Is Suffering and Pain Part of the Path to Movements? Why?

suffering

I woke early. After prayer, I glanced at my phone and found a difficult message. A dear friend and colleague lost his battle with COVID 19. My heart was broken for the many who loved him. His death is a great loss to the movement where he played a vital role. Suffering and death are part of our lives. What role do they play in pioneering movements?

I’ll be honest. Suffering is not often talked about when we cast vision for Disciple Making Movements (DMMs).

We speak of rapid growth and multiplication. The urgent need of the unreached will only be addressed through a more organic approach, we say. All true. There is a cost to movements. It must be counted and embrace by any who would seriously pursue them.

Not An Easy Price

Only His sustaining grace can enable us to identify (in suffering) with the One who paid the ultimate price.

The Bible says Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). As His followers, should we not expect to do the same?

Suffering plays a vital role in our lives as we develop into the kinds of leaders we must be to launch movements. Pain and loss develop humility and compassion within us. They transform us into His likeness.

Hardship develops both unshakeable obedience and spiritual depth. We learn to accept the cross and simply obey Christ’s commands. It carries us forward on a path of radical, costly, loving devotion to Jesus.

Why So Much Loss?

Brian Hogan, a long-time colleague and author of There’s a Sheep in My Bathtub, tells of the loss of a child when pioneering a movement in Mongolia. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend his book!

My personal story of loss on the journey to releasing movements could fill volumes. I wrote about the death of my close friend and colleague, Dengziki, on my blog Missionary Life.

This past month, I lost both a movement leader I’d coached closely and a colleague from India. It’s not been an easy month.

Why so much pain? So much loss?” I ask myself.

Why is this such a common part of the path to releasing great fruit and movements? The patterns are impossible to ignore.

Not only is it death. Sickness, chronic pain, relational pain, and other types of suffering are a frequent part of my life, and of other leaders I know who release DMMs.

Not Only a Result of Sin

We live in a broken world. Not all suffering is a direct result of sin, though some is. As long as we are in this life, we will encounter and experience loss. In times of pain, we also encounter God. We know Him in ways we can not know Him apart from trials.

In this season of loss, I reach up in my brokenness. He grabs hold of my hand and pulls me into His embrace. When I have no strength to go on, He picks me up and carries me. He can carry you too.

Difficulties strip me of what is not important, they refine my mission and focus. They bring me back to a place of utter reliance on Him. My faith is tested and purified.

Ongoing transformation is needed in my life. I want to experience His blessing, favor, and the greater things He longs to bring through me. For that to happen, I need to know Him more deeply. This takes place on a road of suffering.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.

Hebrews 5:8 (NLT).

4 Things to Remember in Times of Pain

1. Suffering is not to be avoided, but embraced.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Jesus was broken on the cross. He lived his suffering and death not as an evil to avoid at all costs but as a mission to embrace. We too are broken. We live with broken bodies, broken hearts, broken minds, or broken spirits. We suffer from broken relationships. How can we live our brokenness? Jesus invites us to embrace our brokenness as he embraced the cross and live it as part of our mission.”

I was particularly struck by the phrase in this quote, “live it as part of our mission.”

Our human tendency is to run from suffering and avoid pain. The world tells us suffering is unnatural and to be avoided at all costs. Yet, as disciples of Christ, we must become like our Lord.

Jesus didn’t enjoy suffering and pain. He wasn’t a sadomasochist, taking pleasure in pain.

It was extremely hard for Him to face the cross. Yet, He understood that death would bring life. Thus, He obeyed, in spite of the great cost. He trusted the Father’s will and surrendered Himself to His loving hands.

2. Though suffering and loss are normal, we mustn’t deny or suppress the pain we feel.

When loss, grief, and suffering come into our lives, it’s natural to experience denial. If we get stuck in denial or other aspects of the grief process, God’s comfort and our transformation will be delayed.

At times of loss, give yourself space. Recognize and acknowledge the loss for what it is. Don’t move on and back into ministry activities too early. Allow yourself to grieve with the One who knows grief so very well. Let Him hold you and carry you. In time, you will heal, but it does take time.

This is not a time to “power-on” or pretend you are not hurting.

In some Christian circles, acknowledging that you are angry with God, or even feeling sad is perceived as a lack of faith. This is so unnecessary and unbiblical! It’s not helpful and can be quite harmful.

3. Lean into the pain and into fellowship with Christ.

Philippians 3:10 says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death.” Suffering provides space in our lives for deep intimacy with the One who has great empathy for our pain. We fellowship with Him in loss. Lean into this.

4. Allow others into your pain process.

As leaders, we tend to hide our pain. If others know our pain, our doubts, our weakness, we think it will make them lose faith (or no longer trust us as leaders). The opposite is true.

I am not saying in times of pain we open our lives to everyone. Often as we grieve we need to limit the level of access the “crowds” have to us. We need space to heal.

Simply saying “I am grieving, please pray for me as I process this loss” is important.

As leaders, we need to model the healthy processing of grief. When we allow others to glimpse our pain, doubts, and fears and are vulnerable before them, they gain permission to be honest with their own pain. They will follow our example.

This is part of training disciple makers who can embrace suffering and let it take them deeper in God rather than make them bitter. How you handle suffering will have a dramatic impact on the movement.

Don’t hide your pain. Be real and vulnerable with those you lead as God is at work in you.

Renewing Our “Yes”

There is much more to be written on this topic. We could look at the role of persecution, the importance of perseverance (Colossians 1:11), and more about the grieving process. I’ve written on these things in other blogs.

For now, let me ask you an important question. Take a few moments and ask yourself this before the Lord.

Am I willing to walk through the valleys of suffering to see the release of God’s likeness in me? The release of His Kingdom around me?

Pray with me.

Lord Jesus, You went to Calvary for me. You didn’t find it easy, but You were willing. You suffered the betrayal of Judas and the ridicule of those You’d come to save. You lost Lazarus and wept at the tomb. Master, You understand the pain and grief I face as no one else can.

Give me strength, give me the courage to surrender to Your processes in me. Comfort and hold me as I am transformed in Your loving arms. Amen.

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