SUFFERINGSPrint This Page.
In addition to the character traits already mentioned, every Christian worker should have a mind to suffer (1 Pet. 4:1). This is crucial. Before we consider this subject from a positive point of view, let us first consider the common Christian concept of suffering.
The teaching of the Scriptures is very clear: God has no intention for His people to suffer. There is a certain philosophy which promotes physical suffering as a means of depriving the body of all enjoyment. Those who hold to this philosophy maintain that every form of enjoyment is wrong. As the Lord's workers and those who represent Him, we must be clear that this philosophy should not be in a Christian's mind at all. God's own Word declares that God has no intention for His children to suffer. The Bible says that God has not withheld any good thing from us. Psalm 23:1 says, "Jehovah is my Shepherd; I will lack nothing." The words lack nothing do not mean that we have no further needs. Rather, they mean that we do not have to ask for anything because the Lord is our Shepherd. Psalm 23 tells us that we will lack nothing when we have the Lord as our Shepherd. In other words, God has no intention that we lack anything. His intention is for us to be filled. He has not withheld any good thing from us. The entire Bible portrays to us the loving care of the Lord. He watched over His own faithfully, relieved their distresses and pains, and drew a clear distinction between His people and the nations. The land of Goshen was always different from the rest of Egypt; God's blessing was always there. We must never introduce any kind of ascetic philosophy into Christianity. Once we introduce non-Christian elements into Christianity, we confuse the latter. We must pay attention to this point.
Having said this, we also should realize that God does not exempt His children from trial or chastisement; indeed, God gives His children trial and chastisement. But we must make a clear distinction between these and forms of asceticism. Under ordinary circumstances, God always blesses, cares, supports, and supplies His children. But when it becomes necessary for Him to chastise and try His children, He will not hesitate to do so. This does not mean that He tries them every day. He chastises His children only when the need arises; He does not do this every day and every minute. God does not send trials and chastisements to His children continuously. Sometimes He resorts to such methods, but He does not dwell on them all the time. On the contrary, under ordinary circumstances, He always cares for us and makes provisions for us. Of course, when we are stubborn, He will allow trials and chastisements to come upon us. But under His usual provisions, He carries out what He ordinarily would do. He does not want to see us suffer. We must be clear about this. God is reserving all the good things for His children. We can enjoy all of His provisions which He has given to us.
What then does the Scripture mean when it speaks of suffering? In the Bible, suffering refers to a deliberate choice one makes before the Lord. The Lord has arranged for our days to be filled with gracious blessings, but for the sake of serving Him and being a servant to Him, we would rather choose a way of suffering. Hence, the way of suffering is a way of choice. David's three mighty men could have lived in safety beside David, but when they heard him expressing a longing for a drink from the well of Bethlehem, they endangered their lives and broke through the ranks of the Philistine host to fetch the water (2 Sam. 23:14-17). Suffering is a matter of choice, not a matter of imposition. We choose the way of suffering. We suffer willingly for the sake of serving Him. According to God's plan, we can avoid many sufferings. However, for the sake of serving God, we would rather gladly choose a way that is different from that of ordinary people. This is what it means to have a mind to suffer. Having a mind to suffer is a fundamental necessity in the character of a servant of God. Without such a mind, we will produce little results in our work, and the work we do will be very superficial in quality. If a worker of the Lord does not have a mind to suffer, he cannot work at all in the eyes of God. Let us speak of a few things related to this subject.
We have to realize that suffering and having a mind to suffer are two different things. Having a mind to suffer implies that we have a desire to willingly suffer for Christ's sake; it means that we have a heart and a willingness to endure affliction on His behalf. This is the meaning of having a mind to suffer. Those who have a mind to suffer may not necessarily be suffering. But in their mind they are prepared to meet all sufferings with fortitude. For instance, the Lord may put you in circumstances where you are provided with food and clothing and a nicely furnished home. It does not mean that you cannot continue to enjoy all the provisions He has given you. If the Lord has made such provisions, you can accept them from the Lord. But within, you still have a mind to suffer for Him. Although you are not suffering physically, you must have a mind to suffer. It is not a question of whether you have encountered something outwardly, but whether you have a mind to suffer inwardly. Do you have a mind to suffer even when circumstances are smooth and easy? The Lord may not arrange for you to suffer every day, but every worker of the Lord must not be short of a mind to suffer, not even for a single day. Suffering may not come to us daily, but a mind to suffer must be with us daily.
