One of the great evils I have seen is when a man earns great wealth through hard work and sacrifice (that is not the evil part yet!), and then he has children (still not evil yet!), and as the children grow up, they inherit all the father’s wealth without ever having to develop a work ethic (bingo – that is the evil part!). I know that as a dad myself, I have worked hard to get where I am, and would love for my son to have better than I had growing up. But I cannot forget what got me to where I am – hard work, and I cannot deprive my son of learning this blessing.
I have this friend who is very wealthy. He was raised in LA (Lower Alabama) – probably somewhere near Forrest Gump. His daddy always made him work. They were not rich, and so if they wanted something, they had to work for it! As my friend grew up, he became a very successful musician. He now lives in a neighborhood where all of his neighbors have their lawns mowed. Every weekend, these little trucks drive up with all of their mowers, edgers, and other miscellaneous machinery, and after a few pops and spins the lawns are all done and spotless – except my friend’s lawn. He can still hear his daddy’s words, “Son! Get off your butt! We got work to do – and yer burnin’ daylight! And If you think somebody else is going to do it for you then they’ll also take yer money!”
Death by sweat as he remembers it. So every weekend, my friend mows his half-acre of lawn – just he and his son. They save money, but even more important, his son learns a work ethic. His neighbors think they are strange. While my friend and his son call this rewarding work, other people would call this undue suffering. “Why suffer when you can have someone else do it?”
Suffering is not a welcomed idea in this society. Counseling and psychotherapy has grown exponentially over the past few decades as we try to alleviate our pain and suffering. In most weight rooms, there is this poster which says: “Strength = stress x reps” (the more we lift weights in repetition, the more we build our strength.). Yet, somewhere, we have gotten it in our heads that work = suffering, and suffering = evil, which must be avoided at all cost. Even as Christians, we would much rather focus on the promise of God rather than the suffering of God. Suffering is just for missionaries, right? I don’t know, one of my former students is a missionary in Fiji. She “suffers” daily from over exposure to the beach, the weather, and the people she and her family lead to Jesus. No, suffering is not just for missionaries….
The Bible has some things to say about all of this. Jesus Himself said,
“If the world hates you, you should realize that it hated me before you.” – John 15:18
This world, run by the evil one makes no bones about it – It hates Jesus – it has since Satan was banished. So, Satan’s goal is to make it as difficult as possible for Christ followers. Jesus goes on to say,
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
So, in spite of the suffering, we WILL overcome (Thank you Jesus!). We have a promise. God has given us a promise, but He also has a will for us.
Here is where the confusion comes in…perhaps I can clarify. The promise of God is not the will of God! The promise is for inspiration. The will is for doing. You can only do His will, you cannot do His promise. But again, people get confused. If we subject His promise to our will, we will birth an Ishmael. Isn’t that what happened with Abraham? He was given a promise, and after a promise is given, we are to act in such a way as to align ourselves with that promise. Abraham messed up. He received the promise, and didn’t act in line with that promise. He birthed an Ishmael. The world has suffered ever since.
We all birth Ishmaels. Some are greater than others, and some last longer than others. Lesson learned: Good motives do not justify bad actions.
Is this scriptural, or am I just pulling your leg? Well, let’s consult scripture:
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” – Hebrews 10:36
That journey between the promise given and the promise received is called process, also known as God’s will. That is where we line up with the promise given. There are no shortcuts to a promise, only willful obedience to His will. This process invokes suffering – the suffering Jesus talked about in John. Doing God’s will inevitably causes suffering, so the question is will we suffer successfully? Jesus said something interesting:
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” – John 4:34
Notice how doing God’s will is associated with work?
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in (not for) our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3–4
The goal of Christianity is not to live pain-free; it is to become Christ-like. Jesus did not avoid pain.
Everybody wants to be led by the spirit until we sense where the Spirit is leading us(to do God’s will) – then we bail trying to find spiritual heroin. In actuality, Pain is not our enemy; it is only proof that one exists.
Even Jesus did not sidestep pain or the process of doing His Father’s will:
“Even though Jesus was the Son of God, he learned obedience by what he suffered.” –Hebrews 5:8