This is Part 1 of 2 parts answering the question, “Are you prepared for future suffering that God may allow?” in the larger question, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?”
Is anyone ready for the suffering that God allows? It seems as though we’re never really prepared for its presence in our lives, but keeping our eyes on the Lor helps us to endure. We can become “bitter or better,” depending on our response to trials. There are two categories of suffering that we need to consider – that which will happen on earth before death, but for those who reject the Lord Jesus, eternal suffering. Should I really bring up that last concept? Does that sound distasteful? But then, why sugarcoat the truth? Let me speak the truth in gracious, merciful love.
Prepare for Suffering During This Life
Just as Job did not know when the sky would fall on his family and business, so no one of us knows when the next bout of trials will begin or how long it will endure. The best way to prepare is to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ. All Christians seeking after His kingdom and His righteousness will share in His suffering, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil. 3:10 NKJ)
Peter helps us understand how we should be good soldiers of the Lord Jesus. He wrote,
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Pet. 4:1-2 NKJ)
The word “arm” means to be equipped, as when a soldier puts on his armament and carries his sword or spear. It is a word from which we get the word hoplite, which was an infantry soldier in the Roman Army. The apostle Peter observed them as they practiced their maneuvers. One hundred hoplite soldiers, called a cohort, were under the command of a centurion soldier. These 100 soldiers stood on line facing the enemy in three ranks, each holding a spear and shield. They wore breast plates to protect their chest, and sandals to give themselves good footing on the battlefield. Their simple helmets protected their heads from the thrust of the spear and arrows from the enemy archers. On command, each rank would move forward and protect their nine foot square of ground for himself and the soldier standing next to him. If a soldier fell, then the rest of the soldiers “closed ranks” so the line would remain solid.
What a marvelous principle for Christians who need to arm themselves with the Lord Jesus by taking on the battle armament of the Word of God and fight next to other believers against the forces of evil to win soldiers to Christ and disciple them unto godliness! It reveals that we are redeemed together and will minister together for the sake of the kingdom. The Lord Jesus won the war on the cross, therefore we fight from His victory in order to achieve spiritual victories during this earthly life.
One of the best ways to prepare for suffering is to help those who are already going through it, such as those with disabilities. In a similar fashion as the hoplite soldiers, Christians ought to come alongside, encourage, support and assist brothers and sisters and encourage them to continue with the spiritual conflict and not give up. Every believer is important in the battle! In her tremendously encouraging disability ministry, Joni Eareckson Tada writes,
So disability is ministry. It is not an off-to-the-side, nice ministry to pitiable, poor unfortunates who need help. Rather, disability ministry is an up-front, in-your-face demonstration of these valuable lessons. It is a means of show casing redemption to everyone, helping them learn how to respond to their own afflictions as well as helping them understand God’s motives in their suffering.1
How can you prepare for suffering? Because affliction can seize your life in a multitude of different ways, it is not possible to relate to everyone else’s hardships. However, if you get involved with disabled persons, it will soften your heart for whatever will come your way in the future.
1Joni Eareckson Tada, “Redeeming Suffering,” Why, O God. (Wheaton, Crossways, 2011), p. 20.
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.