Suffering becomes so much more urgent and meaningful when it gets personal. When the things we’ve only heard about in the lives of others enter through the door of our home and takes up residence under our roof, it becomes real. We feel it. We cringe. We cry. We react to it. We fight it. We pray for it to leave. We pray for strength. We trust Christ in its midst. The one thing we don’t do is ignore it and pretend all is ok.
Suffering has hit our family, our spiritual family. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are being killed because they follow Jesus. Though we have never met them, we know them because they follow the same Master we do. They’re family. The ones killed in Mosul because they were associated with Jesus, the Nazarene, are our family. Those killed in Nigeria around the holidays are our family. The 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt beheaded in Libya are our family. The 150 believers kidnapped in Syria this week are our family. The missionary abducted in Nigeria is our sister.
Proximity doesn’t lessen suffering, and it shouldn’t lessen its impact on us. Though thousands of miles away, the persecution is rampant. How much more urgent would we feel the suffering if it were our children, siblings, parents, spouses, or ourselves who were being tortured or killed for the faith? If ground zero for Christian persecution was our own community and neighborhood, instead of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, or Nigeria, how much more would we feel it? For the sake of those who are suffering, let’s make a concentrated effort to feel it. Let’s put ourselves in their place so that we might “remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3). Here's how we can remember them:
Pray for them
Pray for their safety and deliverance from evil people and evil acts.
Pray for them to love their enemies.
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:44)
Pray for them to have the spirit of Christ by forgiving.
But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Pray for their faith to remain strong, and pray that their faith would translate into belief in their persecutors as they see their faith and the way they endure suffering.
When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said,
“Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)
Dream about their future
Those martyred for the sake of the gospel will one day gather to worship the Lamb in fullness of joy and with special recognition.
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they,
and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones
who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood
of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:13-14)
Increase our own resolve
Let our faith be encouraged and spurred on by the faith of our brothers and sisters who are enduring intense suffering for the sake of the name.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone
to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being
accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
We were created to work. It’s in our nature. Down deep in our bones we feel the compulsion to create and produce and make and do. It’s there because God put it there. Way back at the beginning of time, when God created the heavens and the earth and then people, he put them in the garden “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). God put it there because He was making us in his image, and his image is one of creating, producing, making, and doing. Work honors God.
But this design to work can sometimes lead us into territory that is not ours to work in. There is work that is given to us to do, but there is work that is reserved for God alone to do. Our trouble comes when we venture into the realm of God’s work by trying to help out where we can’t help out. Our compulsion to contribute can actually be devastating to our own spiritual growth.
We see this compulsion in an apt representative for us as believers—Peter. The scene is a high mountain. The cast of characters includes Jesus, Peter, James, and John, along with cameos by Moses and Elijah. Our main characters ascend the mountain, and Jesus becomes transfigured before them. His clothes become “radiant and exceedingly white” and Moses and Elijah show up to talk with Jesus. This is when we see our beloved Peter try to help.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. (Mark 9:5-6)
Don’t get me wrong—I like Peter. I like him a lot. I like him because he was often decisive and led out in word or action even when he wasn’t sure what he was saying or what was about to happen next. I like him because I think he represents many of us—the only difference being that he actually said or acted out what we are afraid or unwilling to do or admit.
Here Peter represents our impulse to help. This was a good situation. It was good for them to be there. He wanted to do something to help keep it going. Maybe he wanted to prolong the meeting by having a place for them to rest in between conversations. Maybe he wanted to help protect them because he sensed the weather would change soon. He just knew that he wanted to help. But what happened next was a reminder of how misguided our compulsion to help can be.
Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7)
This is not a give and take relationship that God makes with us. God doesn’t give us Jesus and expect us to spring to action making a tabernacle for him. God doesn’t save us by grace and then leave it up to us to stay saved by works (Gal. 3:3). The gospel is a gift, not a loan (John 3:16; Rom. 6:23). We have been set free, not to be enslaved again (Gal. 5:1). We must be careful to fight against the impulse to help God. His desire for us is not to live with a “do for” mentality but a “listen to” mentality. We grow as we glory in the God of our salvation, not by helping, since He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything (Acts 17:25), but by hearing his word. So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:17) Be a man or woman who is quick to listen and lean in to the words of Christ.