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Suffering

 

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. ~ Hebrews 11:35b-38, NLT

 

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
‘Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God! ~ Isaiah 40:3, NLT

 

He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!’ ~ Mark 1:3, NLT

 

Voices crying in the wilderness usually are lone voices. Although today these lone voices might have hundreds or thousands of supporters and/or followers, for the most part the toughest yet most corrective godly messages the greatest of these lone voices CRY (communicate, convey, reveal…) only are received and applied by a faithful few. Moreover, it is sad to say, but past and present lone voices often suffer some of the most painful and cruelest deaths (whether physical, emotional, financial, and so on), usually at the hands of their countrymen, relatives, friends, and/or religious associates.  

There is a biblical pattern, which proves the above statements to be true. While many great voices crying in the wilderness were tortured, ridiculed, whipped, chained, and so forth, the Bible’s greatest crying in the wilderness voices are those belonging to the most righteous and most faithful children of God who (because of the hard to swallow Divine Truths they shared) were, for instance, either sawed in half [Isaiah], or stoned to death [Stephen], or beheaded [John the Baptist], or killed with a sword [James the brother of John], or crucified [Jesus Christ].

Therefore, for the people in today’s churches and ministries to think that because they are serving God and humanity their service is reason enough why they should be guaranteed lives free from sorrow (griefs, hurts, sufferings, troubles, torments, pains, and etc.), and lives abundantly graced (favored) with inner circles overflowing with very close reliable, supportive, and encouraging family members and friends, are merely deluding themselves. They have set themselves up for a Humpty-Dumpty fall.

It is important to note here that Humpty-Dumpty is not just an old nursery rhyme children, for over a couple of centuries, have memorized (the earliest known version of this rhyme was published in 1797). Additionally, a shattered Humpty-Dumpty is an old folk metaphor that has been used to describe the after-effects of moral failure, idolatry, and public fall from grace.   

Now one of the often hard truths to swallow today is that many of the people who declare they are servants of God and mankind, sadly, often are just so-called Christ followers who are in friendships with the world.  Several of them are living mostly sunny lives filled with wealth, good health, happiness, and ample family members and friends who always are dependable, accommodating and reassuring. Besides that, these wealthy, healthy, and happy – assumed to be servants of God and humanity – primarily are just preaching and teaching feel-good messages, in usually feel-good and seeker-friendly churches or ministries.  

What’s more, many of these alleged servants of God and individuals also are teaching and preaching salvation guarantees ALL saved believers that their Lord and Savor received all of the bad and cruel things this world offers so that His saints would be free to receive all of this world’s “good” things. This belief often is called the “Divine Exchange.” The result of this Divine Exchange is that many so-called followers of Christ Jesus not only are believing they exchanged their sins for His perfection, but also they are believing they honor their Lord’s sacrifice the most when they completely are trusting that He will, at all times and in all circumstance, provide them with wealth, health, and happiness.

The purported servants of God who are the foremost promoters of the “come to Jesus and get all of your problems solved” gospel, which includes preaching and teaching on the Divine Exchange belief, often infer that believers are not living God’s promised abundant lives, if their winning souls for Christ Jesus ministries are resulting in those believers being unemployed, impoverished, or in debt; stressed, anguished, or unhappy; emotionally, spiritually, or physically sick; and/or facing unimaginable trials or tribulations. These same supposed servants of God who are major proponents of the “come to Jesus and get all of your problems solved” gospel also proclaim that believers in churches and ministries who are suffering financially (without any or do not have many partners, benefactors, supporters, givers, contributors), or are suffering physically and emotionally, are doing so because they are weak in the faith and/or are unequivocal backsliders.

However, the apostle Paul says that servants of God show that they are true ministers of God in everything that they are doing, when they patiently are enduring “…troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind” and patiently enduring having “…been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food” (2 Corinthians 6:4b-5, NLT). Paul adds:

We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:8-10, NLT

The apostle Peter also teaches something totally different than the “come to Jesus and get all of your problems solved” gospel and/or “come to Jesus and be abundantly blessed with church or ministry financial success, good health, and happiness. Peter writes:

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also,

If the righteous are barely saved,
            what will happen to godless sinners?

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. ~ 1 Peter 4:12-19, NLT

For today’s believers who are in the Lord’s ministry, the bottom line is this: If everybody loves you, then somebody is lying to you. If everybody likes you, then you are not preaching and teaching the unadulterated Gospel of Christ. Furthermore, if nobody is talking about you, then you are not doing anything worthy for anybody to talk about, neither in a positive nor in a negative way. You definitely aren’t living a holy and righteous lifestyle, like Christ Jesus lived. Lastly, if you never are sad or grieving, then you aren’t living at all!

To believe otherwise just means, as previously mentioned, you have set yourself up for a Humpty-Dumpty fall. Thus, when your morality fails you, or when your idol status is revoked and no one worships you anymore, or when you actually fall from grace and shatter into millions of pieces—too many for your reliable, supportive, and encouraging family members and friends to put you back together—perhaps then you will believe and trust in what the Word of God says about suffering, which mainly is that the suffering of trials not only proves your character and integrity but also tests the object and quality of your faith (cf. James 1:2-4).

Finally, maybe a Humpty-Dumpty fall is what it had to take before many of us would understand that God uses all kinds of sufferings as His tools to get our attention, so He can influence us (via His Word and His Holy Spirit) to fulfill His purposes for our lives—godly purposes which might never include financial success, good health, happiness, as the world knows them, nor a life surrounded by countless supporters and encouragers who are family members and friends. Instead, maybe His chief purpose for our lives all along has been for us to join the impressive list of holy, righteous, and powerful lone voices, of which none were very wealthy (neither with money and material possessions nor with large numbers of supportive and encouraging family members and friends), not all of them were 100% healthy, and very few were happy (according to how the world defines happiness)! 

Selah (pause and calmly think about that). Amen.