Friday, May 21, 2010

Christian Suffering - Part 6

But Also to Suffer

Amy Carmichael once spent a day in solitude in a cave in Japan, wrestling in a prayer over some secret matter which she never revealed to anyone. It seems she feared loneliness. The words which were given to her then in answer to her cry were Paul’s to the Philippians when he was in prison and they were being persecuted: “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). She understood then that the Lord was not promising escape from the thing she feared, but assurance that whatever He might allow of suffering in her life would be a privilege and a gift – a thing given to her to give to Him, something which she could expect would accompany her faith. To believe in Christ is to suffer for Him.

In Jesus’ last discourse with His disciples He explained the same truth. John 14 records His wonderfully comforting words, “Set your troubled hearts at rest”, His description of where He was going and why, His clear teaching on obedience as the only proof of love, and the promise of His gift of peace. In the next two chapters we find His prediction of the suffering His disciples should expect – hatred, persecution, their words ignored, their entrance into the synagogues refused, even death.” A servant is not greater than his master,” He said. “It is on my account that they will treat you thus” (15:20,21).

Some newsletter readers will be suffering on the very day that this arrives in the mail. The message it brings is not a new one. Jesus knew that His disciples would often need reminders of the things He had taught them while He was with them. Suffering would tempt them to wonder if the whole thing had been for nothing –their original decision to follow Him, the three years of listening and trying to learn, the price they had paid to be disciples. Amy Carmichael, alone in that cave, must have been filled with similar questions, although her suffering was of a different kind from the disciples’. Had she missed His call? Was her work for nothing? What to do with this fear that haunted her?

Don’t be afraid to bring your questions to the Lord and hear His loving assurances: “Your grief will be turned into joy…For the moment, you are sad at heart; but I shall see you again and then you will be joyful and no one shall rob you of your joy….I have told you all this so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will have trouble. But courage! The victory is mine; I have conquered the world” (John 16:20, 22, 33). Peace is to be found in Him who entered into all our sorrow, knows it from the inside, and asks us to accept the hardest thing as a privilege, a gift, yes, even as an honor – because we have put our trust in Him.

The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter July/August 1985

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Christian Suffering - Part 5

Our Share of Suffering

Most of us know next to nothing about real persecution or what it’s like to be in chains. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, they were being severely persecuted, and he himself was actually chained between two guards in a Roman prison, somewhere between 61 and 63 A.D. Even though we may not know the first thing about that kind of suffering, what the apostle has to say about the subject applies to our kind, too, whatever it may be. For, you see, we have been given two gifts: the privilege of believing in Christ, and (here’s that mystery again) the privilege of suffering. Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, told of how God had impressed on her mind those two phrases from Philippians 1:29, “not only… but also.” She was in anguish over some matter which she did not reveal, but she was given eyes to see this truth: that everyone who believes must also suffer for Christ.

“For Him?” you say, “But this thing I’m going through –what has that got to do with what Paul meant? I’m not in prison for speaking the truth. I’m not being ‘persecuted for Christ’s sake.’” Not all are given those privileges, of course, but it seems to me that any kind of suffering, if accepted for Christ and from Christ, may be seen as our share. In Colossians 1:24 there is a hint that there is some sort of “quota” of suffering that must be endured, and each of us may bear a part of that if we’re willing to take it from Christ’s hand.” It is now my happiness to suffer for you,” Paul wrote. “This is my way of helping to complete, in my poor human flesh, the full tale of Christ’s afflictions still to be endured, for the sake of His body which is the Church.” It isn’t that we add to the redemptive work of Christ. Not that at all. But in some unexplained way we are allowed to “fill up” His suffering on behalf of His Body. I don’t pretend to understand it. It’s enough for me to know that suffering is a part of belonging to Christ, part of what it means to be a true believer, and a high privilege to be received with joy because, in ways we can’t even imagine now, it matters to all the rest of the glorious company of God’s people.

The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter January/February 1985

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Christian Suffering - Part 4

Does God Allow His Children to Be Poor?

