good, God still deserved worship and praise. This is true for us, whether we are blessed with an abundance, we are living paycheck-to-paycheck, or we have to daily rely on God to provide our needs for that day. He loves us and has a plan for our lives.

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