The problem is that many brothers and sisters, and many families of Christian workers too, seem to shrink back the minute affliction comes to them. They do not have a mind to suffer. When the Lord provides smooth circumstances, abundance in material supply, and good health to them, they can serve Him happily. But as soon as they experience a little setback or affliction, their whole being collapses. This means that they do not have a mind to suffer. Without a mind to suffer, you cannot withstand any trial.
Having a mind to suffer means that we are prepared before the Lord to suffer. It means that we are ready to suffer and that we choose the way of suffering. If the Lord does not allow suffering to come our way, that is His business. On our side, however, we are always ready for suffering. When the Lord changes His course circumstantially and trials come upon us, we will accept them fortuitously, not counting them as strange. If we can only accept the good provisions of the Lord, but cannot take any trial, instead backsliding at any change and ceasing from our work, we do not have a mind to suffer. We must remember that our work does not sit and wait on us. We have to work when there is food, and we have to work when there is no food. We have to work when we are adequately clothed, and we have to work when we are not adequately clothed. We have to work when we feel happy, and we have to work when we feel uncomfortable. We have to work whether we are in good health or in ill health. The Scripture shows us that we should arm ourselves with a mind to suffer; that is, our mind should be an armory, a weapon, to us. This is a sharp weapon, something Satan cannot prevail against. Without this kind of mind, our work will cease as soon as we experience setbacks and afflictions.
There are some brothers and sisters who endure suffering, but they have no conception of the preciousness of the suffering. They go through it without any sense of gratitude to the Lord. They may even murmur and complain continually, hoping for the day when they will be delivered from their suffering. They pray, but they never praise. They do not heartily accept the discipline of the Spirit which comes upon them. Instead, they pray that these days will go away quickly. Their attitude betrays their lack of a mind to suffer. Brothers and sisters, if we do not have a mind to suffer during peaceful times, we will only be fit to travel on smooth roads. Once the road becomes muddy, we will stop serving the Lord. This will not take us very far. Let me repeat: A mind to suffer is different from suffering itself. If we have a mind to suffer, the Lord may not necessarily give us sufferings, but when we do encounter sufferings, we will be inwardly prepared, and we will not draw back. Those who suffer do not necessarily have a mind to suffer. Many people are suffering, but they do not have a mind to suffer. Among the suffering ones, some may have a mind to suffer, while others may not have a mind to suffer. When many brothers and sisters encounter sufferings and afflictions, they complain and cry for help day after day. They pray for deliverance from their afflictions every day. Such ones do not have a mind to suffer at all. They are suffering, but they do not have a mind to suffer. Brothers and sisters who are undergoing sufferings in physical health, in financial supply, or in other matters should realize that the Lord only counts a mind to suffer as being precious. He does not pay attention to whether we are suffering. We should not think that we are suffering for the Lord simply because we are put in trying situations. It may be true that our situations are unpleasant, but how much of a willing mind to suffer for the Lord do we have? How much of this is by choice? Or are we merely murmuring, begrudging, self-pitying, and self-justifying? It is possible for us to suffer a great deal of heartache and hardship without having the will to suffer. A will to suffer is something deeper than suffering itself. Those who have a heart to suffer may not have any outward suffering at all, and those who are outwardly suffering may not have a mind to suffer. Brothers and sisters, do you see the difference? This is like saying that those who are poor in material things are not necessarily poor in their spirits. Many people are poor materially, but they are not poor spiritually. In the same way, many brothers and sisters are indeed suffering, but they do not have a mind to suffer at all. If the Lord were to offer them the option of choosing, they would most definitely choose not to suffer, not just for a month or for a day, but even if it was just for a minute of their time. They have absolutely no mind to suffer. If a man does not have a mind to suffer, he can not go anywhere with his work. When the outward demands exceed his inward ability, he will shrink back. When a situation requires that he make an additional effort, he will find no strength to meet the need. He cannot relinquish his own treasures and can only carry on an easy work under an easy environment. He needs the Lord to remove all hurdles before he can work in peace. It is surprising that many servants of the Lord would have such a demand.
