Voluntary & Involuntary Suffering

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…

Philippians 3:10

If we want to know the power of the resurrection of Christ then we must chose to participate in His sufferings. This means that to the extent that we are willing to voluntarily suffer, is the extent to which we’ll operate in power and authority in that area of our life. This is a Kingdom principle.

When we empathize with and serve people, we will often find ourselves suffering with them in different ways. This is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we fast and contend in prayer for a breakthrough, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we sacrifice for others, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we stand for truth in the face of people mocking and slandering us, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we participate in the sufferings of Christ in this way, we will find that our ministry and our prayers will carry more resurrection power with them.

It’s not that we are “paying the price” for greater power. It’s that Jesus already paid the price on the cross so that sons and daughters of the Kingdom would be able to operate in greater resurrection power. Romans 8:11 says, “…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” Jesus already paid the price, so our job is to identify with Him in His sufferings. The result is resurrection power.

Voluntary suffering is different than involuntary suffering. In this world full of sin and brokenness, we will automatically face involuntary suffering (accidents, illnesses, financial issues, relational issues, hardship, etc). Involuntary suffering is useful too but just in a different way. While voluntary suffering produces power, involuntary suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

James put the same idea this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

So one way to look at it is that while voluntary suffering empowers the gifts of the Spirit, involuntary suffering (handled well) empowers the fruit of the Spirit. Voluntary suffering God uses to make us more effective. Involuntary suffering God uses to make us more solid.

My Portion

But to the tribe of Levi he gave no inheritance, since the food offerings presented to the Lord, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as he promised them…

This is the inheritance Moses had given when he was in the plains of Moab across the Jordan east of Jericho. But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them.

Joshua 13:14 & 32-33

On the one hand, the Levites and priests were provided for by the offerings of the rest of the people of Israel. They were to eat certain portions of certain animal and grain offerings. They wouldn’t have land to raise animals or to farm produce so they would be completely dependent on the offerings of the people.

Yet, in another sense, their inheritance wasn’t just the offerings of the people but the Lord Himself. So their dependency wasn’t primarily on the people but on God Himself to provide. This is how the Lord said it to Aaron when He first set up the priestly system this way:

Then the Lord said to Aaron, “I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion, your perpetual share. You are to have the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire. From all the gifts they bring me as most holy offerings, whether grain or sin or guilt offerings, that part belongs to you and your sons.

Numbers 18:8-9

What God was saying is not only would the priests and Levites have a portion of the sacrifices, but that God himself was their portion. God would take what was given to Him and give it to them. This is what the Psalmists meant when they declared that God is their portion.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5-6

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25-26

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
  my portion in the land of the living.”

Psalm 142:5

These Psalmists weren’t necessarily priests talking about God’s provision. They were lovers of God crying out to Him about wanting Him above all other things. Beyond what God could give them, these worshipers wanted God Himself. They were more interested in intimacy with the Lord than His provision. Nearness to Him was their primary inheritance.

As followers of Jesus, how much more is this true for us. 1 Peter 2:9 says that followers of Jesus are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” Beyond God’s provision for us–which He does have for us–we are invited to see intimacy with God as our inheritance. He is our portion. The greatest gift we’ve been given is the gift of Himself, God with us, Immanuel, Christ in you the hope of glory, the Holy Spirit.

Let us not be so focused on God’s provision and the tangible inheritance He has for us in His Kingdom that we miss the truth that He is our portion. Nearness and intimacy with Him is the greatest gift we’ve been given.

Father, we cry out the words of Moses, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here“(Exodus 33:15). We stand in agreement with the Psalmists and declare, “you alone are my portion!

The Five-fold King

Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

Joshua 10:5

The Amorite king of Jerusalem heard what Joshua and Israel did to Jericho and Ai and that they made a treaty with Gibeon. So he gathered the five Amorite kings together in order to attack the people of Gibeon. Because of the treaty, the people of Gibeon sent word to Joshua and asked him for help. Joshua showed up with the Israelite army and defeated the armies of the five Amorite kings.

Joshua then chased down the five kings and held them in a cave until the fighting was over. Then this happened:

Then Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five trees, and they were left hanging on the trees until evening.

