Sick or Simply “Suffering for Christ”?

In my travels throughout the Christian world and throughout cyberspace I have discovered some disturbing philosophies concerning true Christianity and what it means to suffer for the Lord. It is the idea that physical disease and handicaps are part of Christ’s sufferings in which His followers are called to participate. But what does the Bible say about suffering?

The Old Testament book of Job is frequently mentioned when it comes to the idea of physical pain and suffering. If you read the first two chapters very carefully, it is evident that while God allowed Job to suffer, it was Satan who afflicted him with sickness, and it was a works-based mentality based on fear that opened the door. In the first chapter, we see that Job was worried about his children, so he sacrificed for them continually, thinking “What if they cursed God in their hearts?”

Does such thinking fall under the category of “serving God,” or did Job have a problem with his thought life?

“But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.” (Matthew 6:23) The vast majority of us have physical eyes with which to see, but I believe the eye can also refer to the imagination.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

What does it mean to be pure in heart? Well, what do you imagine God to be like?

Job was worried about his children. Was he trusting God with them? What kind of God did he think he was serving?

“Lord, I knew thee, that thou art a hard man,” the servant told his Master in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:24). If this is our attitude toward God, then we will live in fear, not faith. Now, if you want to call that “suffering,” then fine. But is it really suffering for the Lord? In the talent parable, the servant feared his master, but not in a good way. Instead of using his talent for good, he hid it. Did the Master reward him? No. He took the talent from him and gave it to the ones who used their talents. They were men of faith, not fear.

Were they better than Job? No. According to Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

If Job could have been justified by works, then it seems he would have been.

“Hast thou considered my servant Job?” God asked Satan. “… there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” Job 1:8

If anyone could have made it to heaven by their works, it probably would have been Job. But if he fell under the category of “all have sinned,” then he obviously had some deeper heart issues that disqualified him.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Christians are immune to suffering. While sickness can help us understand what suffering is like, I wouldn’t call it “suffering for the Lord.” I believe sickness is part of the curse that causes death and which came upon man as a result of the fall. Sin, whether outward or inward, is what invites Satan to attack us.

But by the stripes of Jesus we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

 

Sickness: a Crutch, not a Cross

I don’t know about you, but it’s easier for me to serve Jesus when I’m well. When I’m sick, depressed, or down-in-the-dumps, I don’t have energy to do anything for Him. Contrary to what some may teach, sickness is not a cross. At least, it was never my cross. It was my crutch. Much as I hated being sick, I loved the sympathy. When I was sick, no one expected me to be strong or do exploits. They expected me to take my meds and rest in bed.

When I was in first grade, I was very short and very shy. The teachers were mean and school was traumatic. I hated it so much, I would use any excuse to avoid going. Sickness was a great excuse. I got sick to protect myself, not to glorify God.

That’s why, when I see people equate “suffering with Christ” to being sick, it makes me want to gag. It certainly wasn’t the case with me. Besides, it isn’t Biblical. The lame man healed in Acts chapter 3 is a case in point. The way he walked and leapt and praised God drew an awesome crowd. Then Peter gave a sermon and about five thousand men get saved. Was it “suffering for God by being sick” that persuaded them to trust in Jesus? No, it was a miracle, done in Jesus’ name. Did it involve suffering? Well, any time you tell someone they’re healed in Jesus’ name, you take the risk of being wrong. To do it, I’m sure Peter and John had to die to themselves. Peter had to “take up his cross” by yielding to the Holy Spirit, who gave him words to speak to heal the crippled man. Afterwards, they both suffered persecution for preaching through Jesus the resurrection of the dead.

There are many instances throughout the book of Acts where the apostles and those associated with them suffered persecution for the Word. After all, not everybody likes a healing, or any other type of miracle for that matter. Those sorts of things are too convicting. They get people saved.

Once I began to grasp the truth about God’s healing power, I stopped getting sick so much. When it comes to believing God, I’m making progress. Granted, I don’t always have perfect faith for healing. But I know that when the perfect comes – the “perfect” being Jesus when He comes back for his church – that what is imperfect will pass away, for He makes all things new.

Faith Versus Feelings

Many times, in Christian circles I have heard it said that believers are to walk by faith and not by feelings. But I have noticed that when Christians feel bad or are experiencing depression, they often do follow their feelings – straight to the doctor’s office. They want meds to make them feel better so that they can enjoy life and resist the constant urge to kill themselves. Others, who were born with a dose of overconfidence and optimism may also end up running to the doctor – not to make them feel better but to help them get some rest. They desire drugs to balance their overexcited nerves and bring peace to their souls.

“I know I’m supposed to walk by faith, Doctor, not by feelings. So please, you have to fix my feelings so I can walk by faith.”

The question is, what does Jesus think of this idea? Can you imagine Him sending his disciples to a doctor when they were upset?

“I’m afraid you’ve got a little problem with manic-depression, Peter, jumping out the boat one moment, confident that you can walk on water. The next moment, you’re in a panic, crying out for me to save you as you sink beneath the waves. You need some meds to even out your mood swings!”

Feelings change. They’re like waves of the sea – up one moment, down the next. That’s why Christians shouldn’t live by their feelings. But does that mean we shouldn’t have them?

Many of us have felt God’s presence. We have experienced His touch. Our emotions have been stirred through worship. When we read His Word, it stirs our hearts to action. If you know you should step out in faith but your heart’s not in it, should you look to natural means to fix your feelings?

Or should you seek the LORD with all your heart and believe the promise in Jeremiah 29:13?