God allows both Christians and non-Christians to experience every form of suffering known to the human race, just as He allows His blessings to fall on both. Poverty, like other forms of suffering, is relative, as Lars and I were reminded while we were in India. Our country’s definition of the “poverty level” would mean unimaginable affluence to the girls we saw working next to our hotel. For nine hours a day they carried wet concrete in wooden basins on their heads, pouring it into the forms for the foundation of a large building. They were paid thirty cents a day.

On my list of scriptures which give clues to some of God’s reasons for allowing His children to suffer is 2 Corinthians 8:2: “Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves, produced a magnificent concern for other people.” It was the Macedonian churches that Paul was talking about, living proof that it is not poverty or riches that determine generosity, and sometimes those who suffer the most financially are the ones most ready to share what they have. “They simply begged us to accept their gifts and so let them share the honors of supporting their brothers in Christ.”

Money holds terrible power when it is loved. It can blind us, shackle us, fill us with anxiety and fear, torment our days and nights with misery, wear us out with chasing it. The Macedonian Christians, possessing little of it, accepted their lot with faith and trust. Their eyes were opened to see past their own misery. They saw what mattered far more than a bank account, and, out of “magnificent concern,” contributed to the needs of their brothers.

If through losing what this world prizes we are enabled to gain what it despises—treasure in heaven, invisible and incorruptible—isn’t it worth any kind of suffering? What is it worth to us to learn a little bit more of what the Cross means—life out of death, the transformation of earth’s losses and heartbreaks and tragedies?

Poverty has not been my experience, but God has allowed in the lives of each of us some sort of loss, the withdrawal of something we valued, in order that we may learn to offer ourselves a little more willingly, to allow the touch of death on one more thing we have clutched so tightly, and thus know fullness and freedom and joy that much sooner. We’re not naturally inclined to love God and seek His kingdom. Trouble may help to incline us—that is, it may tip us over, put some pressure on us, lean us in the right direction.

The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletters July/August 1984

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Christian Suffering - Part 3

Strength Out of Weakness - Why

Corrie ten Boom was a woman of strong faith and a radiant face. Why? She had suffered as most of us Americans can hardly imagine. She had responded to that suffering (in a concentration camp during World War II) with trust. Learning the depth of human helplessness and weakness, she turned to the only One who could be to her a strong tower. He was faithful to His promises. One of the most soul-fortifying pictures I have of her in my mind is of her getting up in the morning, standing up in her cell, and singing in a loud voice so that other prisoners could hear, “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus!”

“Oh, I could never have survived!” we say. The truth is that we could if the Lord allowed us to be put in her position, and if we looked to Him for the strength needed. I mean that we could “survive” spiritually. As Martin Luther wrote, “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.”

It is the experience of weakness that puts us in the position of seeking another’s strength. Paul had a “sharp physical pain which came as Satan’s messenger to bruise” him. “This was to save me from being unduly elated. Three times I begged the Lord to rid me of it, but his answer was: “My grace is all you need; power comes to its full strength in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:7-9 New English Bible)

The refusal of grace is what causes breakdown. Acknowledge weakness, confess need, and come in humility to Him who promises to supply plenty of grace. It's all we need.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Christians Suffer - Part 2

Steadfastness, Soundness, Hope

Suffering is the Christian’s boot camp. Those who are preparing to be soldiers must give evidence that they’ve got what it takes. A grueling course of endurance tests is set for them which some survive and some don’t. Some decide early in the game that it’s not really worth it, and drop out.

In his wonderful “Grace Chapter,” Romans 5, Paul tells us that we’ve entered the sphere of God’s grace and can therefore exult in the hope of the divine splendor that is to be ours. “More than this, let us even exult in our present sufferings, because we know that suffering trains us to endure” (vs.3).

