|EMBRACING SUFFERING - THE PRIVILEGE OF THE BRIDAL
I AM REVEALED
Apr 25 2011
I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings...(Philippians 3:
Becoming a widower at 39 and being left with a son who had just turned two, while serving the Lord in the mission field,
was a painful and difficult experience. It is in situations like these that we might be tempted to withdraw from ministry,
experience loss of hope and direction in life, and worst of all, even loss of faith in God.
We need to have a proper understanding of suffering to be able to deal with it in the best way possible when situations
like these come our way. No one can be fully prepared for difficult experiences such as what I went through. But it is in
times like these that our faith is tested. Therefore, if we have a clear understanding about suffering, it will help us go
through it and even embrace the painful experiences of life.
In sharing from my own experience and how I was able to go through it, I recognize that many people have gone through
even more traumatic and painful ordeals. For those of you in deep pain and suffering, who can't see any way forward, I
don't want to offer easy answers. I can't say that I have the solutions for you. But I know, from my experience that there
is a way forward even from the most difficult ordeal. I can only share what helped me and enabled me to continue in my
ministry, and what made my faith grow even stronger.
One of the things that helped me go through this difficult time was a trip to China to visit some missionary friends.
During that visit, while I tried to rest and process my own pain, I had a chance to see the suffering Church of China
through videos and reading their stories. These stories ministered to me as I faced the reality of the pain in my own life.
The fact that at that time I was actually in China, where those stories occurred, made the experience more moving and
As I listened and read the stories, I came to an understanding that the Chinese Church has a theology of suffering that
we in the West are missing. It is probably missing in other places too, like the Philippines.
From my observations, I could say that the Chinese Church has understood and embraced the message found in
Philippians, which says, "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His
sufferings, becoming like Him in His death" (Philippians 3:10). This verse has three central points:
THE DEPTH OF HIS LOVE IN SUFFERING
In the Western church we love to preach and pursue the first two points. But the verse does not have only two but three
points, and Paul gave equal devotion to all - including point three, which is the embracing of suffering.
In contrast, the Chinese Church has embraced Paul's three-point message found in Philippians 3:10. It is probably the
reason why they have also experienced so much of His intimacy and power. I don't think it is a coincidence that Brother
Yun's book, The Heavenly Man, became an international bestseller. It also become the "book of the Year" at the
Christian Booksellers Convention.
God wants this message about embracing suffering that the Chinese church has learned to be seen by the Body of
Christ worldwide. It is like God is saying, "If you want the intimacy and power of the Chinese Church, you also have to
learn from them how to embrace suffering." Why then is this so important? What does it mean to embrace suffering?
And what kind of suffering are we talking about?
In dealing with my own pain, I realized that during the course of life, we will meet pain and suffering. For some, it will
seemingly be more painful than others; nonetheless, we all experience it.
Much of the pain we experience is a result of living in a fallen world, and also the consequences of our own or other
people's wrong decisions and mistakes. Sometimes, however, it is the cup that Jesus refers to in Gethsemane, which
has come into our hands. The question then becomes, "Am I now willing to drink it?" Jesus said, "My Father, if it is
possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39). "This cup" represented the
sufferings Jesus had to undergo for us. When Paul speaks of the fellowship of His sufferings, he is referring to this cup.
In the Book of Matthew, we see that Jesus tells His disciples that they will also partake of this cup (see Matthew 20:20-
23). When the mother of John and James came to Jesus and asked a question about power, Jesus answered, saying
something like, "You don't know what you are asking. You can't have power without being willing to embrace suffering.
Can you do that? Can you drink My cup?" "Yes," they answered. Then He said something like this, "You don't really
know what you are saying yes to. But I promise you, you will drink My cup. You will share in the fellowship of My
Why is it so important to take part in this dimension of the Gospel? It is important because we are called to become like
Him, which includes the aspect of suffering (see Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:29).
Paul prayed in Ephesians that we would "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" (Ephesians
3:18). What is the depth of His love other than that He went down to the very pit of Hell? The depth of His love speaks
about suffering; it is the other side of love. It tells us about the extent of His love for us. We can never understand fully
this side of love if we are not willing to enter into a fellowship of suffering with Him. It is only to the degree we ourselves
have experienced pain that we can understand the depth of it.
There is no more suffering in eternity. So if we don't enter into it or embrace this reality now, we are depriving ourselves
for all eternity. It is only in embracing suffering in the realm of earthly life that we can understand the depth of His love.
If we don't embrace this reality, we may be missing out on some of the very reasons why God allowed the Fall and
suffering to enter the world.
God wants voluntary lovers who have learned not only the heights but also the depths of His love, which only a fallen
world could teach us in-depth. What the enemy meant for evil, the Lord turned around and used to achieve an even
greater purpose. As it says in Romans, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him"
God turned the Fall of Man around and used it for a greater purpose so that now the Bride could learn the depths of the
love of God, which a whole eternity without the Fall could not teach her. Could that also be the reason why God puts
our tears in a bottle? (See Psalms 56:8 KJV). Those tears we shed in the face of pain and suffering are precious to
Him. That's when we learn about the depth of His love, and for all eternity He will have that bottle to show us. He will
remind us how every single tear taught us the depth of His love.
Our tears then become the only thing we can bring with us from earth. Jesus also brought something with Him from
earth. It was His nail-pierced hands, those wounds that were brought by pain on earth. Interestingly, the bottle
containing our tears of pain could be the only physical thing that we will bring from earth to Heaven. Those experiences
of suffering we have will become what distinguishes us as His Bride from the rest of the created order for all eternity.
