Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Expect Suffering

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Leslie Basham: Have you ever been persecuted for your faith? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says you can expect it.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: All—not just pastors, not just missionaries who go to third-world nations, but all, including those who live in affluent, suburban America—who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Monday, June 10, 2019.

How do you hold it all together when pressed under difficult circumstances? We’re about to look into God's Word and see how to focus on the Lord and His strength when nothing around you makes sense. Nancy is beginning part one in a series called, “Enduring Life’s Hardships.”

Nancy: Often I will sign letters to friends or to other Christian leaders that I may be writing to . . . At the end of the letter I will often sign: May the Lord keep you faithful in the race all the way to the finish line. I've written that many times over the years. It is my prayer and my desire for my friends, for my colleagues in Christian service. But I think I write it so often because it is my prayer and my longing for myself.

If there's one thing I want in this life, it's to be faithful all the way to the finish line. It’s one thing to sprint. It’s one thing to survive a hundred-yard dash. But to make it twenty-six-plus miles in a marathon, that takes something unusual.

Anybody can make it, by God’s grace, a short period of time in the Christian life. I’ve seen people sprint in the Christian life. I’ve seen people run really well for a short period of time. Up like a rocket, but then down like a rock. I’ve seen people falter and get out of the race and stop running and quit and give up and throw in the towel many, many times.

I have not seen many who end well. I’ve not seen many who are faithful all the way to the finish line, but I’ve seen some. I know it’s possible, and that is what I want to be true for myself. The older I get and the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I realize the importance of endurance and staying power in the Christian life.

I was with some friends last night for dinner and one of them said to me, “How can we pray for you?” People often ask me that. Last night I shared that as I’m involved in this ministry, there are many wonderful blessings associated with it. I am so thankful for those, but I often face the temptation to become discouraged; just to get weary in doing well. Just being transparent, I often face the temptation emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually sometimes to drop out of the race, to throw in the towel.

It’s those days when life is hard, and life is hard on many days. Some days the circumstances seem overwhelming. You have those days in your life. One of the biggest battles in my life is to ask the Lord to protect me from giving in to discouragement and wanting to quit.

I have several friends at any given time of life, and I do right now, who are going through some extremely trying circumstances—family issues, issues with children, with older parents, health issues, financial issues, ministry issues. In some cases, as I think over what these people are going through right now, their problems, their situation is not going to have a quick fix. It’s not going to be over anytime soon as far as anybody can tell. There's no light at the end of the tunnel.

For those people, as it is sometimes for all of us, it is tough to keep pressing on day after day after day after day when your eyes are so filled with tears you can hardly see to put the next foot in front of you, or you’re so exhausted.

Young moms. Remember  when your children were really little? Some of you are still there. You’re thinking, How many months can a woman survive with no sleep? You’re thinking, I love these children. I’m so thankful for the privilege of being a mother, but can I survive this? Can I keep going? Can I stay faithful in the race?

For the past several months, I’ve been meditating on the New Testament epistle of Second Timothy, the letter that the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith. The major theme of Second Timothy as I’ve been studying it this time is endurance. At least, that’s what’s been standing out to me. This theme of endurance.

Some of the things that the Lord has shown me from that passage have encouraged my heart. They’ve strengthened my heart in the midst of some challenges that I have faced in my personal life, in the ministry.

Over the next several days, I want to share some of those things with you. Just walking together through the book of Second Timothy and seeing what the Lord would have to say that would help us endure.

Now let me give you a little bit of background on Second Timothy. It was written in approximately 67 A.D., which falls right in the middle of the period of time that Nero, who was the Roman emperor at the time, was persecuting the Christians in a wide-spread sense. This is the first wide-scale, government-sponsored persecution of the church. Nero was considered by some to be insane, and he certainly had a hatred that he vented on the Christians.

The apostle Paul was writing this epistle from a prison in Rome. Paul spent, by the way, approximately one-quarter of his missionary career in prison. In a sense, aren’t we glad he did? That’s why we have books like Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Second Timothy. Those are books that were written from prison.

