The late Christian theologian and philosopher, Francis Schaeffer predicted in the 1970s that the culture of these United States was heading toward the embrace of those “two terrible values of personal peace and affluence.” While Dr. Schaeffer had many things in mind, I don’t think he fully envisioned how these “values” might adversely affect the modern Christian’s view of suffering and its necessity to working for the kingdom of God.
As most of you know, BridgeBuilders has been in a season of scarcity and fierce spiritual opposition. While many of our stakeholders have rallied to support this mission and given sacrificially, some have wondered if our “troubles” were a sign that God is no longer “blessing” the ministry or perhaps we must be doing something wrong and thus have invited God’s displeasure. While it is true that there have been successful Christian ministries whose demise was preceded by outright sin; it is equally true, if not more so, that the most faithful Christians and their ministries throughout history have suffered severe setbacks and frequent opposition. Many have ended in martyrdom—hardly a “successful” end to any ministry. And yes, BridgeBuilders has been perilously close to the “end” many times before throughout its 24-year history. I don’t know of a faithful ministry that hasn’t!
Frankly, after seventeen years of vocational ministry, it is those periods of prosperity that cause me the greatest concern. Because, I suspect that what is true for me is also true for you: it is in the crucible—where I am weakest and without resources—that I draw closest to the Lord and that has certainly been the case this past year for me and everyone on our staff. In the economy of God, this is precisely how he calls his children to do kingdom work. There is hardly person called to serve the Lord in all of Scripture who did not suffer severely both in preparation for and throughout their service.
To the Christian, the cross is not a symbol of defeat but rather the symbol of victory; Jesus’ victory over the powers of sin and death! It is precisely and only through the cross: the sacrificial death of Jesus that the power of sin is defeated and his rule and reign on earth, as it is in heaven, was inaugurated! To follow Jesus is to follow him to and through the cross.
In the same way that Jesus established his kingdom through his own suffering and death, we likewise are called to die daily to ourselves; our comforts, our quest for personal peace—to seek first the rule and reign of the Messiah who is setting right all that sin has set wrong.
We work for the coming of the kingdom in precisely the same way that Jesus did. Except, we give up our worldly power to become weak, to be considered foolish. We relinquish all of our rights. We willingly sacrifice our own comfort for others including our enemies. We abandon our will to his, knowing that our very lives are no longer our own. The is the upside-down radical reality of the kingdom and what it means to follow Jesus.
The world employs power in a way that “seems right” in order to get things done in this world but Jesus calls us to different way in which we are required to give up this power. Recall Matthew, chapter 20 when Jesus rebukes the disciples who were arguing over who would have the best seats of power in the kingdom: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (vv. 20-28).
It is this truth that prompted the Apostle Peter to write, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory” (1 Peter 4:12-13). To suffer scarcity, deprivation and trials isn’t “strange” in the economy and service of God, in fact just the opposite; it is the pattern for Christian living given to us by our Lord Jesus at the cross! In dying, Jesus brought forth new creation and thus we too are enjoined in this same “dying to bring forth new creation” life. The kingdom doesn’t come through our “victories,” it comes through our being poured out; our suffering; our trials, and yes, sometimes by what appears to the world to be our defeat!
Martin Luther, who knew something about trials and opposition wrote, “Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefields besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” The battle is raging, and by God’s grace, may we all endeavor to remain steadfast!