Evangelistic Suffering

Excerpt from "The Fellowship of The Suffering"

Have you ever seen a book on evangelistic suffering? We know plenty of why books on suffering and
some theological treatises on “how God could let this happen,” but nothing on “how to use your suffering for the sake of the kingdom.” Perhaps the book is out there, but it certainly has never become a bestseller!

I (Paul) was thinking of this as I sat recently at the diabetic clinic waiting for my quarterly appointment. I thought about how God has used this disease to put me in touch as a witness with all sorts of people who I’d otherwise never have met—from my Jewish doctor, who is fascinated by our missionary travels, to other diabetics struggling with depression as they seek to manage the disease.

The Bible is full of stories of God using suffering for his purposes. Joseph’s suffering in Egypt as a slave and then a prisoner was used to save the twelve tribes of Israel. Esther endured hardship and risked her life for the preservation of God’s people. Daniel and his three friends suffered at the hands of Babylonian and Medo-Persian kings so they could point these pagans to the one true God. The apostles valued their suffering because it helped them to identify with Jesus and put them (as witnesses) before kings, rulers, and influential leaders.

When we encounter hardship, if God doesn’t answer our first prayer (which is always, “God, please take away the pain”), then we can pray, “Okay then, Lord, please use the pain for your purposes. Put me into ministry with others who need to know your comfort.” For example, “I wish I had a job, but use me this week in the unemployment line.” “I pray for a relief of my loneliness, but use me to reach out to people lonelier than me.” “I’m praying that you’ll heal this cancer, but if you don’t, please use me this week at my chemotherapy treatment.”

Jesus provides the ultimate example of evangelistic suffering. Though he wanted to be relieved of facing the cross, he nonetheless prayed, “Not my will, but yours, O God. Use my pain. Use my suffering. I release myself—and my suffering—to you.”

*Taken from The Fellowship of the Suffering by Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Copyright (c) 2018 by
Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.www.ivpress.com

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  • Engaging the Suffering of Others

    As we commit to continually engaging our personal suffering—which is a lifelong process—we become best prepared to engage the suffering of our neighbors. Because every person is different and has their own unique story of suffering, every person should be engaged in a personal way, not through a one- size-fits-all formula.Thus, to engage with others’ suffering lovingly and wisely, we must approach others with gentleness, sensitivity, patience, and steadfastness. Moreover, we must be attentive to the tender stirrings of the Holy Spirit, who will always be our most trusted guide as we seek to come alongside our hurting neighbors. Keeping all these indispensable postures of sharing pain in mind, we offer the following
    as ways to best engage the suffering of those around us.

    *Taken fromThe Fellowship of the Suffering by Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Copyright (c) 2018 by
    Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.www.ivpress.com

  • Another tension we commonly hear people express concerns the challenge of trying to obey both Jesus’ Second Great Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and Jesus’ Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). While our intentions to share our faith with others may be nothing other than loving, those we share our faith with probably do not always interpret it that way. Thus we must seriously consider: Are our efforts at evangelism really loving if others do not perceive them as such? To better feel the weight of this tension, think of the last time someone from another faith or religious sect tried to convince you that their belief system was right or better than yours. How loved did you feel in that exchange?

    Total confession: When I (Dave) am having a great day with my family or friends, and I see Mormon missionaries approaching me on the street or knocking on doors in the neighborhood, my first reaction is total annoyance. Can’t they just leave us alone! I think. And then my annoyance typically turns into total avoidance. “Quick, let’s cross the street before they make eye contact with us!” “Shut off the lights, and stay away from the windows so they don’t know we’re here!” Although there are many times when I’m eager to engage in interfaith dialogue, when my day is going well, the last thing I want is to be bothered by someone’s attempt to proselytize me.

    Our personal experiences of being “evangelized” must cause us to honestly examine if our faith-sharing efforts as Christians are perceived and received any differently. While we’d like to optimistically hope so, we can’t be so sure. Thus, if we must share our faith with others as we are commanded by Christ, we must also consider how we can do it in a way that will be received by others more as a loving gift and less as a frustrating interference. This tension is not something we or anyone else can fully resolve, but it is something we must nevertheless enter into.

    We’d like to posit a way forward for how the church, as a fellowship of the suffering, can better share our faith, so our actions and words may be best received by others as a real act of love. Our contention is this: sharing pain earns permission for sharing faith. Here’s what we mean. When we invest our lives deeply enough with our non-Christian family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, that they feel safe enough to express their pain and hardship with us, often we will be invited to share our faith with them. Perhaps this is what the apostle Peter envisioned when he said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Let us offer you an example of this dynamic at work.

    Recently, we heard the story of a young Christian couple (we’ll call them Adam and Lindsey) who had become great friends with another couple who lived down the street (Max and Tara). The two couples often hung out together and became close enough to even take a vacation out West together. While Adam and Lindsey never hid the fact that they were Christians from Max and Tara, they never brought the subject up in any kind of confrontational or awkward way. A year or so into their friendship, Tara’s mom suddenly developed cancer and passed away within a few months of her initial diagnosis. Tara and Max were devastated. And so were Adam and Lindsey.

    Instead of trying to offer an explanation as to why this happened to Tara’s mom, Adam and Lindsey just loved this grieving couple like they would like to be loved if the roles were reversed. They brought flowers and tokens of condolence, and sat mournfully alongside Tara and Max. They dropped off meals and even planned fun outings to try to help Tara and Max take their minds off this sad reality, even if it were only for a couple hours at a time. Then, after a few months, Tara asked Adam and Lindsey if they would pray for her and her family. While this took Adam and Lindsey by surprise, they gladly agreed to do so. Several weeks later, Tara asked Adam about how his faith helped him through some of the tough times he had experienced in life (which he had shared with Max and Tara before). Thus, without having to try to wedge the uncomfortable topic of faith forcefully into a conversation with this grieving couple, Adam and Lindsey’s sacrificial love and support, and vulnerability about their own heartache, opened the way for them to be invited to graciously talk about their Christian faith. Because Adam and Lindsey shared their friends’ pain, they were invited to share the reasons for the hope they had in Christ.

    Sharing pain earns permission for sharing faith.

    We believe this story of Adam and Lindsey’s genuine, agenda-free friendship with Max and Tara, and their patient, gentle, and loving response to Tara’s loss is a powerful example of how believers can be ready and willing to “make disciples,” while doing so in a way that is welcomed. 

    Yes, there undoubtedly are times when Christians must talk about their faith without being explicitly asked. But perhaps pain sharing like this is a different means by which the church, as a fellowship of the suffering, can more lovingly extend the invitation to experience fellowship with Christ to our neighbors both near and far, at home and at work. We believe this approach to faith sharing through pain bearing is demonstrated powerfully in the life of Christ and the writings of the apostle Paul.

    *Taken from The Fellowship of the Suffering by Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Copyright (c)
    2018 by Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove,

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