At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks…

Joshua 10:26-27

Let that scene sink in for a second. Each king was hung on a tree, buried in a cave, and then stones were placed in mouth of the cave. This scene is a foreshadowing of Christ’s death and burial. This is a typology of Jesus. Jesus, the King of Kings, was hung on a tree, buried in a cave/tomb, and had a stone rolled in front of it.

Not only that, but these kings are put to death by Joshua. Jesus’s name in Hebrew was Joshua (Yeshua). This creates a beautiful juxtaposition with what Jesus did for us. Instead of putting to death the five kings, our Joshua (Jesus) became the five kings for us. He was hung on a tree and buried in cave for us.

When the Lord showed me this I was blown away. Then I asked the Lord, “But why five? What do the five kings represent?” The Lord spoke very clearly to me and told me to look at the five sacrifices in Leviticus. When I went back to research this, I was astounded.

The Five Offerings of Leviticus:

1. The Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1): This was the offering that was completely consumed on the fire. None of it would remain to eat. It was an offering that signaled the complete devotion of the person offering it. The purpose of the sacrifice was atonement. Jesus gave all of himself becoming our burnt offering. He made atonement for us and secured our covenant with God.

2. The Grain Offering (Leviticus 2): This was the offering of breads and cakes. It was a voluntary offering just as the burnt offering was. No yeast was allowed in the breads that were offered. Jesus is the Bread of Life, the manna from heaven, offered in our place. He is the unleavened bread–the perfectly sinless sacrifice. Part of the offering was on the altar and the other part was consumed by priests. Likewise, we consume the body of Christ and take Him into ourselves as the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

3. The Fellowship Offering/Peace Offering (Leviticus 3): This offering was either a lamb or goat and it was the fat portion of that animal. These offerings were called fellowship offerings because they were given by those who were at peace with God in order to express their gratitude. This offering was also a voluntary offering. Jesus voluntarily became the offering that made us at peace with God. He is the one who reconnected us to the Father. Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

4. The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4): The sin offering was a offering of the fat portions of an animal in order to cover unintentinal sins or sins committed unconsciously. This offering was mandatory. This offering was meant to address our sin nature, not just particular individual sins. Jesus became our sin offering. Jesus became sin in order to set us free from our sin nature and give us a new, redeemed nature. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

5. The Guilt Offering (Leviticus 5): The guilt offering was meant to make restitution for individual wrongs done. It was mandatory like the sin offering. It was a way to sort of pay God back for the sin committed. Jesus became our guilt offering, taking all of our guilt upon himself and wiping away the guilt in our lives. Hebrews 10:22 says, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

So the death of these five Amorite kings not only reaches back to Leviticus but reaches forward to foreshadow the ways in which Jesus’s death on the cross would have at least five layers of meaning for us. Jesus became the fivefold King who gave Himself as a fivefold sacrifice. All of this so that we could enter our inheritance, our Promised Land, both now and into eternity. Thank you Jesus!

Ask the Lord

..when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”

…The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them…

Joshua 9:3-6, 14-15

This story is a great example of why it is so important to hear from the Lord. The people of Gibeon knew Joshua would never make a treaty with them if he knew they were neighbors in the Promised Land. But, if Joshua thought they were from a distant country, he might make a peace treaty with them. And he did.

Their ruse worked! Joshua had to keep his word not to kill the people of Gibeon. The ruse worked because Joshua and the people of God used their physical eyes instead of their spiritual eyes to try to discern the truth about the situation. In order to have eyes to see and ears to hear, we need to check in with God and hear from Him. We need to see what He sees and hear what He hears.

As the Lord told the prophet Samuel about David:

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

We need to listen for the voice of the Lord, hear the voice of the Lord, and obey the voice of the Lord. Without the ability to hear from God for ourselves, we are blinded by what our eyes see in front of us. We must develop the discipline and practice of first inquiring of the Lord. We have to posture our lives in such a way that we are in continual listening mode to the Holy Spirit.

If you don’t feel like you know how to hear from the Lord, this sermon is one place you can start. If you want a couple books to help you become better at hearing the Lord, try this one and this one.

