Faith to Suffer
The Spirit has told me to be gentle in writing this chapter, being very sensitive to my own weakness and frailty that has manifested when I have been brought to places of suffering for Christ. Like most other humans, I have been inclined to seek to avoid suffering if at all possible, for neither my flesh nor my soul enjoy it. I am not some type of masochist who likes to have pain inflicted upon me, and I strongly suspect that those who read this book are not either.
I have been concerned that even writing a chapter on suffering would instantly turn many people off, for most saints do not want to hear that they are called to suffer in any way, and I have been one of these saints. I have thought of writing a book on suffering, but I thought “Who would read it?” I can imagine a book titled “Called to Suffer” being posted on the Internet and being avoided like the plague. I have had to ask myself, would I want to read a book on suffering, and the answer that returns from my soul is “No!”
Yet the truth is that I read a book on suffering nearly every day of my life. That book is the Bible. The central character of the entire Bible is Yahshua the Messiah and He is called “the suffering servant.” Isaiah described Him as “a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief.” One Scripture passage that reveals the centrality of suffering in the life of the Messiah is the following:
He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But Yahweh has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But Yahweh was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of Yahweh will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
There are many ways in which Christ suffered. He endured rejection by His own people. The reproaches that fell upon Him in His life were many. He was considered the son of an adulteress. He was accused of being demon possessed and of being a half breed, a Samaritan. His own family thought He was mad. He was accused of being a Sabbath breaker, which was an offense worthy of death. He was called a blasphemer for saying He was the Son of God. He was constantly misunderstood, and His words were twisted to be used against Him. He had no home, beginning His life in a stable and spending the last years of His life as a vagrant and a wanderer. He was often weary and hungry, and He experienced grief when His own disciples failed to believe in Him, or to understand His words.
We see then, that even before He went to the cross, Yahshua’s life was one of much grief, sorrow and suffering. Yet God had a purpose for it. We are told:
In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…
Christ both learned obedience, and was made perfect through His suffering. It is through suffering that every saint of God must also learn obedience and be made perfect (mature). There is no other way.
There is a teaching present in this hour that states that the saints do not have to suffer because Christ suffered in their place. It says that the saints need not bear the cross for Yahshua bore it for them. Though our flesh may wish that this were so, such teachings are contrary to the word of God.
Then Yahshua said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
It is not hard to pick out many verses and passages that deal with suffering, for it is one of the main themes of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testaments. After Yahweh delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt, typifying salvation, He led them into the wilderness where He tested them for forty years. Salvation for us is also an entrance into a prolonged period of testing, as Paul wrote:
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…
If you are ready to move on to the next chapter, I cannot blame you. I do not much care for this message of suffering either. There is much in the prosperity messages of the day that hold attraction to my soul. It would be nice to think that God saved me so that I could embark on a life of endless blessing until the day came that I am to depart this life and go to heaven. There is just one thing wrong with this message of ease, it is a fable devised to tickle the ears of those who despise the message of the cross. There is no truth in it, and those who follow messages of ease and prosperity will fail to learn obedience and they will fall short of maturity in their lives. They will remain babes in Christ, crying out for God to satisfy the demands of their flesh, and they will forfeit all the reward that belongs to the overcomer in Christ.
Yahshua said that ALL who would desire to follow Him must take up their cross daily. He did not bear the cross so that we would be relieved of this task. He was the pattern Son who showed us the way to victory. Where He walked, we are to follow. It was because of the high cost of discipleship that He said that all those who followed Him should first count the cost. If He were inviting the saints to a life of prosperity and ease there would be no cost to consider. It is because He will lead His followers down roads of suffering, heartache and pain that they must count the cost.
It requires faith to follow Christ down paths of suffering. We must reckon that a reward awaits us that far exceeds the trials we will go through. Yahshua looked to the joy that was set before Him. Isaiah wrote, “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong.” Paul also wrote:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
II Corinthians 4:17
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…
When we consider the things that Paul endured it seems incredible that he described them as “momentary, light affliction.” Yet the promise of God is true that an eternal weight of glory awaits the overcomers that will make all suffering seem but the most fleeting and light experience, unworthy to be compared with the prize set before us. Much could be written about the glory that awaits the saints, but consider just one verse and what it is saying.
I John 3:2
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
We will be like the Son of God in His glory! Think of this. This is not some blasphemy. This is the word of God. We are called to share the glory of Christ (John 17). Christ quoted the words of the Psalmist to the Jews:
I said, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High.”
