As a young believer, I was instilled with a doctrine that invariably taught suffering was virtually not a part of the Christian experience. An aspect of this teaching was that if suffering is occurring then you should pray to have it immediately alleviated.
With this prevalent thought in my mind, I have been confronted time and time again with scriptures such as in Acts 16 where Paul suffered for his faith.
In this passage, Paul and Silas were in Macedonia. It was expressly due to God’s will. In fact he had tried traveling to another region but had been restricted by the Spirit. Upon arriving in Macedonia, a powerful ministry experience soon turned sour, as Paul and Silas were accosted by a crowd due to having performed an exorcism on a fortune-teller. Things quickly worsened as the authorities arrive and order Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten with wooden rods.
Let’s pause to consider what has just happened. A mob of at least several hundred are thronging them, while dealing heavy blows on their naked body. How horrible this experience must have been. Surely Paul and Silas should have been praying for God to deliver them from this experience. I can only imagine how discouraged they would have been when instead of God issuing their deliverance order, they found themselves thrown into the deepest dungeon of the most secure jail cell.
At this point if I were in their shoes I would have questioned whether I was in the will of God. This may have crossed their minds as well. So often when things don’t go our way in our modern day Christianity, many immediately correlate that with the devil, human decision or some other factor.
Questioning the will of God is just one thought that typically comes to mind. Another is that of God’s presence in the immediate situation. Some that I know who encounter great trials of their faith feel like God, has completely abandoned them. Quite possibly Paul and Silas felt the same way. Keep in mind at this moment they would be literally half-dead. Their bodies would be bleeding profusely, suffering from their hemorrhaging wounds and countless pulsating hematomas. To make matters worse they were locked, hands and feet in stocks unable to tend to their wounds, except for the present rats who may have been attending them. Where was their God who they believed had led them to evangelize in Macedonia? Did he not care? Had he forsaken them? Did he even really exist? These thoughts may be just some of the questions that realistically they would have to deal with in their minds.
In trying to explain Paul and Silas’ suffering, some limit this kind of suffering to particular callings. They say, Jesus specifically assigned a ministry of suffering to Paul, “the martyr calling”, and confirms this with the scripture in Acts 16:9. Only a small percentage of believers are called to suffer like this, while.
Yet, we see another scripture where Paul enjoins all believers to suffer for Christ just as he has:
You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—but the Lord rescued me from all of it. Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:11-12)
Here Paul clearly associates suffering with the normal Christian experience. Leaving it a necessity for the astute believer to wrestle with the possibility of God ordained tribulation in their Christian walk just as Paul did.
Paul and Silas did wrestle with suffering, and we should learn from their approach. For while in their deepest darkest moments of affliction they cried out to God. Their prayers could have been cries for salvation, deliverance, but more likely it was akin to the prayers of the three Hebrew boys in Daniel who acknowledge God’s power to deliver, but didn’t demand it (Daniel 3:17-18). Paul and Silas simply praised the God of heaven, despite their situation. Eventually they were delivered in a powerful way, and God restored all they had lost, and much more, granting their jailer salvation to boot. The positive experiences at the end of the narrative would surely have helped to ease the pain of their trial and sufferings.
At the end of this blog, I still am unable to fathom the depths of suffering these men, and many others in certain parts of the world experience for their Christian faith. I am keenly aware for many, such as Stephen (Acts 8) the story is not quite positive, and often ends in physical death. Suffering, even unto death, is a scriptural precedent, and a reality that some, maybe even I, will have to consider.
My prayer for you and I is that God will strengthen our faith to seek him, in the good and bad times, not questioning but persevering through – regardless of the outcome.
– Pastor Olu Jegede