We must be clear what it means to have a mind to suffer. A brother living in peace may have a greater mind to suffer than a brother living in tribulation. The first one may have a mind to suffer; he is prepared to suffer for the Lord. The second one may be suffering, but he has no heart to suffer for the Lord. There is little sign of hardship in the circumstance of one, while the other may be obviously in great distress. Humanly speaking, the one in great distress is the one who is suffering. But in the eyes of the Lord, He values more the one who, even though he has less hardship, has a mind to suffer. We should not think that suffering alone qualifies us for anything. We must remember that God has demands on us, and in order to meet these demands, there is the need for us to have a mind to suffer. We must arm ourselves with this mind. Without such a mind, there is no possibility for us to fight the spiritual warfare. As soon as we face troubles, we will draw back, and as soon as we are called upon to pay a price, we will give up. When the Lord allows a little affliction to come our way, we withdraw. We are not concerned with how much suffering a person experiences; we are concerned with how much of a mind to suffer one has. According to our natural concept, we would conclude that a brother who suffers much knows God's grace in fuller measure. But many times, we do not receive any help from a suffering brother when we meet him. We may soon discover that he lacks the mind to suffer; he is only suffering reluctantly. If he were given a choice, he would run away from his trials at the first possible moment. He may indeed be suffering, but he has not yielded to the suffering, and he is going through his experience reluctantly. He has not learned any lesson before the Lord, and he is filled with rebellion inwardly. This shows us that a mind to suffer is very different from suffering itself. What the Lord treasures is a mind to suffer—a conscious readiness for suffering, not the experience of suffering itself. We cannot replace a mind to suffer with suffering itself.
Now we have to consider some common problems we encounter in the Lord's work. Suppose our work appears to encounter financial difficulties. What should we do when God puts us through a trial of material shortage? If the shortage in provision halts our work, the Lord surely would put a question mark on what we are doing. He would probably ask, "What are you serving Me for?" Brothers and sisters, whether or not we will perform well in our work depends a great deal on whether we have a mind to suffer. We cannot quit just because a little trouble comes our way or a little trial bothers us. No servant of Christ can stipulate that he will go to work in fair weather but stay at home if it rains. If we have a mind to suffer, we will defy difficulties; we will defy hardship; we will defy physical infirmity; and we will even defy death. A mind to suffer stands up to the devil and declares, "I will go on no matter what may happen to me!" If we are inwardly afraid of anything, Satan will threaten us with that very same thing, and we will be defeated. If we say, "I am not afraid of hunger!", Satan will not be able to do anything to us when he sends us hunger; he will have to flee. If we say, "I am not afraid of the cold!", Satan will not be able to do anything to us when he sends us cold weather; he will have to flee once again. But if we say, "I am afraid of sickness," Satan will surely send us sickness, because he knows that sickness will bring us down. If we say, "I am not afraid of sickness!", Satan will not be able to do anything to us. If we do not have a mind to suffer, Satan will use whatever we are afraid of to attack us, and we will be defeated. Every servant of God must be well prepared and not afraid of anything. We must persist when this and that happen to us. We must persist when trials come to our family or sickness comes to our body. We must persist even when hunger or cold comes our way. If we have this attitude within us, Satan will not be able to do anything to us because we will have a mind to suffer. Without such a mind to suffer, we will fall as soon as Satan confronts us with the very thing we fear. We will shrink back from God's work and become useless.
Brothers and sisters, we should declare to the Lord, "Because of Your love and the power of Your grace, I am committed to do what I am doing whatever the consequences may be, whether it be heaven or hell. This will be my stand, whether or not I think I am up to it!" If we do not have such a mind, Satan will seize our weakness, and we will be finished and proven unprofitable for anything. We have to pray for mercy to know what a mind to suffer is. A mind to suffer is a settled decision within oneself to be on the Lord's side, no matter what the future may hold and no matter what circumstances one may encounter. A mind to suffer does not necessarily lead to suffering. It is possible that one will not suffer. But an inward conviction is always present. Without such a conviction and determination, a little difficulty will knock a person off his feet. But if this inward conviction is present, whether or not there is outward trouble will mean little. Do you see what I am saying? The way of service for a Christian is not the way of suffering but the way of having a mind to suffer. You can thank the Lord if He provides you with food and clothing, and you also can thank Him if He does not provide you with these things. These things do not mean much to you—they can be in abundance or scarcity. Please remember that a Christian does not need to go out of his way to look for suffering. However, he should have a mind to suffer. A Christian is one who is prepared to accomplish his task whether or not difficulty lies along the way. He does not draw back at the face of difficulty. If the matter of his mind-set is not settled, all other issues will not be settled. Consider the example of traveling. If you are physically weak, you naturally need a more comfortable bed than a stronger person. But if you say, "I must have a comfortable bed because I am not very strong," you will be vulnerable to the enemy in that point; he will give you an uncomfortable bed. A mind to suffer ignores the issue of a bed and continues with one's work. If you have been provided with a comfortable bed, however, there is no virtue in going out of your way to sleep on the floor. If the Lord gives you a good bed, take it, and if He gives you a bad bed, take it also. You have to continue with your work no matter how bad your bed is. You must never shrink back for the sake of a bed. This mind-set is what the Bible calls a mind to suffer. Some brothers have less than favorable material provisions in their life. Yet this does not necessarily mean