RIGHT THINKING ABOUT SUFFERING
2 CORINTHIANS 11:23-28 NKJ
23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
The title almost sounds wrong in itself. Right thinking about suffering? Depending on your background, there are typically two schools of thought regarding suffering as a Christian.
One school of thought is that there is no suffering at all. If we will believe God, we will never have to suffer any hardship, anything difficult.
The other school of thought is that God puts suffering on us to make us more Christ-like. So all suffering and hardship comes from God.
To settle this age-old argument, we need to look at this passage and see what Paul was talking about. The difficulties he encountered were a result of his preaching the gospel all over the world. He was shipwrecked, beaten, put in prison, etc., etc. A virtual cornucopia of problems. Paul would also talk about the Lord delivering him from every evil work. He was certainly hindered but never stopped.
What Paul did not say was that he suffered with sickness, disease, and mental oppression. I doubt most of us will ever have to experience near the amount of suffering Paul endured. But the scripture does say if we live godly, we will suffer persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12) And because we trust in God, we will suffer reproach, people looking at us with contempt. (1 Tim. 4:10) We trust the Lord will help us through these difficult times as He did Paul. Not fun, but not fatal. But these things are a result of us living in an ungodly world.
As far as sickness, disease, poverty, and lack, these are things we can believe God to be delivered from. These things are the work of the enemy, and we can look to the Lord for deliverance. We can't control what ungodly people do. We can't stop all the storms of this life, but we can look to the Lord to stand with us and strengthen us and deliver us from every evil work. (2 Tim. 4:17-18)
I remember Joy being so sick with acute chronic pancreatitis before we started The Ark. It threatened to take her life. Never did we believe she was suffering for the Lord. This horrible, painful disease was from the enemy, and the Lord healed her one month before The Ark began. Since that time, we have suffered from reproach, people lying, stealing, and treating us poorly. Nothing remotely close to what Paul encountered, but still painful. By the grace of God, we endured and trust He will continue to help us. And after all, it's for a worthy cause to reach into our area with the gospel. We are not immune from challenges, but we are empowered to win.