I was reading one writer, historian, about the whole subject of Roman imprisonment, what it was like. He said,

Roman imprisonment was preceded by being stripped naked and flogged—a humiliating, painful, and bloody ordeal. The bleeding wounds went untreated as prisoners sat in painful leg and wrist chains. Mutilated, blood-stained clothing was not replaced, even in the cold of winter. Most cells were dark. Unbearable cold, lack of water, cramped quarters, and sickening stench from few toilets made sleeping difficult and waking hours miserable.

When I read this kind of description, I suddenly feel a whole lot better about the worst situations I'm facing in my life. He goes on to say,

Because of the miserable conditions, many prisoners begged for a speedy death. Others simply committed suicide.

Now tradition has it and historians believe that Paul was probably at this point of his life in what was known as the Mamertine Prison in Rome. The Mamertine Prison was a massive network of dungeons under the city’s main sewer. It was an underground prison. It was generally used for high-profile prisoners who were awaiting execution.

It was know for its cramped, miserable conditions. It had city sewage running through it. In fact, I read in one account that when the population of the prison got too great, they would just flush the city sewage into the prison and just drown some of the prisoners so they could clear out some of the bodies and bring in more prisoners. Circumstances that are hard for us to fathom!

Condemned criminals would be lowered into this underground pit through a hole in the ground, and there was no way of escape. Most of the prisoners who went in there realized that they had no hope of ever coming out alive. The apostle Paul was considered a criminal by the Roman government, and he was treated like one.

People respond in different ways to those kinds of crisis situations. I read this past week about the Marquis de Sade, who was an eighteenth century, very perverted French philosopher in the era of Napoleon. He was in prison for twenty-nine years for promoting the vilest of pornography. He wrote a letter to his wife from prison, and here’s how he responded to his prison circumstance. He said,

When will my horrible situation cease? When in God’s name will I be let out of the tomb where I have been buried alive? There is nothing to equal the horror of my fate.

That was his response to his imprisonment, which was a just imprisonment.

I think about the apostle Paul in a tomb where he had been virtually buried alive, knowing that he was not going to get out, knowing that he was soon to die. In fact, he says in Second Timothy chapter 4, verse 6, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” He knew that his death was imminent. According to tradition, Paul was beheaded not long after he wrote Second Timothy, perhaps even just a period of weeks.

As you read Second Timothy, there is not a word of complaint, not a word that hints of discouragement, not a word that hints of fear. The tone is amazing. It’s encouraging. It’s joyful. It’s Christ-centered. It's even more amazing when you consider where Paul was and what he was enduring, what he was experiencing as he wrote this.

This is the last letter that the apostle Paul wrote that was inspired to be included in the Scripture. He wrote this letter to Timothy, hence the name of the epistle, Second Timothy. It was the second letter to Timothy. Timothy was his son in the faith, and he wrote to encourage Timothy.

Now keep in mind who’s the one who you would have thought needed encouragement? But the one who you would have thought needed to be desperately encouraged wrote a letter to encourage someone who was not in prison: Timothy, who was a young pastor in Ephesus.

Timothy’s name means “one who honors God.” He was a young man. He often struggled with a sense of inadequacy. He had seen what had happened to Paul. He had seen other believers who were being martyred and persecuted. This is Nero’s era remember. The Christians are being thrown to the lions. Timothy is aware of this, and in his own ministry, he had experienced opposition. Timothy was prone, as I so often am (I relate much more to Timothy than to Paul, by the way), to fear. He was prone to discouragement.

Paul writes from this hole in the ground under the city sewage system to say here’s how you can keep your head up. Here’s how you can be encouraged. As you read the book of Second Timothy, the theme that keeps coming out is: expect to suffer. Expect to suffer.

Now Paul talks about a great ending, and we’ll get to that in this series. In the meantime, life is hard. Paul says essentially remember that suffering is a necessary, normal part of the Christian life. So don’t be surprised by it. Expect it. It’s part of your calling. Not just if you’re a pastor or missionary, but if you’re a child of God. Expect it to be part of your calling.

Paul did not expect a trouble-free life, and he wasn’t disappointed. In Second Timothy we read the word “suffering” or “suffer” several times (six times). He talks in verse 8 of chapter 1 about being a prisoner.