that they have a mind to suffer. Do not imagine that Christians who live in unfavorable circumstances will have, as a matter of course, more of a mind to suffer than those who live in more favorable circumstances. Only those who have consecrated themselves to the Lord will have a mind to suffer. A mind to suffer is not limited by anything; it does not have a bottom line. You may be provided with a hard floor for your bed if you go to one place. You may not even have a hard floor in another place. Your bed may just be straw strewn on muddy ground. What would you do? Some force themselves to accept such beds. They are indeed suffering, but there is a limit to their suffering. They can tolerate a hard floor but nothing more. They seemingly tell others that they have stooped low enough and that they can stoop no lower. This is having the experience of suffering without the mind to suffer. Some brothers may go through their life with relative ease and enjoyment, yet they can always adjust themselves happily to lower standards of living. They can sleep on a hard floor as well as on straw. They have no complaints, and they are happy to take whatever comes along the way. This is having a mind to suffer. God is calling for men to have a mind to suffer. We must remember that it is not a matter of suffering but a matter of a mind for suffering. In order to serve the Lord, we must have a mind to suffer; otherwise, God cannot use us. Those who do not have a mind to suffer will collapse at the mildest trial. They will quit their work as soon as Satan puts something in their path. Brothers and sisters, do you see this? A mind to suffer is an ability to lower one's standard of living unconditionally.
This is not a matter of how much we suffer, but to what extent we can endure suffering. Suffering is not a necessity, but a mind to suffer is. The Lord's intention is not to keep us in sufferings but to wrought such a mind into us. No brother or sister learning to serve the Lord will be strong if he or she does not have a mind to suffer. If we do not have a mind to suffer, we will be the weakest of all men. As soon as we touch any difficulty, we will give way to self-pity. We will weep for ourselves and sigh, "How did I become this way?" On a certain occasion a sister, who had been serving the Lord for years, came upon another sister shedding tears, and she asked her, "Who are you shedding your tears for?" Many people shed tears for themselves. They consider themselves dear and precious, and they feel sorry for their own fall. Their tears are shed for themselves. Such ones are the weakest of all men; they collapse as soon as they encounter challenges.
The important question when trials and pains come is where our heart is. On the one hand, there is the issue of our pain. On the other hand, there is the issue of the Lord's work. If we do not have a mind to suffer, we will immediately sacrifice the Lord's work. We will be too busy feeling sorry for ourselves and loving ourselves, and there will be no more energy to take care of the Lord's work! Brothers and sisters, we have to learn to have a mind to suffer. It is true that our suffering may go away if we abandon our work, but then the work will suffer a loss. If a mind to suffer is absent or lacking, Satan can force us to abandon and sacrifice our work at any time. We must remember before the Lord that we are here to uphold God's glory. God can order life or death for us, but on our part we have to be faithful to our responsibility. We cannot forsake our work. We must persist to the end. It is not our desire to see our brothers and sisters go through sufferings. If at all possible, it is good for them to take care of their daily needs in moderation. We are not asking them to go out of their way to look for sufferings. We do not impose sufferings on others. Our hope is that God would supply all of our needs. But we must realize that a mind to suffer is very necessary. On the one hand, we must believe that God has not withheld one good thing from us. On the other hand, we must have a mind to suffer. If we do not, we will collapse as soon as we encounter difficulty or setbacks in our lives.
A question naturally arises: To what extent should we be prepared to suffer? The Bible's standard is "Be faithful unto death" (Rev. 2:10). In other words, we have to be prepared for any suffering, even the suffering of death. Of course, we do not want to become an extremist. Yet there is no compromise as far as a mind to suffer is concerned. If there is any compromise, we would rather let the Lord do the compromising; we would rather let the church or the more mature brothers balance us. As for ourselves, we have to give our all. If we compromise ourselves, how can we be effective in the work? We will have no way to go on. If we consider our own life to be so precious, and hold ourselves carefully by the hand all the time, we will not accomplish much in God's work. We all have to be faithful even unto death. This is our way. The Lord will not sacrifice our life simply because we have vowed to be faithful. Nevertheless, it is the Lord's business to preserve our life; we do not preserve it ourselves. It is the Lord's business to arrange everything for us. On our side, we have to be prepared to sacrifice ourselves. We have to be prepared to face every kind of suffering. Brothers and sisters, if you love your life, you will not be able to be faithful even unto death. Those who are faithful even unto death do not love their own life. This is the Lord's basic requirement. Our mind to suffer should be so strong that we can say, "Lord, I will die for You! I do not care for the circumstances around me. I am willing to give up my life for You!" Brothers and sisters, without such a determination, we will stop as soon as we encounter difficulty. Every worker of the Lord has to learn to not love himself. Those who love themselves are limited in their works. When they reach a certain point, they will stop. God wants absolute men to serve Him. He wants those who are willing to lay aside their life to serve Him. Do not worry about becoming an extremist. That is a totally different issue. On our part, we should never make any provision for ourselves. We all should be absolute in our mind to suffer. Let me repeat: We do not have to suffer, but we all must have a mind to suffer. We must always be prepared to cast every care aside. We must cast aside not only our outward difficulties but should sacrifice our own health. If we love ourselves and are too afraid to give ourselves up, we will not accomplish much. We have to tell the Lord, "I am willing to consecrate everything. From now on, no suffering will stop me from serving You. This is my choice, no matter what the outcome, whether it is death, life, suffering, or joy!"
