by Laurie-Ann Copple
Last time we discovered that we grow well when we learn to read the Bible (by reading it for ourselves devotionally as well as learning about the history and cultures of biblical times). The Holy Spirit speaks to us through scripture that seems to jump off the page to us, just as if it’s a personal message, and we may also hear his voice at times when we remember various scripture passages just when we need them. Often personalized scripture verses are like promises to us in hard times, and in times of suffering.
We shouldn’t fear difficult times, although there is a temptation to ask Jesus to just take pain away from our lives. When I lived in north Toronto, I used to be part of a church with a strong healing prayer ministry. I also studied counseling at Tyndale Seminary and I integrated what I learned in school with the practical ministry I did at the church. Many times people approached us with deep emotional wounds and difficulties. Some wanted the pain to go away without dealing with the issues that were causing the pain – they didn’t want to deal with the root cause. In a sense, they wanted a ‘band-aid’ for the pain, and not emotional/spiritual heart surgery done gently by the Holy Spirit through prayer. While ministry team members are not counselors, sometimes the Holy Spirit jump starts a process that goes on in a pastoral or counseling office, if the person is willing to ‘go’ where the Holy Spirit is leading them. The important thing is that God is WITH them in the midst of suffering, and through the journey together, they are healed and grow. I have had many occurrences of this phenomenon in my own life, and this has taught me to not run away in the midst of pain or difficulty, but to continue to walk forward with Jesus’ help.
The same growth can happen through illness – which I have witnessed while volunteering in an oncology ward, and in the growth of a close friend while he has lived with failed hip surgeries. I have begged God many times to heal my friend so that he can get on with his life in serving God. He has struggled over seven years and will likely continue until after healing from yet another surgery. Once as I prayed for him, I sensed that God was using this time to deepen spiritual maturity and wisdom into his life. I know that God uses him to minister to others, based on the scripture 2 Cor. 1: 3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” My friend is does that through an online support group for people dealing with the same disease that he is working through.
Others experience their difficulties in other ways, including persecution due to their faith in Jesus. Throughout the world, there are persecuted Christians. More Christians died of martyrdom and persecution in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined (including the infamous Roman practice of throwing believers to starved lions). Persecution in the 21st century is escalating. I have seen some of this in the Somali community within Kenya and in my work with Pakistani Christians. In North America, this trend may be limited to name calling and political correctness in trying to silence the Christian voice of conscience in our society, but it too is getting worse.
Christians have become targets, similar to how Jewish people have been persecuted through the ages. How can people deal with this strife? When I was on a prayer journey mission in Northern Ireland, I once asked my Christian landlady about the marvelous godly quality of some of the Christians I had met in Belfast – they had a deep, sweet character and every aspect of them reminded me of Jesus. I wanted this quality and told her so. She sighed and then smiled. “There is only one way to grow in this part of your faith.” I asked, “more absolute surrender?” She replied, “No, by suffering.” That hit ‘home’, although I did not fully understand what she meant other than that difficulties refine our character as we trust God in difficult circumstances.
I again saw this quality in the Christian people of Shantinagar, a small village in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Until the past few years. Punjab has been the most stable Pakistani province with the exception of an occasional flare up of persecution. In 1997, there was a massive wave of persecution perpetrated by hundreds of angry Muslims. They attacked the churches, schools, hospitals, businesses and homes of Shantinagar based on a rumour that a Qu’ran had been desecrated (it was actually a Bible that was destroyed). These villagers were left with very little – even the children’s school uniforms and books had been destroyed. Ministries came to help and the village was re-built. Life continued on.
When I visited in December 2007, I enjoyed deeply sweet hospitality. I felt loved, honoured and blessed. I was able to share with them a message I developed specifically for them – about God’s call to them as servants. They knew they were sons and daughters in their faith, and they had confidence in who they were in Christ. But they were also servants– with the same attitude and love that Jesus displayed in Phil. 2: 5-11. This wasn’t any ordinary service to others. It was something incredibly deep and confirmed to these dear Christians that their forgiveness and humility was a witness to Jesus. Everything that they did and will do for Jesus is a great treasure because of their attitudes, countenance and character. I would like to go back to this place – to teach but also to learn from them. They had truly learned how to grow spiritually – so deeply that Jesus shone from every aspect of their lives. One of their secrets was to trust God in all circumstances. We are encouraged by Proverbs to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths”(Prov. 3:5-6). May we continue to trust Him who is faithful and will never leave us.
Next time I will share on how we can grow through worship.
Yours in Christ, Laurie-Ann Copple
Laurie-Ann is based in Ottawa, Ontario and may be available for mission trips and speaking tours.