Repeat

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land…

So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Don’t go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So when we flee from them, you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand.

Joshua 8:1, 3-7

If you’ve been defeated or damaged in one area of your life, God’s strategy for healing is often to allow you to enter into an identical replication of the scenario that was hurtful. For Israel, they were defeated by Ai the first time because of their own sin. Now that the sin was dealt with, God’s strategy for their victory was to have the second attack look identical to the first.

Joshua will advance against the city, then when the armies of Ai come out to meet them, they will flee just as they did the first time. Only this time, Israel has an ambush waiting west of the city. When the men of Ai pursue part of Israel’s army, the other part will sweep into the unprotected city and the Lord will give them the victory.

God often sets us up with identical scenarios as a way to bring freedom and healing to our hearts. If we hold on to unforgiveness, judgment, and bitterness toward those who have hurt us, we should expect to find ourselves cycling through situations over and over again that resemble the situation that was so hurtful. Forgiveness and releasing judgment is the only way to break the cycle.

For example, if your father hurt you by being domineering and angry, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in job situations where your male boss is that way. If you are a woman, don’t be surprised if you marry someone that eventually starts acting that way. And if you’re a man, don’t be surprised if you have moments where you notice that you’re just like your dad.

Or, if your mother hurt you by being manipulative and controlling, don’t be surprised if friendships are damaged later in life because of control and manipulation. If you are a man, don’t be surprised if you notice similarities between your wife and your mother. And if you’re a woman, don’t be surprised if you have moments where you noticed that you’re acting just like your mom.

The point is that the enemy wants these cycles to continue as a way to perpetuate the hurt and damage. But God allows these cycles to continue until you get your heart healed through forgiveness and by releasing the judgments that you’ve made against the person who hurt you. This biblical principle is a combination of (1) the measure we use being used against us and (2) reaping what we sow.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Luke 6:37-38

When we judge people who’ve sinned against us, we don’t allow God to be the Just Judge. And so, in many ways, we are the one trying to punish the person through our resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness. And unless we release that and forgive, the measure we have been using against them will be used against us.

If we measure with grace and forgiveness, that’s what we’ll receive. The cycle will be broken. But if we measure with judgment and resentment, we’ll find ourselves caught in cycle that we can’t seem to get out of. The apostle Paul references this cycle this way:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

Galatians 6:7-9

If we sow forgiveness, we’ll reap a life of grace. If we sow bitterness, judgment and unforgiveness, we should expect to encounter the situation that hurt us over and over again in different people and in different spheres of our life.

Jesus died on the cross to take all of the consequences of sowing sin upon Himself. But we must apply the forgiveness He’s given us to the people who’ve sinned against us. We must abandon the role of judge and jury, handing out judgment to those who’ve hurt us, and instead let Jesus be our Just Judge and theirs.

When we do this, we ambush the hurtful scenario with love, grace and forgiveness. This is how the Lord heals our hearts and brings us victory. We don’t have to live in these perpetual cycles. What Jesus did on the cross is more than sufficient to break these patterns in our life.

Is there an area of your life where you are reaping the consequences of your own judgments against people? Is there a cycle that keeps repeating itself, especially in regard to cycles you saw in your family growing up? It might be time to ambush that cycle with forgiveness and grace, releasing the judgment and receiving God’s grace. You were meant to live in freedom!

Here is a prayer you can pray to get free:

Father, forgive me for the judgments that I’ve made against ____________. In the name of Jesus, I now release the following judgments that I made against _________.  (List the judgements that you made).  I choose to forgive as I have been forgiven. I now choose to forgive _____________. I break the curses that have been released against me as a result of my judging. I bring the power of the Cross to bear upon these bitter root judgments that I have made. I pray that their power will be broken today in my life. I cancel the effect of sowing and reaping judgement in my life. I choose now to measure by grace and have grace return to me, in Jesus’s name. Amen!

Open Doors

But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them.

…So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai…

…Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? 

…The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies

Joshua 7:1, 4, 6-7, 10-12

This is a truth that still applies today but so few understand. Sin in our lives is an open door for the enemy to attack us. If we choose to live in sin, we choose to be a piñata for Satan as he steals, kills and destroys (John 10:10).

