What do we do with suffering? Now, I suspect, in fact, I’m almost certain that for many of you, this is not merely an intellectual pursuit. The last two years have presented pastors all over the world with challenges and heartaches that this generation has never experienced. And yet, here we are, as Paul says, “afflicted, but not crushed, struck down, but not destroyed.” God is faithful. As we come to the end of this conference, my prayer for you is that through this talk, you would be reminded of God’s good and sovereign control over your churches, over your ministries, and even your very lives, so that you would return to your pulpits comforted and strengthened to minister well, to the sheep that God has entrusted to your care.
Now, if we are going to make any sense of suffering, or disease, or hostility, or even pastoral trials of various kinds, then we must not only understand the gospel of God, but the God of the gospel. And Scripture tells us that the God of the gospel is the creator of all things. He is the king of the universe whose power is immeasurable, whose wisdom unfathomable, and whose purpose is unstoppable. His counsel will always stand. He is a king, who will not share His glory with anything or anyone, “for from him, and through him and to him, are all things” (Romans 11:36). This God has graciously revealed himself to us that we may truly know him. And while we can truly know him when considering his sovereign power, one of the things that we need to tell our small puny minds is that we cannot know him as he knows himself, we cannot know him exhaustively. So Job says in Job 26:14, “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways. And how small a whisper, do we hear of him, but the thunder of his power, who can understand.” We have been given access to this God in one spirit, through the saving work of Jesus Christ, so that we with daring confidence, can call upon him as Father.
On May 4 1856, Charles Spurgeon got behind his pulpit, and he said these words, “There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of divine sovereignty.” And this is why when we think about suffering in ministry, we would be at a great loss, if we did not think deeply about the sovereignty of God. I want to remind you that the good news of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection for the salvation of sinners is only possible because of a sovereign God who wills suffering for the good of his children and for His glory. Think with me, if he did not ordain every event in redemptive history, leading up to the cross, leading up to the suffering and death of his own son, we would not be Christians. And therefore, even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances, we can know that our Father in heaven ordains all our trials, and he rules over them. And he intends them, for our sanctification, and for His glory. This is important to know, because when pastors face trials, our minds tend to drift towards very dark places, instead of going to Jesus, instead of going to Him in His Word. These are places, thoughts and emotions that can lead us to despair, and not to our Saviour.
Now, I know in India that power cuts are quite common. But sometimes you lose electricity because a fuse blows. Suffering tends to have that effect on our thinking. When suffering comes, a fuse blows, and even the godliest pastor begins to struggle. We struggle because we have forgotten important truths about God that can sustain us under the load. Your pain, your wounds, your financial struggles, and your stresses all happen in a world that is under your Father’s sovereign rule. The sovereignty of God is the supremacy and the kingship of God. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and unchanging. His kingdom is overall. There is nothing outside his sovereign control and rule. What gives you the right to do what you do, to preach the gospel, to disciple members, to counsel the hurting? It’s not your degree, it’s not your caste, it’s not even your citizenship, it’s not even the government who gives you permission. No, you and I do what we do, because of the one who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
You and I labour under the authority of the Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever you may suffer, you suffer as a soldier and servant of Christ. And just as he heard the groaning of the Israelites in Egypt, he hears you, he hears your cries, he hears your groans. To suffer means to bear under something. Therefore, the one who suffers is the subject of some painful, distressing or even injurious experience. Suffering can be very broad. And the Bible often uses words like sorrow and grief to describe the state of the one who suffers. And any pastor who has not experienced sorrow or grief has not really shepherded in his flock at all. In the next few articles, I want to talk about three things. Number one, the causes of suffering. Number two, the purpose of suffering in the life of a pastor. And number three, how we ought to respond to our trials.
This article is the first one of the five-part article series of the transcript of Session 3 preached by Brother Anand Samuel in the AIPC 2021 Online Conference held on Sep 17-19, 2021. Please click here to view the sermon.