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.

Least in the Kingdom

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

Matthew 11:11

Let this sink in!

Jesus was saying that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of the old covenant. John alone had the unique privilege of preparing the way for the Messiah. The great prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel could only prophesy about the coming Messiah. John the Baptist actually got to usher in the Messiah. And like the rest of the prophets (and some of the kings) of the old covenant, the Holy Spirit rested upon him.

Yet, Jesus declares, even the least in the new covenant is greater than John the Baptist. Those of us who have entered this new covenant by putting our faith in Jesus have the unbelievable privilege of having the Spirit dwell within us and rest upon us. We have the breath of God within us and the wind of God blowing through us. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are indwelled with the Presence of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). As the Body of Christ on earth, we are clothed with the power of God (Luke 24:49). We have the unique privilege of being so empowered by the Spirit of God that we actually get to do the ministry of Jesus on the earth (1 John 4:17).

After Jesus sent out the 72, they came back talking about the miracles they had witnessed. “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name‘”(Luke 10:17). And after some instruction, Jesus turns to His disciples and says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it“(Luke 10:23-24).

All the great men and women of the Old Testament longed to see what we see, hear what we hear, know what we know, and experience what we experience. They would have loved to have access to the indwelling Holy Spirit. They would have loved to walk in the delegated authority of the Messiah as we do. They would have loved to be named the “ambassadors of Christ” on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). They would have loved to be conduits of God’s miracles as we are.

Every single believer in Jesus now has access to the authority necessary to cast out demons. Every single believer now has access to the power, through the Holy Spirit, to see healings and miracles (John 14:12). Every single believer now has access to prophetic gifting (1 Corinthians 14:1) and the other miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Every single believer now has access to the unlimited grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

With access to all of this authority, all of this power, all of this gifting, all of this grace, what are we doing with it? What would the great men and women of the Old Testament say about our lives as Christians today? We have been given everything they longed for! What are we doing with it?

As a follower of Jesus, what you have access to in Christ and through the Holy Spirit is greater than the greatest prophet of the Old Testament!

Are you experiencing all that you have access to in the new covenant?

Powerful and Effective Prayer

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16

Seeing people miraculously healed was not a “charismatic” thing for the early church. It was simply a part of what it meant to be a normal Christian. It was one of the fundamental basics of what it meant to follow Jesus. It’s strange that today it is seen as something “extreme” or “strange.” Praying with faith to see the sick person get well is Christianity 101. We should expect to see people get healed in our churches, and we should expect to see it regularly. If it’s not happening, it is an indication that something is wrong with our theology, our faith, or our church culture.

James also indicates the importance of the confession and forgiveness of sin. James helps us understand that unrepented sin can be a hindrance to physical healing. It becomes an area of our lives that is unyielded to the Spirit which can dam up the flow of the Spirit and the gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9).

We also learn from this passage of scripture that living a righteous life is important in becoming a conduit of healing. James says that the prayer of a “righteous person” is powerful and effective. Yet, while many of us long to have prayers that are powerful and effective, many of us don’t want to examine whether we are living a righteous life.

The righteousness that James is talking about here is not the imputed righteousness that we received from Jesus at salvation. In one sense, all Christians have been made perfectly righteous because of Jesus. Our own good works could not save us. Only the righteousness of Jesus that was given to us could save us. We are clothed in His righteousness. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “…you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Romans 5:19 says, “…through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

But this isn’t the righteousness that James is talking about in this passage. It wouldn’t make any sense if it was. If James was talking about the imputed righteousness of Jesus, then all prayers from all Christians would be equally powerful and effective. If that was true, there would be no point in saying “the prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective.”

No, what James is talking about is our response to being made righteous. He’s talking about the person who is actually living out righteousness in their lives. James is talking about the person who actually lives out their new identity as new creations in Christ. We must put on the new self and leave the old self behind. Ephesians 4:24 says, “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

When we live the righteous life, when we choose holiness over sin, when we live out what Jesus made true about us, our prayers gain power and effectiveness. We become a conduit of the Spirit’s power and grace. Just as some conduits have less blockages, less rust, less things in the way that dampen the flow of water or electricity, so too a righteous life clears away things that would otherwise block the flow of the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Righteous living comes from ongoing and increasing intimacy with the Lord. That intimacy creates and establishes a trust between us and the Lord. He’s able to trust us with more (more power, more gifts, more healings, more miracles, more revelation, etc.), and we’re able to better hear His voice and yield to His direction. This is another reason the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. There is a closeness between that person and the Lord, a trust that’s been built over time.