Brothers and sisters, only one thing is effective—a service that is faithful even unto death. The more we take this stand, the less Satan can do anything to us. He will have no place to flee. Those who love themselves are truly bound by themselves. A little pain and they are in constant tears and sighings. They love themselves too much! If we do not love ourselves, our tears and sighings will be gone. Brothers and sisters, we who are taking this way have to give up our very lives. If we want to take this way, we have to say to the Lord, "Your ordained way for me may or may not be a way of suffering, but I am ready to meet any sufferings." Forgive me for repeating this again and again. But we must realize that even though our suffering is limited, our mind to suffer should be unlimited. The actual amount of suffering which the Lord has measured to us may be limited, but our readiness for suffering should be unlimited. If our readiness for suffering is limited, it means that we do not have a mind to suffer. As soon as we put a limit on our readiness for suffering, we will not be able to get very far. This is a high demand, but this is what the Lord is after. Anything short of this will not qualify us for His service. We should not think that a mind to suffer is limited to just a little suffering. No, a mind to suffer has no limit; it is not even limited by death. Anything that comes short of this will not withstand any temptation from Satan. "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their soul-life even unto death" (Rev. 12:11). If our conscience does not condemn us, if we declare our testimony of victory in the face of Satan, and if we love not our soul-life even unto death, his assaults against us will be futile. He cannot deal with a person who does not seek to preserve his own life. We are familiar with the story of Job. Satan attacked Job because he scoffed at the idea that Job could possibly not have a desire to preserve his own life. He said to Jehovah, "Skin for skin! Indeed all that a man has he will give for the sake of his life. But stretch forth Your hand, and touch his bone and his flesh; and he will surely curse You to Your face" (Job 2:4-5). Satan knew that he could have a way with Job if Job had the slightest love for his own life. The passage in Revelation shows that Satan cannot do anything about those who do not love their soul-life even unto death.
This is where many of God's servants have failed. They love their own life. May I ask: Is the preservation of our lives more important or the preservation of the Lord's work more important? Is our life more important or is our responsibility more important? Is it the saving of souls that matters or is it the saving of our lives? Which is more important, our own life or the church of God? Is God's testimony on earth more important or is our own life? No one who indulges in self-love can serve God. Those who are suffering may not be qualified to serve God. Only those who have a mind to suffer, who have an unlimited capacity to suffer, who will not love their soul-life even unto death, can serve Him. Today we have to consecrate ourselves once again to the Lord. We do not consecrate ourselves to suffering, but we are ready to sacrifice everything. The Lord may not want us to give up our life, but we should have the conviction that we will love not our soul-life even unto death. Brothers and sisters, too many failures in the work have resulted from man's own laziness, self-protection, and self-preservation. We must not think that the eyes of the world are blind or that the eyes of the brothers and sisters are blind. When we set out for our work, others will see whether we are fully consecrated. If we hold something back for ourselves and if we take the compromising way, others will see it. Brothers and sisters, when the Lord calls us, He wants us to give up everything. May the Lord be gracious to us, and may none of us treasure ourselves or love our own soul-life. We have to learn to not love or pity ourselves. This is our way. If we do not take this way, our work will become very limited. The degree of our willingness to suffer determines the amount of spiritual work we will perform. If our mind to suffer is limited, our spiritual work will be limited, our blessing to others will be limited, and the result of our work will be limited as well. No other measurement of God's blessing is as accurate as our willingness to accept sufferings. If our mind has an unlimited capacity to suffer, we will know the boundless greatness of His blessing.