Before we can appear in glory as gods, and sons of the Most high, being like Christ, we must learn obedience, and we must be perfected (matured). Suffering is the tool to bring us to this conformity to Christ. To despise and avoid suffering is to refuse the glory which God desires to adorn us with. Not all saints will share the same inheritance. Yahshua said that when He returns He will render unto every man according to his own work (Revelation 22:12). There will be vast differences among the saints in glory. Some will have little glory for they refused the path of suffering, while some will have great glory.
I Corinthians 15:41-42
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
In the introduction to this book I wrote that the things to be explored in its pages represent a foundational truth that is deeper than the books that have preceded it. The apostle Paul wrote:
I Corinthians 13:13
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Faith is listed among the three great graces of God. I am using the word grace here in keeping with the definition found in my 1930’s Webster’s Dictionary.
Grace: any excellence, characteristic attraction, or endowment, natural or acquired.
The chief of these graces listed is love and, as we have seen, faith flows out of love for the truest essence of faith is a knowledge of, and confidence in, the love of Yahweh toward man. We have seen how a lack of faith has led to so many tragedies and ills that man suffers from to this day. We have also seen that when faith is found in the hearts of men and women that God is greatly glorified.
How precious then is this faith. The eyes of Yahweh have been searching to and fro throughout the earth to find faith dwelling in the hearts of men and women. This faith is like a great treasure that is highly esteemed in the eyes of the Creator. He is ever seeking for it, and when He finds it resident in the heart of one of His children, He sets about to purify and refine it. He seeks to make that which is precious to Him shine forth with the highest luster, devoid of any clinging impurity.
This is why we read of the great men and women of faith as suffering many trials. They were roughly treated, rejected, reproached, scorned and suffered numerous indignities. They were outcasts, persecuted by brethren and disowned by family. Many suffered hunger and cold and many terrors, and not a few of them were put to death. These trials were not signs of God’s displeasure, but rather they were signs of His highest favor as He sought to perfect their faith through suffering.
I Peter 1:6-7
[You should] be exceedingly glad on this account, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, so that [the genuineness] of your faith may be tested, [your faith] which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. [This proving of your faith is intended] to redound to [your] praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed one) is revealed.
Peter tells us that our faith is infinitely more precious than perishable gold, though it is tested and purified by fire. The faith of the saints is not perishable. It will result in praise and glory that is unending and which will not fade away. Consider how much effort man has expended in his search for gold, this perishable metal that is precious to man. Wars have been fought over gold and entire nations have given themselves to the pursuit of it. Men have risked life and limb to recover gold that was lost in ancient shipwrecks. Men and women have cast all to the wind and embarked with great rigor and under the harshest of conditions when they have merely heard a rumor of gold.
There are many incredible tales of men who have sought for gold. Vast migrations of men have ensued when gold was discovered in some remote area. It is reported that in 1897-1898 that 20,000 to 30,000 men traversed the Chilkoot Pass on their way to the Yukon gold fields of Canada. A more remote area for prospecting can hardly be imagined. The Chilkoot Pass was itself over 500 miles from the gold fields, yet its rigors are typical of the hardships men and women endured in their search for this prized metal.
The Chilkoot Trail stretches for 33 miles from Dyea to Lake Bennett. The Trail was rough, steep, and snow covered. The destination was Lake Bennett where the prospectors would have to build a boat to travel 550 miles down river to Dawson and the gold fields. The Canadian government knew that many hardships lay ahead for the gold seekers, and they required each person to carry a ton of goods up the pass, enough to last them approximately one year. This had the benefit of saving many lives, but it was an arduous task.
On average a man could carry about seventy pounds worth of supplies on his back, and this required that he would have to make the journey up and down the pass about thirty times. It took an average of several months for each man to carry his quota up the mountainous terrain. With all the trips back and forth along the trail, some men had to walk upwards of 2,000 miles, and half of this walk was with a heavy load on their back. All told, some gold seekers traveled nearly 5,000 miles from their homes to get to the gold fields.
The summit of the pass was reached with a final climb up 1,200 steps that were cut into the ice. These were called the “golden stairs.” The gold seeker had to leave his supplies at the top of the pass and mark his spot with a tall stake so that he could find it in the deep snow that was falling. Over seventy feet of snow was recorded in the years mentioned, and at one point the snow built up so deep along the trail that when a few warm days occurred in April a tremendous avalanche occurred that buried 63 people. As soon as the bodies were dug out and carried downhill, the trek began again.