If we want to see more healings in our churches, we need to become the kind of people who can be trusted with more. We need to become the kind of conduits that allow the increasing flow of the Spirit without the dampening effect of sin. We need to become the righteous people who have powerful and effective prayers.

City of the Living God

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[Deuteronomy 4:24]

Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

When we worship God we get to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We get to walk among thousands upon thousands of angels who have gathered to joyfully worship the Lord. We get to approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that Jesus has made a way by His blood.

Can you picture it?

As you walk toward God’s throne, surrounded by cheering angels, you are clothed in garments of white. The aisle to the throne is as clear as a crystal sea. The angels, as servants of the King, all know that a child of the King has entered the throne room. Royalty has walked in and they all act accordingly. You are an heir of an unshakeable Kingdom, a co-heir with Christ.

As you approach God on His throne, your pace slows. Your steps are careful. You are reminded that this is not only the King of Kings but also your Heavenly Father. You stop. You know this is close enough. The rest of the distance from you to Him is for Him to walk if He decides. He is a consuming fire, and you can feel His power from here. You bow down with your knees to the ground to honor the One who deserves all glory and honor.

You bow your head in reverence and awe. You don’t bow as a slave bows to a master. You are not afraid. You don’t bow in shame and guilt. His eyes see through you, but it is not a stare of disappointment or judgment. It’s a gaze of pure love. He loves that you bow your head in reverence, but He doesn’t want your head to stay bowed. As a loving Father, He signals to you to lift your head. He doesn’t want the top of your head but your eyes looking back at Him. He loves to see your face. The joy and pride of a proud parent fills His countenance.

As He stands to His feet, all the angels–the cherubim, seraphim, and all the other heavenly beings–drop to their knees in worship. As He walks the transparent aisle toward you, He signals you to your feet. You’re not sure you should be standing so your personal angel has to tell you to stand up. You stand before pure love and pure light walking toward you.

Self-limitation is an act of love and had He not reduced His own glory and power in this moment, you’d be fatally consumed immediately. And you know it. You can feel Him dial down His presence and majesty in order to draw near to you. It’s what He did in Jesus and here He is doing it again…just for a moment with you.

He has a smile that makes you smile. When you see His smile it’s so contagious you can’t help but feel joy well up from your gut and overtake your face. He puts His left hand on your right shoulder. You instinctively know that if His power wasn’t sustaining you in this moment you’d collapse under the weight of His glory.

He doesn’t have to say a word. Somehow everything that needs to be communicated is already being said, heart to heart, mind to mind. And somehow He’s not speaking one word at a time but instead it feels like He’s downloading whole ideas instantaneously. These thoughts would take a long time to explain using words but somehow the ideas come all at once.

He draws even closer. He wraps you in His arms. He transmits a love that is intoxicating and overwhelming. Tears burst from your eyes, and your heart feels like it is about to explode. It’s like your current heart wasn’t meant for this amount of love. You need a new heart, one with the capacity to hold a fraction of what is coursing through you in that moment.

The encounter ends.

Grateful is such a small word for what you feel in the aftermath, but it’s as close as you can get to describing the feeling. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and you are in awe!

Average Christians

Notice how the writer of Hebrews describes average followers of Jesus. He describes them as people who have…

…been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age…

Hebrews 6:4-5

So here is what the writer of Hebrews expects from the average believer:

  1. They’ve been enlightened. They think differently now. They have set their minds on things above. They have experienced a renewal of the mind.
  2. They’ve tasted the heavenly gift. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, and salvation. In other words, they have the Holy Spirit and have experienced salvation.
  3. They’ve shared in or have partaken in the Holy Spirit. So, beyond just having the Holy Spirit, they’ve partnered with the Spirit. They are actively engaging with the Spirit and with the gifts of the Spirit.
  4. They’ve tasted the goodness of the word of God. They are convinced that God is good and that God’s word is good. They have been regularly and profoundly impacted by the word of God. They trust the word of God.
  5. They’ve tasted the powers of the coming age. The New Testament envisions two ages: 1) “this age” (the one we are in now, human history as we know it) and 2) “the age to come” (the point at which eternity begins, there is a new heaven and new earth, God dwells with humanity and Jesus brings the fullness of the Kingdom of God). Through the Presence and power of the Holy Spirit we get to experience powers that exist in the coming age, but we get to experience them right now! This is part of what it means for the Spirit to be a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. This is the power Jesus told His disciples to wait for in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49).

