In college, my friend Jon Roebuck was selected to be a semester missionary in Hawaii. Specifically, he was to serve on the island of Oahu, on Waikiki Beach - which prompted all of us to accuse him of suffering for Jesus on the sands of Waikiki. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
I never got to suffer for Jesus in Hawaii. God sent me instead to places like Wauchula, Finchville, Louisville, and Sumter – not exactly places of glamor and exotic intrigue. I suffered through a few church business meetings, but on the whole, my suffering has been pretty light. Most of my time in these places has been air-conditioning and indoor plumbing.
To tell the truth, I never liked suffering that much. I do know people who believe you have to be miserable to follow Jesus, and they are. They are so convinced of the necessity of suffering that they try to make you suffer as well. Usually five minutes of conversation with these folks fills your quota of suffering for the month.
I try not to whine to our Heavenly Father, but sometimes I do want to complain. Why did my trailer have a flat tire on a hot day in July? Why did my friend get called to pastor that big church and not me? Why can a skinny man eat a gallon of ice cream and not gain a pound, but if I smell a potato chip, I add five pounds?
There is a large group of Christians who believe they are suffering persecution for our faith in this country. I’m not too sure about that. After all, we are still able to gather freely to worship and to pray. Starbucks eliminating “Merry Christmas” from our coffee cups is not suffering. Maybe Jesus followers don’t get their way politically as much as we used to, but Jesus is probably okay with that. He never put much stock in political power anyway.
American Jesus followers are not very good at suffering. People have told me they will no longer attend our church unless: a) We start singing songs they like; b) I follow their ideas about what church should be like; c) We accept doctrine taught by the famous TV Evangelist of their choice; or d) All of the above. Once, we had thunderstorms move through on a Sunday morning and I was called by an irate church member who wanted to know why we were having church when the weather was so bad. However, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and earthquakes couldn’t keep her away from a Clemson ballgame.
I read these words not too long ago: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed (1 Peter 3:14a).” There is a blessing in suffering for what is right. I look at a verse like that and I wonder if my faith is strong enough to suffer for what is right.
It was not that long ago that churches in the South actually voted on whether or not to admit African-Americans to worship services. More often than not, the vote was no. There were always people, however, who stood up for what was right and voted “yes.” They suffered. They lost friends. Family members would not speak to them. Pastors lost their jobs. People left organized Christianity with the bitter taste of hypocrisy in their mouths.
I know a man who was offered a shady business deal involving a bribe to a government official. He turned it down. He believed Jesus meant it when he said: “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” He suffered financially. A competitor got the job and made a ton of money and nearly ran my relative out of business. Honesty often carries the price tag of suffering.
There are people in this world who do suffer for their faith. Ask a Christian in Muslim culture if they suffer. Ask the Christian business man in India who is shut out of government permits if he suffers. Ask the woman who heard a missionary talk about Jesus and believed, and then her husband killed her – oops, you can’t ask her, because she died for her faith. I have a feeling none of these people were worried about the music at church or what TV preacher to believe. Their faith was precious to them.
Have the courage to do right. Even if you suffer, there is a blessing. The blessing is more than a clear conscience. The blessing is hearing your Heavenly Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”