Our experience is uniquely shared between us and Him, Bride and Bridegroom.
So when the cup of suffering comes our way we should embrace it. We must not run away from it, but take and drink it.
SUFFERING IS LIKE BEING SIFTED AS WHEAT
Another dimension of embracing suffering is what I call the "sifted as wheat principle" or the "Job experience." As Jesus
says, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not
fail" (Luke 22:31-32).
As we press on to know the Lord and embrace all He has for us, there will come a time when Satan will ask the Lord to
sift us as wheat. At one point, God will allow Satan to sift us as wheat. When that happens, God promises to pray for
us so that our faith will not fail.
What does it mean to be sifted as wheat? Job's trials and difficulties provide a good picture of what it means to be sifted
as wheat. Why did God allow Satan to harass Job in such a way? One thing is clear: Job did not get into trouble
because of an ungodly or sinful life. Rather, the opposite was true. What led to all his problems was the fact that he
was blameless, upright, and God-fearing. Let's look at how God describes Job:
blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil" (Job 1:8).
What is going on here? I believe it is that Job was now ready for the sifting. We see that God had placed a hedge of
protection around Job and everything he had (see Job 1:10). Now the time had come when God would allow that hedge
to be removed for a season.
In looking at the story of Job, we have to understand that there are many reasons why people suffer. One reason is
that they do not have a hedge of protection around them. Sadly, many believers suffer not because of the hedge
sovereignly being removed but because they leave themselves vulnerable for the attack of the enemy. But for those
who live for God like Job, there is a time when God allows suffering to accomplish His purpose in them.
As Lim Kou says in his book, Understanding Job - Reflection on the Meaning and Purpose of Job's Sufferings, the issue
is: "Can man develop genuine, deep moral qualities within and have genuine deep love for God and the truth,
independent of and whatever the outward circumstances?" It is easy to praise and thank the Lord when everything is
going smoothly. But the question remains: "Will I continue to worship God when things go wrong?" That's the ultimate
test of the "sifted as wheat" experience - will I still worship God?
As Job faced the first part of his test, we see that he passed it. After receiving much bad news, including the loss of his
children and livestock, see how Job responds:
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised" (Job 1:20-21).
This is a very important passage. This is probably the first time worship is mentioned in the Bible, with the assumption
that the Book of Job is considered by many conservative scholars to be the first book written on paper among the rest
of the books of the Bible. This means that the first worship ever written down was in connection with the "sifted as
When we have to let go of our loved ones and of things that we hold dear, do we still praise the Lord? In a way, as God
lifts the hedge of protection around our lives, it is like a test to see what dwells in our heart - to see if we are ready for
that day when we have to let go of everything that is precious to us as we leave this world.
This is also where we enter the dimension of worship born out of what I call "existential pain." By this, I mean the
experience we have when we realize that what we lost was not something we owned in the first place.
After I lost my late wife. I would find myself looking at her things - her clothes, jewelry, perfume - all these things, which
used to have purpose when she was still alive, but now they were just like empty shells. As I was feeling the pain of
losing my wife, Liza, I realized I did not own her either. Most of the pain we experience in this world is because of the
loss of things or people dear to us. I had come to the place where I realized that in the end I do not own anything. I was
a naked man facing eternity. I came with nothing and will leave the same way. That's the place of existential pain.
However, even if we leave this world without anything in our hand, we will leave with something in our heart that we truly
possess for eternity - our relationship with Jesus. It is when we realize this that we find comfort knowing that, after all,
we still own something - Him. This is what we can bring with us: His love and the lessons we learned from Him on earth.
He is our treasure for all eternity.
We will begin to worship Him as we realize this, and there will be a new depth to our worship. We know that no matter
what we face or lose in our walk through life, by the grace of God we have Him because we embraced worship in the
place of existential pain.
SUFFERING AS SHAKING
The message of embracing suffering has a special relevance at the end of the age because we are told that then
everything that can be shaken will be shaken ( see Haggai 2:6-7). As we go through times of intense pain - the loss of
our loved ones, our health, work, or possessions - these are times when we experience shaking.
Several years ago, I watched a video that shared great testimonies of how God is changing cities and regions around
the world. I came across a story that happened in Cali, Colombia. It was the testimony of the wife of a leading pastor in
Cali, who worked hard for unity in the city and who was shot dead on the street. The wife shared how she arrived at the
scene and bent over her dead husband. The first thing she did was to say, "It is well with my soul." That really struck
me. How could she say such a thing when her loved one had died that tragically? Of all the stories and incredible
miracles from the video, that was the sentence that struck me most.
Several years later, as I had to face my own pain with the loss of my wife, that story had a renewed impact on me. I
came to understand that the wife could say what she said because she was standing with her feet firmly planted in the
world to come (meaning the eternal Kingdom that can't be shaken), not in the world that can be shaken. Even as her
world was shaking and falling apart through the traumatic death of her husband, she remained standing. Her story
became the most powerful testimony to me. A testimony of one who belonged to the world that is to come, the world
that cannot be shaken.
Needless to say, this does not mean that we will no longer feel the pain of loss or deny its reality. No, it only means we
can bear our pain because we belong to the world where pain and suffering do not exist anymore, and that gives us the
grace and courage to move on.
I believe embracing suffering will be an important lesson for the bridal generation to learn as we are facing a future
where everything that can be shaken will be shaken.
BECOMING THE BRIDE OF CHRIST IN THE LAST DAYS, by Haavard Sand, Copyright 2009, Destiny Image - Europe.
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