One person in Israel’s army kept treasures for themselves. Then Israel went up against an enemy that should have been no match for them, and yet they lost. The Lord was not with them. The sin had separated the people from God.

In response to their defeat, they cried out to the Lord as if to say, “Why did this happen to us? How could you let this happen to us God?” Sound familiar?

God immediately corrects their assumption. The people were grieving and mourning as if they were victims. God tells Joshua, “Stand up!” They were not victims. They invited this defeat because of their own sin. God did not do this to them. Their enemy did this to them because they hadn’t yet dealt with the sin in their camp. While they were on their face grieving as victims they should have been on their face repenting of their own sin.

This applies to our lives in so many ways. We often think that if there is sin in one part of our lives, it will only affect that part of our life. Wrong. Sin in one part of our life gives the enemy access to other parts of our life, and He may bring destruction in other parts of our life that have little to do with our sin (just as the men in Israel’s army who died had little to do with Achan’s sin).

We also tend to blame God when bad things happen instead of recognizing that it was the enemy at work. God did not defeat Israel’s army, their enemy did. And the distance created between Israel and God was not something God created. It was the sin of Israel that separated the people from God’s presence.

So often we grieve as victims when we should be on our face in repentance. Self-pity has become a national past-time in America, but self-pity is demonic. It turns the focus and the blame on others and on God instead of allowing the light of conviction to shine on our own hearts.

Once we repent of our sin, the door to the enemy is shut. But so long as we pridefully refuse to admit our sin, that door is wide open. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to shine the spotlight of conviction on our hearts. And when sin is exposed, we need to be ruthless about eliminating it from our life. We need to ask for forgiveness, from God and others, and we need to eradicate that sin in all its forms.

Jesus is the one who recommended a ruthless approach to sin in our life. He said:

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 5:29-30

The apostle Paul said, “do not give the devil a foothold“(Ephesians 4:27).

To be sure, not every hardship we face in life is a result of sin. But we’ll never know the open doors to the enemy in our own life unless we allow the Holy Spirit to show us. Too many Christians walk around looking like Swiss cheese in the spirit rather than a fortress. Too many followers of Jesus are play toys of the enemy because their chronic unrepented sin leaves them open to all manner of attack.

Pray this simple prayer below from Psalm 139 and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you might be unnecessarily vulnerable to the enemy’s attack. And if He shows you something, repent, ask for forgiveness and eradicated it from your life.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

Neither

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” 

Joshua 5:13-14

This is astounding. The commander of the angel armies of the Lord stood before Joshua. He was about to give Joshua the strategy for conquering Jericho. The Lord was giving the Promised Land to the Israelites. They would defeat army after army because the Lord was with them. Yet, when this angel was asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies,” the angel’s response was, “Neither.”

One would think that in light of Israel being the chosen people of God, the angel’s response would have been different. This angel is, after all, there to give Joshua the strategy on how to defeat their enemies in battle. How could the angel say “Neither” and still be telling the truth?

I believe this gives us insight into the heart of God. God is against evil, but He is not against people. If we position ourselves against God and His Kingdom, we’ll suffer the consequences. Yet, if we align ourselves with Him, regardless of who we are, regardless of which “camp” we are in, we will experience blessing.

Rahab is a great example of this truth. Though she was technically an enemy of Israel, because she aligned herself with God and His plans, she and her whole family were blessed (Joshua 6:22-23).

The apostle Paul highlights this truth in his letter to the Ephesians. He said:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Ephesians 6:12

God’s battle, and therefore the people of God’s battle, is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil. Those who align themselves with evil will become casualties of war. God’s heart is to redeem people, regardless of the evil they’ve partnered with. Our heavenly Father “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth“(1 Timothy 2:4).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17

So, when we ask God, “Are you for us or for them?” His response is, “Neither. I gave my only Son for everyone involved. I am not against people. I am against evil. The whole point of sending my Son was to rescue people from the evil that dwells in their own heart. To the extent that a person partners with evil instead of with Me, that is the extent to which they will feel me come against them.”

Where are you partnering with sin in your own life? What would it look like to partner with God instead? He is not against you! He is for you!