As we look at this list, is this what the average believer looks like today? Is this what the American church is full of? If not, we need a new standard!

Not Timid, Not Ashamed

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—

2 Timothy 1:7-9

The New American Standard Bible translates verse 7 this way: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Paul was encouraging Timothy not to be timid regarding the “testimony about our Lord.” Fear can paralyze a person into silence about the truth of the gospel.

Paul was reminding Timothy that the Holy Spirit gives us a boldness about the gospel of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit gives us power to see the impossible become possible–miracles, signs and wonders. The Father also pours His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love changes our heart toward people we would otherwise avoid. And the Holy Spirit is a refining fire within us, giving us self-discipline and moving us into a holy life.

Paul also lets Timothy know that part of following Jesus is suffering for the gospel. Specifically, suffering for the gospel in the New Testament is not about facing illness or the normal hardships of life. Suffering for the gospel is the ridicule and persecution that comes from proclaiming the testimony of Jesus. And part of why we are given the power of God from the Holy Spirit is to fortify our souls during times of insults and false accusations.

Jesus warned of this same thing when He said,

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12

We couldn’t do any of this on our own. On our own, in our own power, we would shrink into fear and self-protection. We’d spend our time trying to hyper-manage our reputation and other people’s perception of us. It’s the Holy Spirit that breaks us out of self-protection and into courage. It’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to swim upstream against cultural norms that are anti-Christ. It’s the Spirit that gives us the power and love to call people back to their Heavenly Father–the One who longs to welcome us home and shower us with grace (Luke 15:18-24).

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:19-21

Not Simply With Words

…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6

The result of Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians was not just that they intellectually agreed with the gospel, but that they imitated his way of life. They not only welcomed the message of the gospel, but they did so with joy in the midst of severe suffering.

How was it that Paul was able to see such life transformation from the proclamation of the gospel?

Notice how the gospel came to the Thessalonians. It came not simply with words but with three additional essential elements. You see, when the gospel comes simply with words, at best the result will be intellectual assent. The gospel was never meant to show up just in words.

Paul lists the three additional and essential elements that need to be there with the proclamation of the gospel: 1)power, 2)the Holy Spirit and 3)deep conviction.

Wherever Paul went, he not only declared the gospel but demonstrated the gospel through signs and wonders. People got healed. People got set free from the demonic. The gospel showed up in words and in power. Paul describes this reality to the Romans this way:

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

Romans 15:18-19

For Paul, in order to “fully proclaim” the gospel of Christ, it meant that the power of signs and wonders and the power of the Spirit of God had to be there. Which leads us to the second essential element: the Holy Spirit.

It wasn’t enough for people just to encounter the truth in their minds, they had to encounter the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that brings healing to the deepest part of our souls. It’s the Spirit that convicts us of sin and empowers us to encounter God the Father. When Paul proclaimed the gospel, he didn’t just want philosophical agreement. He wanted people to have an encounter with Jesus through the Spirit. This brings about the final essential element: deep conviction.

If the power of God and the Holy Spirit are there with the proclamation of the gospel, then deep conviction is sure to follow. As people have encounters with the truth of who God is and who they are, deep conviction of their sin and gratitude for God’s unconditional love and grace will be the natural byproducts.

For too long the American church has lacked deep conviction. We’ve given half of our hearts and a part of our lives to Jesus, when the truth is that we were bought at a price. Christians that are “all in” seem extreme to us because we’re so comfortable in our bastardized version of the faith. Unfortunately, the gospel came to us simply with words and produced Christians who intellectually dissect and under-live the gospel.

We need a generation in the American church that can proclaim the gospel and bring with it power, the Spirit, and deep conviction from a life fully surrendered to God.