EARLEY: Have you ever suffered for the Gospel of Christ?

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup of suffering from me!  Yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42),” Jesus prayed to God in anguish.  In vs. 44 Luke describes Jesus’ sweat being like blood.  What do you suppose Jesus was praying about?  Was Jesus uncertain of God’s will?  Was he scared of something?  Was He being tempted by satan again?  Would His death reveal God’s eternal truth of the gospel of love?  For love He would willingly choose to suffer, endure the unendurable.

I think his struggle was over whether his death, at this point in his preaching mission, would accomplish God’s plan.  Would his death at this time reveal the very eternal truth that the gospel of love is more powerful than all the powers of evil and hell?  He wasn’t going to lay down his life for another person, but for every person.  Was this the time?  Had he healed enough, taught enough, loved enough?  If he chose to suffer and die for everyone, would anyone understand?

He left the Garden of Gethsemane strengthened by prayer to let God’s will be done, as he never lifted a finger in his own defense.  Thank God those first disciples understood!  Thank God they understood that because of Jesus’ suffering and death, we have life in the midst of pain and struggle!  We are people full of hope and the assurance that God’s love is more powerful than any evil.

I thank God that none of us is likely to have to give up our life on this earth to keep our faith in Jesus Christ as long as we live in the United States.  Such a sacrifice has already been made for us, not only by Jesus, but by the thousands of Christian martyrs who have given their lives, in the past and today, to help build up the church.  Their witness shows us that God may call us to suffer with, or for another person, or to continue to reveal the eternal truth of the gospel of love.

Whenever I think of Christians willing to suffer with and for others, I remember two experiences that truly help me understand the full meaning of suffering for others.  The first happened many years ago.  It began with the tragic events that occurred to Mildred.  She and her husband had a wonderful life together – traveling, evenings with friends, they loved their church, and hoping their recently married daughter would have kids soon.  No one ever fully understood what was behind her actions, but this beautiful, caring 35-year-old daughter committed suicide.  Three weeks later Mildred’s husband died of a heart attack, probably brought on by the suicide of their daughter.  In two weeks Mildred was expecting to celebrate another wedding anniversary and Christmas.

What do you say to Mildred in such a situation?  There is very little one can say, “I’m sorry, I will be praying for you,” and then listen.  Be willing to listen and bear the pain with her.  And that is what Bobbie did, for over a year, almost every week.  She listened, and cried with Mildred, and gave her prayers and strength for the slow process of putting life back into her life.  Without Bobbie, Mildred is uncertain whether she ever would have recuperated from such loss.  Because Bobbie was willing to give of herself, Mildred lives a happy life today.

The other event is connected with my prayers for a number of missionary friends who share the Gospel in Muslim countries.  Though we are safe in this country, it is believed that there are more Christian martyrs today than at any other time in Christian history.  This was brought home for me when I watched the movie “The End of the Spear.”  It is the moving account of missionaries who gave their lives to change the lives of others in the name of Jesus Christ.  It has forever changed the way I pray for my missionary friends.  I strongly encourage you to see this movie.  And if you don’t have missionaries you pray for, help your church adopt some.

Is God calling you to make a sacrifice for someone else?  What holds you back?  Does making sacrifices teach us about Jesus’ crucifixion?  To choose to walk the way of suffering may be a lonely, painful, or scary choice.  We may pray, “God please take this cup of suffering from me!”  With Christ as our guide and friend, may we have the faith to trust in God and continue to pray, “Not my will, but thy will be done, O God.”

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, see www.lagrangepres.org.