No normal person enjoys suffering. To “exult,” however, is an action verb. It means to leap for joy, to be jubilant. It is said that when St. Francis of Assisi was persecuted he literally danced in the street for joy. He was simply being obedient to Jesus’ command to rejoice when men revile you and persecute you. You can only rejoice if you take the long view, however, --the view which sees the great reward in heaven. You certainly don’t rejoice if all you can see is the persecution.

I’ve never been in an army boot camp. I’ve seen pictures and it looks awful and I can’t imagine anybody enjoying some of the endurance tests that are required, except as the goal is kept in mind: I’m going to be a soldier. I’m going to prove myself. I’ll like this thing if it kills me.

“Endurance brings proof that we have stood the test, and this proof is the ground of hope. Such a hope is no mockery because God’s love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us.” (Rom. 5:4-5, New English Bible).

My father took us mountain-climbing when we were growing up; we were thrilled with the chance to stand the test. My brothers were certainly not going to beat me at it, nor would I dream of letting them slow down just for me. There is an exhilaration in endurance. Often I see it on the face of small boys in airports. They’ve just met Daddy at the plane, and insist on lugging his attache case or even his suitcase. “Sure I can, Dad!” they say, and their faces shine.

We are under the mercy of an infinitely loving Father. He will never allow us to suffer beyond what He knows is the proper measure. In the middle of it the suffering is real, not to be compared, of course, with the small boy with the suitcase. I think of those, for example, who are tortured because of their faith, or tortured by cancer. At such a time one desperately needs the Everlasting Word to fall back on –the Word which stands forever, which nothing on earth or in heaven can ever change: Divine splendor is to be ours. The soldier thinks of pleasing his commanding officer, receiving a commission, perhaps, and some day winning a victory. “Such a hope is no mockery” for the Christian who suffers. He can be absolutely sure there is reason and purpose behind it all. Phillips’ translation of the passage has steadfastness, soundness, and hope as the reasons. In that the soldier can legitimately exult.

The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter March/April 1984

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why Christians Suffer - Part 1

So often people make remarks such as, “Isn’t it strange how God allows such awful things to happen – and she ‘s such a good person.” So far I’ve found twelve explanations in scripture. It isn’t all mystery, though of course God’s permission of evil in the world is fathomless to us mortals. He has told us all we need to know, however, about the why’s, and I hope to write about each of the answers in forthcoming issues.

The apostle Peter writes, “My friends, do not be bewildered by the fiery ordeal that is upon you, as though it were something extraordinary. It gives you a share in Christ’s sufferings, and that is cause for joy.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 New English Bible)

When we remember that Peter was writing his letter to exiles, we can try to imagine all the various kinds of suffering that involved. Peter had been through a few mills himself, and understood deeply how they were feeling, and the quite natural human tendency to be bewildered when you’re in the middle of trouble. Don’t be, he says. He does not deny that it is “fiery.” He calls it an ordeal. That’s honest. But he tells them it’s nothing out of the ordinary. It is what all of us ought to expect, in one form or another, as long as we’re following Christ. What else should we expect? He said we would have to give up the right to ourselves, take up His cross, and follow. He said we would have to enter the Kingdom “through much tribulation.” We bargained for a steep and narrow road – why should we be bewildered to find it steep and narrow? The thrilling heart-lifting truth which Peter speaks of is that in this very “ordeal,” whatever it is, we are being granted an unspeakably high privilege: a share in Christ’s sufferings, and that, Peter says, is cause for joy.

Sometimes people wonder how on earth their kind of trouble can possibly have anything to do with Christ’s sufferings. Ours are certainly nothing in comparison with His. We are not being crucified. Our burden is certainly not the weight of the sins of the world. No. But in all our afflictions He is afflicted. We are together in them. If we receive them in faith – faith that they are permitted by a Father who loves us, faith that He has an eternal purpose in them – we can offer them back to Him for His transforming. If, like Paul, we want to know Him and the power of His resurrection, we must also know the fellowship of His sufferings. The only way to enter that fellowship is to suffer.

Can we say Yes, Lord – even to that?

Elisabeth Elliot’s Newsletter January/February 1984