29 Jan Beautiful are The Feet . . .
The dictionary meaning of suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship. Suffering can be of various kinds but no one likes it. All our senses react against it. As a believer our suffering is more than the pain to our physical bodies. Jesus Himself told his disciples in Mark 13:13, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” The first thing that pops up in our head is persecution. Persecution happens in various ways. From experiencing a cold shoulder, verbal mocking, insults, discrimination, false accusations, opposition, beating, imprisonment, stoning, beheading, abandoned by the family, etc.
Jesus warns in Matthew 10:16-17, “Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves”. One of the implications of this is that we should not invite suffering to ourselves. We should be wise; however, scripture tells that we cannot avoid persecution because of our allegiance with Jesus. We are sure of one thing – that Jesus does not leave us all alone. He promises His presence, “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you”. (Matthew 10:19-20).
It does not end there. It talks about getting an opportunity to be His witnesses, Matthew 10:17-18, “For you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings to bear witness to them and to the gentiles”. We see here that persecution is completely in the sovereignty of God, which could open more opportunities to be His witnesses. When we read through Acts and other letters of Paul in the New Testament, we understand the sovereignty of God in suffering and facing persecution by the apostles and early church leading to the fulfillment of the Lord’s work. (Acts 1:8) The apostles were only confined to Jerusalem but persecution scattered them throughout Judea and Samaria, and wherever they went, they preached the word of God. And that is how many came to know Jesus. (Acts 8).
Jesus did not sugarcoat things when he gave the command to preach the gospel to all the nations as any human leader would use to gain attention. He did not talk about a suffering-free life but guaranteed His constant presence through the pain of it all and finally victory and eternal life.
I remember in my early EU days, the authorities of the University closed down the room for fellowship. I know this is not a very big experience of persecution, but somehow it still shook our hearts. It not only made us feel bad but it also caused us to go down on our knees in earnest prayer with unity and search for other possibilities. We got to share some adventures too, which would not have been possible in a comfortable atmosphere.
Some of these experiences were having our fellowship under a tree, under the shade of a building, and sometime later we got a public room for rent to conduct the fellowship for almost four years (now they have got a good place of fellowship). Going inside that room filled with cigarette smoke in the early morning, sweeping those cigarette buds filling the room, finding the room flooded when it rains, after coming all dressed up, rolling up our sleeves and cleaning the room together and conducting the fellowship in that damp room were minor challenges but great memories..
Singing praises and worshipping after the cleaning up, listening and sharing God’s word and praying filled my heart was a totally different experience. While it may not have made me say wow every time, but it changed my perspective. Sometimes I wonder what made us to press on! Nothing but the very presence of God filled us with peace, joy and comfort. Opposition is not bad. Not only does it open opportunities but also encourages us to look for possibilities.
I have been reading book of Acts these days in my quiet time. The book mentions the suffering and opposition faced by the early Christians. Their faith and enthusiasm to share Jesus was amazing as well as encouraging. The suffering they went through did not stop them from preaching and teaching God’s word. Moreover, the apostles rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for His name (Acts 5:41-42). I thought what a crazy bunch of people for a moment but when I studied and pondered more, I found out that they had personally experienced Christ. There was nothing that could shake their faith in Jesus. Paul also writes in Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. To know God in depth is one of the foundation to unshakeable faith.
Paul continually encourages young Timothy not to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, or of Paul His prisoner, rather join with him in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (2 Tim 2:8) We know there will be both rejection and acceptance of God’s word. We are to keep on preaching, sharing, witnessing despite our suffering; and to do it all by the power of God and not depending on our own strength. May His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Ushia Rai, Currently pursuing Ph.D. in Agricultural Extension, has been active in UESI ministry since 2012, in different responsibilities. Right now, she is the Senior Advisor of UBKV EU, Mohanpur, West Bengal.