Saturday, January 17, 2015

Suffering In the Believer and the Church's Response, by Lisa Dubois

Our dear friend and sister in Christ Lisa Dubois died on Tuesday, August 16. She was 48. At age 21 she was hit with cancer - Hodgkin's lymphoma. She lived 27 years with this cancer, having many treatments, going in and out of remission, and finally, around 2004, refusing any medical treatment and trusting in God. 

But Lisa lived as if she did not have cancer. People who met or hung around Lisa would not necessarily know of her struggle. This cancer, for Lisa, was an unwanted enemy, and she refused to acknowledge that it had any power or influence over her. Her excellent physician at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Dr. Henry, told Lisa and her husband Marty that she lived way beyond what would normally be expected of someone with untreated stage 4 cancer.

Before Lisa died I asked her to put together thoughts we've talked about on faith and suffering. Here is her essay. Thank you Lisa for writing this! Linda and I and many in our Redeemer family have rarely seen such trust, faith, hope, and joy in the midst of suffering. We are, and remain, deeply inspired and encouraged by Christ in Lisa, the hope of glory.

By Lisa Dubois

I have observed, in my own experience in the body of Christ, as believers in Jesus and students of the Holy Bible, that we understand suffering to be part of our Christian walk. There are many scriptures that point to this. Some include:

1. Christ was made perfect through suffering.

  • Heb 2:10 - In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
2. Suffering disgrace made the disciples counted as “worthy.”

  • Acts 5:41 - The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
  • 2 Thess. 1:5 - All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.
3. Suffering produces perseverance, character and hope.

  • Rom. 5:3-5 - Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
4. Painful trials should not surprise Believers…

  • I Pet 4:12 - Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
5. Sharing in His sufferings is part of being a child of God.

  • Rom 8: 17-18 - Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
  • 2 Cor 1:5 - For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
6. A believer’s suffering may be for the benefit of others.

  • 2 Cor 1: 6-7 - If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
  • Eph 3:13 - I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
7. Our response to participating in Christ’s sufferings is to rejoice.

  • I Pet 4:13 - But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
8. God’s glory is revealed in our suffering.

  • 2 Cor. 4:6 - 2 Cor.5:7
9. Paul wanted to “fellowship” in Christ’s sufferings even becoming like Him in death.

  • Phil 3:10 - I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
Christ’s sufferings were not limited to those of persecution. He suffered betrayal, rejection, loneliness, fear, physical pain, grief, loss, hunger, lack of sleep, all manner of temptations, etc. As believers, and as humans, we suffer many of these things as well.

Our suffering may originate from different sources than those of Christ’s sufferings. For example, betrayal may come to a believer through the unfaithfulness of a spouse. Rejection may come from a parent who disowns their child. Physical pain may come from a disease brought on by demons or an injury.

In my own personal experience, I give over all my sufferings/circumstances to Him. I desire to “fellowship” with Him in my sufferings. I seek first His possible greater purpose for my current suffering. (Romans 8:28-29: And, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.) Is the Lord wanting to conform me to the likeness of Christ as in Roman’s 8:29 above? If He does not appear to be in my current sufferings, then I am the first to be rid of them! But my initial response to any suffering is: to submit it to the Lord.

As part of the greater body of Christ, it appears to me that most Christians’ first response to an individual’s suffering is to “pray away the suffering.” That is, to rebuke devils, to pray for immediate physical healing, to pray for persecuting bosses to cease or new jobs to be found, to pray for grief to lift, or for sadness to leave, etc. As the body of Christ, are we praying against the Lord’s will in some of these circumstances— perhaps against His “timing?” Think of the person who has been prayed for countless times and the Lord has not healed them of their grief or despair or physical pain. What does this cause them to believe? Perhaps, as a result, they feel more isolated and lonely. They may feel there is something really wrong with them. They may even begin to feel rejected by God. When we have an expectation that God does not want any suffering to linger in our lives, we may be setting people up for further harm.

How wonderful for me it has been to have fellow believers to come along side me in my own sufferings and walk with me in the perseverance of the faith, encouraging me with hope and comforting me in pain—without an expectation of immediate release or showing impatience with the lack of progress.

Many years ago several lady friends and I spent much time together praying for our troubled marital relationships. Each of us was “suffering.” We spent time being with one another, encouraging one another, shaping (“perfecting”) ourselves in Christ, etc. We have all come out of it stronger in faith and as believers. I wonder what faith would look like, what the greater body of Christ would look like, if we applied a more moderate, patient, enduring, long - suffering approach to individual believer’s sufferings? I do think this does happen actually—but what seems most applauded and celebrated are the quick heals, the quick fixes--when God comes down and rocks our world with what only He can do.

I am not against God doing wonderful, miraculous, instant healings. I just think that, at times, it can be over-emphasized to the neglect of those whose sufferings are of the “long” suffering nature. It seems to me that there are many, many individuals in this category. What does the greater body, the Church of Christ, provide for them? Some believers will seek out their own support network. But I fear that other believers, perhaps younger ones, are left to feel isolated, rejected, lonely and perhaps defective. I have been seeking the Lord about what maybe He would have me do in this situation and I do hope He gives me an answer.

- Lisa Dubois