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Principles of Christian Suffering (Outline)*

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 16

"We need a culture...which will accept the mysterious
meaning of suffering and death."

John Paul II, The Gospel of Life ("Evangelium Vitae")

 

1. True faith will be tested. Christians, because they are Christians, will inevitably undergo constant testing.

"Christians do not court suffering, but we do expect it.
A disciple, after all, is not above His master."
Dr. Norbert Mueller, The Lutheran Witness, July 1995

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

 

2. The stronger the potential faith, the greater the testing one should expect.

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job.
This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil....
He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
Job 1:1,2 (NIV)


3. Testing and suffering reminds us who really is Lord of our life...and it's not us!!!

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you,
whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
Therefore honor God with your body.

I Corinthians 6:20 (NIV)

For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.
If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.
So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
Romans 14;7-8 (NIV)

 

4. The hardest thing about suffering is remembering the central focus of the test: to keep our faith strong.. If we lose this focus, we fail the test. Failure is never final; God is always forgiving and will restore us even when we have failed.

 

5. For this reason, as the Christian regularly and daily prays for a stronger faith, he can also expect that the strengthening of one’s faith may best be accomplished through the experience of testing.

Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer

"And lead us not into temptation"

What does this mean?
"God indeed tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us
so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us not seduce us I
into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them,
that still we may finally overcome and obtain the victory."
From Luther’s Small Catechism

 

6. Our Christian faith is never so strong that it is ever exempt from or immune to testing and, at times, failure. Even when we fail, Jesus never forsakes us; He constantly prays for us before, during, and after testing.

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon,
that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."
Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will
deny three times that you know me."
Luke 22:31(NIV)

 

7. In order for faith to be strengthened, it must be refined...by fire.

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."

Source: "How Firm a Foundation," (Hymn 427) Copyright 1941.The Lutheran Hymnal,
St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. Reprinted by Permission

 

8. As our faith is refined, our feelings will, if possible, undermine our faith.Thus testing ought to drive us to the objective certainty of faith and not to the subjective despair of emotion.When emotions become uncontrolled--or uncontrollable--special professional, medical, and/or spiritual intervention may be required.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you
know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have
suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
I Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)

 

9. God allows Satan to test us for the purpose of demonstrating to Satan just how strong a believer’s trust in God is; it is Satan who does the damage...to the extent allowed by God and our sometimes ill-equipped selves (cf. Ephesians 6).

Examples: Note the relative range of damage done during the following tesings: The Devil deceived Eve, tempted Christ(Christ damaged Satan!), possessed Judas to betray Christ ,led Judas into despair, and led Peter to deny Christ.

 

10. God sets the maximum boundaries for the "allowable" limits of suffering we will endure; Satan pursues them to the max (Job 1)

 

11. The limits of suffering may be exceeded if we neglect all of God's provisions for our physical, emotional well-being. It will almost certainly be exceeded if we give up our primary defense: Absolute trust in God as He has revealed Himself in Word and Sacraments.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:13 (NIV)

 

12. God does not wish us to suffer; However, He must test us as we need to be tested. Therefore the most critical and difficult testings which we will endure can be expected to involve those things, people (friends, family, etc.) and issues which, from our perspective, are most highly prized, precious, valuable, esteemed and loved.

Indeed, every essential value, belief, moral, attitude, motivation, world-view and perspective by which we live will be severely tested and, through such testing, leave us strengthened for God's service.This is the ultimate focus of trial: to strengthen our Christian character.

 

13. Before, during, and after testing, we ought to constantly examine in which ways our armor is weakened so as to prepare ourselves for the inevitable next--and greater--testing. The longer and more severe the testing, the more zealously we need to examine our armor.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Ephesians 6:10-11(KJV)

 

14. We need not--and should not--blame God for suffering which is a result of our own foolish, intentional sinful actions. Such actions ought direct us to the unlimited forgiveness and grace of God.

 

15. Suffering, for the Christian, is not punishment. It is discipline, specifically the discipline of Christian character. It is the way God demonstrates that we are His children (Hebrews 12:7).

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with
him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?
It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?
It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God,
who also maketh intercession for us.
Romans 8:31 ff (KJV)

 

16. Christians are never alone in their testing, even when we feel we have left God or He has left us.As Jesus prayed for Peter while being "sifted like wheat" and as the Father continued praying for the return of his lost son (Luke 15), so God never takes His loving attention from us. He is always praying on our behalf.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress,
or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for
the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors
through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us
from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35 ff. (NIV)

 

17. Suffering is not a Means of Grace. It is, however, a gracious and careful preparation of God for greater exaltation in His grace.

 

18. Thus, whatever suffering we endure as a testing of our faith is cause for joy, not despair.

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

James 1:2-3 (KJV)

 

19. The Christian’s final response to the suffering and testing of God is always to bless God.

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave
and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."
Job 1:21 (NIV)

 

20. "Why" questions, are an important part of the Christian’s grieving process in that they acknowledge God’s power and our weakness before Him. The answers may be received, as part of the testing, at a later time or, more often, in the eternal courts of God. During our pilgrimmage on earth, one of the most useful purposes of "Why" questions are to shape patient, hopeful, and persevering Christian character. Such questions are so painful precisely because they deal with the essence and core of our being--our character.

 

21. A Christian’s trial is not completed until such time that we have used the promises of God in Word and Sacrament to deal effectively with grief. Christians who continue attitudes of anger, self-pity, confusion, tears, etc. will continue experiencing the overwhelm of these emotions until such time that God’s will has been accepted and assimilated into the Christian’s heart and life.Only at such time will Christians learn how to consider such sufferings "pure joy" (James 1).

 

22. Death, at God’s time, is the final blessed deliverance from suffering. Until that time, life will be full of difficulties as we walk in the valley of the "shadow of death" (Psalm 23). For the Christian, death from an eternal perspective is never a "tragedy"; instead it is the blessed deliverance from an evil pain-filled world.

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter
day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall
behold, and not another."

Job 19:25-27 (KJV)

 

23. The most power testimony of our trust and faith in God is patient endurance which trusts that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Painful learning of our weakness in trial makes for easier, day-by-day application of God's power in our everyday living during--and after--trial.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me,
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may rest on me.
II Corinthians 12:8-9 (NIV)

 

24. After trial, we are never the same. Trial, as God intends, exposes and deepens our weaknesses even as it uncovers and develops new strengths and opportunities for ministry. The tears of trial, therefore, are the chisel God uses to change the Christian’s heart painfully--but skillfully--to enliven our hope in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with
God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access
by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope
of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our
sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint
us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the
Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 5:1-5 ff. (NIV)

 

25. Those whom--or the things which--God graciously provided to sustain the Christian in trial may also be painfully removed, as part of the trial, at such time God deems necessary. As the Lone Ranger was only present to assist in and resolve the crisis at hand, so also those in trial will experience their own "Lone Rangers" who, having been present in the crisis, may (like the man with the white hat) also leave us asking, "Who was that masked man?" (Cf. "Five Types of Necessary Coping Relationships").

 

26. God ultimately uses suffering as an act not of Law, but of Gospel, to draw us and renew us in the suffering, death, resurrection and forgiveness of Christ into which we have been baptized. Thus, the ultimate focus of trial is to highlight God's gracious and undeserved love for us in Christ.

My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou
art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.
Hebrews 12:5-6
(KJV)

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:26 PM