In verse 16 of chapter 1 he talks about being bound in chains. He talks three times in chapter 3 about persecutions and being persecuted. He says in chapter 2, verse 3, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Expect it. That’s what’s going to happen. Share in suffering.

Then he says in chapter 3 (I’m just going to pick isolated verses and pull them together as we look at these different points) beginning in verse 1, “In the last days there will come times of difficulty.” Expect it.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (vv. 2–4)

Then as if that weren’t bad enough, Paul says, "Cheer up. It’s only going to get worse." Chapter 3, verse 13, he says,

Evil men and impostors [or charlatans] will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (NKJV)

You think it’s bad now, wait to see what’s going to happen. It will get worse and worse. Evil will not be contained and restrained until Christ comes back to establish His kingdom on this earth.

Now suffering, as we’ll see in the book of Second Timothy, comes in different packages. Paul talks about a number of different kinds of suffering and hardship that he experienced. Let me just touch on those, kind of highlighting them through the book here. First, he said that he suffered for believing and proclaiming the gospel. In chapter 2, verse 9, he talks about the gospel, “for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.” Preaching the gospel was a capital offense in the Roman empire in his day. Believing and preaching that Jesus is Lord.

He said we’ll be persecuted for godly living. Chapter 3, verse 12: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Did you notice that little word at the beginning of that verse? All. Not just pastors, not just missionaries who go to third-world nations or closed parts of the world, but all, including those who live in affluent, suburban America. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Then he says sometimes there’s persecution that relates to doctrinal issues. There was a lot of doctrinal error in Paul’s day as there is in ours. There were false teachers. He talks in chapter 2, verses 17 and 18, about two men that he names, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth and are upsetting the faith of some. They’re breeding confusion. These false teachers were a great heartache to Paul.

He talks in chapter 3, verses 6 and following about influential people who oppose the truth. He says they “creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions.” Verse 8: “These men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.”

As I read those verses and think about influencers who are opponents of the truth, I think about in our culture: entertainers, celebrities, popular TV programs, popular talk shows and even some religious speakers and authors whose books you can buy and read. Some of them are huge best sellers on occasion. Some of them are false teachers. They’re upsetting the faith of some. They’re confusing people. They’re disorienting people about their faith.

He says in chapter 4, verse 14, "Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm, for he strongly opposed our message." There are influencers who do harm to the servants of Christ because they oppose the truth and oppose the message. 

Then he says in chapter 4 beginning in verse 3—here’s another form of suffering related to doctrinal issues—the widespread lack of interest in sound preaching and teaching. He says, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”

Tell us what we want to hear. Make us feel good. Don’t talk about sin. Don’t talk about judgment. Don’t talk about hell. Just talk about grace. Let’s just love each other. Don’t talk about obedience. That’s too negative. Don’t bring up the law of God. That’s Old Testament.

People who will not endure sound teaching. They will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. That’s a form of suffering to someone who’s life is given up to the cause of proclaiming the truth of Christ.

There were other packages that suffering came in for Paul, not the least of which was loneliness and rejection. Friends, people that he trusted who deserted him, who forsook him, who were removed from his life.

Paul was living in an era when the political situation was extremely dangerous for those who were called Christians. In fact, “Christian” was a derogatory term. One of those Christ-followers. It was said with scorn. It was considered a shameful reproach. It was against the law to preach the gospel in many parts of the Roman world.

So as a result of seeing what had happened to Paul for preaching the gospel, virtually all his friends, his partners in ministry, had abandoned him. They were trying to save their own skin, afraid of what would happen to them. So Paul says in chapter 1, verse 15, all who were in Asia turned away from him. Talk about a lonely position.

Look at chapter 4, verses 9–11. He says to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me.” Loneliness. Rejection. Look at verse 16 in that same chapter 4. “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.”

Then in addition to the loneliness, Paul references the fact that we just have the suffering that comes from dealing with our own flesh. Chapter 2, verse 22, he says, “Flee also youthful lusts” (NKJV). I think that’s talking not just about illicit, sexual desires, but other kinds of lust. Lust for power. The lust of pride. The lust of desire for possessions.

