Oswald Chambers said, “In the history of the Christian church, the tendency has been to avoid being identified with the sufferings of Jesus Christ. People have sought to carry out God’s orders through a shortcut of their own.”
By contrast, when believers endure suffering joyfully and with a bedrock faith, it becomes a marvelous testimony to the power and life of Christ that we claim and name. Suffering provides key opportunities to manifest and magnify the power of God through His servants in order to verify and confirm the messenger and his or her message. It provides opportunities to reveal our credentials as ambassadors of Christ.
Believers who live in relative freedom and safety must shoulder the responsibility to pray for and support the material needs of suffering Christians. Praying for those who are suffering is a privilege and duty of all believers as well as an important part of our worship to God. Worship is the intentional act of offering our lives to Christ daily, not just during the Sunday morning service. In many places throughout the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ quite literally put their lives on the line every day.
I am grateful for divinely called men and women who plant the seed of the gospel in some of the hardest spiritual harvest fields around the world. I think of a pastor and family brutally attacked in one community where they have proclaimed Christ as Savior for many years. I recall an Easter bombing in Pakistan that took the lives of believers unashamed to live out their testimonies in such a challenging environment. The suffering Church around the world truly is salt and light.
To be salt and light requires the Church’s continued presence. New Life Church (AG) in Baghdad, Iraq, is strategically serving needy Christian families as well as Muslims in refugee camps and temporary shelters around the city, representing Christ in a very tangible way to those seeking asylum in the city as the nation responds to ISIS’ invasions and attacks. The Assemblies of God churches in Niger have weathered attacks by Muslim radicals, with a number of churches and pastors’ homes burned down. They continue to be a God-empowered presence in their nation.
Within the American Christian paradigm, we run the risk of being so influenced by trends and fads that we forget the message of Hebrews 11. We read the part of the chapter about the victories and miraculous deliverances, but we put aside the part describing those who endured great suffering. We fail to recognize that the ultimate victory of the people mentioned in the chapter is their strength to not only live for their faith, but also to die for their faith. They had victory over self and all the things that would cause them to shrink back.
America continues to experience a shift in societal attitudes away from Christian convictions and beliefs. Believers who have spoken out against same-sex marriage risk public condemnation. Islam can be taught in school as a cultural issue, but Bible classes are prohibited. Evangelical colleges are coming under fire and told to admit homosexual students. God is giving the American church a wake-up call regarding the suffering believers in other countries regularly endure.
Suffering, then, can serve to draw together the worldwide body of Christ. Our theology on certain issues may differ, but we have all come by way of the Cross. When believers are suffering, we are called to pray that God would come alongside them and help them stand for their faith. Believers worldwide share a common bond in the Body of Christ. We must bear one another up as we stand for Christ and His salvation.