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Missionary, You Suffer for a Reason

Most Christian missionaries I know suffer in silence from a range of personal and spiritual issues. The weight of the conflict that rages in their hearts threatens to crush their ministry, family, and faith. They oftentimes cannot see Christ at work and simply want the emotional pain to subside.

Missionaries are often unprepared to address the intensity of their suffering and this may threaten their ministry. Mack Stiles said, “Most missionary training teaches more about internet security than about a gospel view of suffering!” Jesus and the Apostle Paul regularly promised we would suffer in our service to the Lord. It should not surprise us when it happens. If missionaries could better understand why they suffer, they may be better prepared to endure.

Our Benefit
The sanctification process brings us closer to Christ and makes us more like Him (Phil 3:10). Suffering turns us into the Christians we need to be to accomplish God’s will. Our trials will never impact us beyond our ability to endure them and God will provide us with the capacity to endure and the aptitude to escape (1 Cor 10:13). John Calvin said, “You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.”

Our suffering is good for us (Ps. 119:71), blesses us (James 1:12), makes us more holy (Heb. 12:10) and prepares us for glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Enduring trials makes us stronger and helps us to long more deeply for God. John Piper assures us, “This is God's universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world.”

God’s Glory
It is sad how in recent years the words sacrifice, martyr, and submission have become less popular and considered more extreme in our churches. This has resulted in a generation of Christians who are more concerned about their safety and comfort than they are about God’s glory. Missionary Hudson Taylor said, “For our Master’s sake, may He make us willing to do or suffer all His will.”

When we suffer and lean harder into our Father it brings Him glory (Rom. 6:4). While we are not to be reckless and seek out danger we are to understand our pain and even death can bring God great glory (John 11:1-4). We are to rejoice in our trials bringing God glory (1 Pet. 4:12-13). How fortunate to experience suffering that results in God’s glory, pain that expands God’s name, and persecution that points toward heaven. God’s love for us is deeper than any love we have ever known. The comfort and joy this provides us should defeat all our fears and pain.

Beginning and End
Every disciple of Christ is a soldier (2 Tim. 2:3-4). Missionaries, you are on the frontline of the battlefield. We should expect nothing less than spiritual attacks. When we read through Scripture we find two very important points about how Christ’s disciples will suffer: 1) We will be persecuted, and 2) There will be an end to that persecution.

All who desire to follow Christ will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). When following Christ, we have been told that in this world we will suffer (Phil. 1:29) and receive tribulation (John 16:33). Dietrich Bonhoeffer told us, “A Christian is someone who shares the sufferings of God in the world.” Everything in Scripture is clear that in this life following Christ will result in more pain, not less.

We are also promised our suffering will come to an end. God will deliver us from all of our afflictions (Ps. 34:19). Our painful lives will become peaceful (Heb. 12:11) and eventually death, pain and tears will be a thing of the past (Rev. 21:4). C.S. Lewis assured us, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”

Rejoice
A flippant or callous response to suffering is dangerous. Scripture tells us how to respond to our suffering. Disciples are called to rejoice in our suffering (Rom. 5:3-5), be joyful in our trials (James 1:2-4), and count ourselves blessed in our persecution (Matt. 5:10). We were never promised lack of pain or suffering, only the unwavering knowledge that the Creator of the universe loves us.

How sad for a Christian to live such a life that Satan feels no need to interfere. We have an enemy who is actively trying to stop the advancement of Christianity. Missionaries should expect spiritual attacks. Marin Luther said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” If it is my pleasure or my anguish that brings God glory I pray it is more abundant in my life.

God created us, breathed life into us, and purposed us for his glory. The grace and mercy He gives warrants our love and obedience. Jesus Christ endured an inconceivable persecution and death to pay for our sins. In response, we should boldly proclaim His greatness to all nations

Advancing the kingdom of God is a great privilege. However, our missionaries are paying an added toll due to their proximity to the frontline. Pray for them often. Remind them you appreciate their sacrifice. Missionaries, when you suffer, lean into God. Trust in His sovereignty and pray you are part of His will.

Mike Pettengill has served with MTW in Honduras and Equatorial Guinea. He is now the director of MTW’s West Coast office.

Mike Pettengill, Reflection Apr 12, 2016
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