The issues of the corruption of our own flesh that we struggle with. We realize there are areas of our life that are not like Christ. We see ourselves act like shrews sometimes and we think, Where did that come from? Why am I acting this way? There’s that battle between the spirit and the flesh. That’s a form of suffering that takes place in the heart of a child of God.

Well, there are other forms that suffering takes. I was talking with a woman the other day who was going through a lot of major family issues. Her husband has some huge health issues, and there are a lot of relational issues in her family that have been going on for a long time. She’s a mom. She’s a grandmom. She’s a wife. In each of those roles, she is suffering.

Some of it is life on a fallen planet. Some of it is a result of people's sinful choices. But forget all the reasons, she's still in the middle of all of it right now.

She said something I thought was interesting as I was working on this series at the time. “I always since I was a little girl, tried to do what was right.” She’s basically saying I’ve always been a compliant, good girl. She has known about the Lord and has, as far as I know, walked with Him. Then she said, “I would have thought that I would have been spared this kind of stuff.”

Now, most of us wouldn’t say that out loud, but are you ever tempted to think that? I mean, What did I do to deserve this? How did I get here? Why is this happening to me? Our theology tells us a lot of answers to that, but sometimes just in our emotions we wonder. These people who are just ignoring the Lord and they’re blaspheming Him and they’re rejecting the truth, their lives seem so trouble-free by comparison. I would have thought I’d be spared this kind of stuff.

Well, you may be facing that in your marriage, in the workplace, as a single woman, perhaps wondering how you’re going to endure in terms of provision for yourself. Thinking about approaching old age. Thinking about dealing with elderly parents. So many situations in life that squeeze us. I want to just say if you’re a child of God, you’re not exempt.

Paul says to Timothy to expect to suffer. Remember that suffering is a necessary, normal part of the Christian life. Don’t be surprised by it. Expect it. We need it. We may not suffer in the same ways that Paul did, but if you are a child of God, you are called to suffer.

Now that doesn’t sound like very good news, but there is good news coming. In the rest of this series, we want to talk about how we can endure sufferings and how God can be glorified as we endure.

Let's pray. Lord, even in this moment I want to lift up those who are listening who are in the middle of a marathon. It's a long-distance race. It's a long haul. They can't see the finish line in sight, but they know it is a long ways off. They are buried right now in situations and circumstances that are beyond their control that are just hard.

I pray Lord that You would use Your Word to strengthen and encourage their hearts to give them hope, to give them perspective, to energize and strengthen and enable them. Lord, my prayer for myself, and my prayer for these women is that we would be faithful in the race all the way to the finish line, by Your grace. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Leslie: What an important topic. Each of us is dealing with something in our lives that we wish we different. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been helping us understand how to endure for God’s glory. She’ll be right back to pray.

If you’re deep in the trenches and looking for purpose to your suffering, we want to offer you a resource that will help you endure with hope. It’s a brand-new book by the late Elisabeth Elliot called Suffering Is Never for Nothing. Here’s an example of what you’ll find in her book: “Whatever is in the cup that God is offering to me, whether it be pain and sorrow and suffering and grief, I’m willing to take it because I trust Him.”

We’d love to send you Elisabeth Elliot’s book, Suffering Is Never for Nothing, as our way of saying “thanks” when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com for details on how to give. Or ask for Elisabeth’s book on suffering when you call with your gift. The number is 1–800–569–5959.

It’s a lot easier to endure when you understand why you’re suffering. The apostle Paul helps us understand the purpose of suffering, and Nancy will explain more tomorrow. I hope you can be back.

Now, here's Nancy to pray.

Nancy: Lord, I thank You for the beauty, the wonder, and the power of Your Word, and how it counsels our hearts in life's most difficult circumstances. I want to pray for our listeners and anyone who may be at this moment experiencing some particularly difficult hardship. Would You encourage them and strengthen them and sustain them through the power of the truth of Your Word. We pray it in Jesus' name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is reminding you of the strength and hope found in Jesus. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless othewise noted.

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