All this time men and women were having to live in the most primitive of accommodations. They slept in tents in the frigid weather, and lived on the most basic of diets. Once the prospectors reached the lake with their supplies they had to build a boat, which was a task most had never done before. Trees for miles around the lake were cut down, and each board had to be hand sawn using a whipsaw, a two man saw, and this was more back breaking labor. This was no small boat that had to be constructed, for it had to carry a ton of supplies, and many men worked in teams and were therefore transporting two tons of goods.
How were men able to bring themselves to endure such rigors? They had their eye on the prize set before them. They dreamed of gold and all that it could buy them. How much greater is the prize that lies ahead of the overcomer in Christ? It is of immeasurably greater value. Should we not be willing to endure some hardship as we pursue this faith which Yahweh so highly esteems? The apostle Paul stated that the glory to be revealed in the overcomer is not worthy to even be compared to the suffering that is the portion of the saints in Christ.
There were those among the gold seekers who traveled the Chilkoot Pass on the way to the Yukon who became millionaires. The satisfaction that was theirs upon receiving the prize they sought was made all the sweeter as they recounted the arduous path they trod to attain it. There were also many men and women who arrived at the Pass, and upon seeing the great difficulty of it, they turned back and returned home. Those who endured had a satisfaction that could not be bought. I can imagine them telling their children and grandchildren of the struggle, the suffering, and the final victory they achieved. Yet all this was merely in pursuit of the gold that perishes. The overcomer in Christ has a much more illustrious, valuable and enduring prize set before them.
As much as I detest suffering in my flesh and my soul, it is a matter that I do not dare ignore. This life here on earth is fleeting, yet what we do in this mortal body will determine immense things for many long ages to come. We must grow past being so temporally minded.
Our faith, that is, our confidence in the love of God toward us, has much to do with our willingness to follow Christ down paths of suffering. We must believe that God only subjects us to that which is necessary to help us that we might be presented before Him perfect and entire, lacking in nothing. We must be assured that all trials and testing have a good goal in mind. God never tests us to make us fail, but rather that we might stand, and He provides tremendous grace that we might stand. The Son of God knows the difficulty of bearing the cross and drinking the cup of suffering. He therefore is perfectly equipped to stand as a High Priest on our behalf, making intercession for us, and bestowing an abundance of mercy and grace.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Besides the Bible being a book of suffering, it is also a book of assurance. These two things, suffering and assurance comprise the bulk of the message of Scripture. God does not just call the saints to suffer and then leave them on their own. He has given us plenteous assurance that He will be with us in everything, and that nothing can separate us from His love. The Old Testament is filled with histories of men and women who were led through trials and difficulties, and the victory that was theirs as God supported them, encouraged them, and gave them numerous confirmations of His love and presence with them.
Those who will go on to maturity and receive the reward of the overcomer are those who stand firm in their confidence of God’s love for them. Those who are like the Israelites when God tested them at the Red Sea, who display no confidence in His love for them, will fail to follow Him down the paths He would lead them down. These will form gods after the fashion of the ones in Egypt; gods that will allow them to party and celebrate all the excesses of the flesh.
This is the message of the golden calf that Aaron made for the people of Israel to worship. Yahweh was too severe for them. Yahweh was hard on the flesh of the people, and they wanted a god that would not lead them to suffering, but to pleasure instead. So they fashioned this god of their own imagination and then they frolicked before it. Has not the church done the same thing today? Has not the church despised the message of the cross and the true image of Christ and formed for themselves another Christ and adopted another gospel that will allow their flesh to remain untouched, and which will allow their soul to pursue all that it desires?
Yet there is a remnant people, like unto the tribe of Levi of old, who have not joined in the worship of this false god. These ones will be selected as kings and priests to serve in the presence of Yahweh. These will be given access to His presence and to His most holy things. These will bear the image of Christ and share in His glory.
I do not blame anyone for not desiring to suffer. Christ Himself has sympathy for us in our trials. Yet He has testified that there is no other path to glory. The road is narrow and few there are that find it. I hope to be able to encourage my brothers and sisters in some small way to pursue the course before them. Do not shrink back, but cast yourself unreservedly into the hands of God. He is a just, merciful and loving God. In all we go through we will never be separated from His love. Is there anything more needful than the love of the One who holds our lives in His hands?
Father, may You have a host of glorified sons to come forth after the image of Your firstborn Son. Hold us to the course before us. You know our frame, that we are but dust. Have mercy upon us and pull us through when our strength and courage fails. Into Your hands we do commend our lives and we ask that You would deal with us as a loving Father with His willing children. Your mercies are new every morning. Lead us on the narrow path and hold tightly to our hand. Our hearts trust in You.