Suffering

Don't Lose Heart

By Mike Treneer

First published in September 2000

Photo courtesy of Daniel Burka

Photo courtesy of Daniel Burka

Writing out of a time of great personal difficulty and stress, the Apostle Paul tells of hardships he endured in Asia, so severe that he “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Then on his arrival in Macedonia, he says that “this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5).

Describing himself as “downcast, perplexed, hard pressed on every side,” he tells of “troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights” and “hunger.” But Paul remembered four great realities which kept him going during that dark time. He commended these four motivating truths to the Corinthians—and to us.

God’s mercy: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). Perhaps for most of us the greatest area of discouragement is with ourselves. Besides the everyday difficulties of life, we struggle with our own failure, foolishness and sin. We need to remember it is God’s mercy, not our wisdom or goodness, that makes us His servants.

God’s power: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

We who have a passion to see the Gospel advance are often discouraged by the unresponsiveness of those we are trying to reach. Paul reminds us that our confidence should not be in our own ability, skill or cleverness. In fact, it is not in anything about us at all, for we are only the vessels containing a wonderful treasure. Rather, our confidence rests in God’s all-surpassing power.

Jesus’ death: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).

Paul looked at the difficulties of his life through the lens of Jesus’ death. When we face difficult circumstances, we need to remember the death of Jesus and that He calls us to share in His sufferings (Philippians 1:29). We were never promised freedom from suffering, for discipleship involves taking up the cross and dying to self (Luke 9:23). Without this, our lives can never be truly fruitful (John 12:24-26). Remembering this can transform the pain and the difficulties of life from meaningless struggle to opportunity for Jesus’ life to be revealed in us.

Jesus’ resurrection: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus. . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. . . . For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:13-18).

Our confident expectation of our resurrection with Jesus transforms our attitudes toward life’s trials and troubles. Knowing that we will be presented in God’s presence, we do not lose heart, for no difficulties in this life can compare with the joys of the life to come.

What Is "Life-to-Life" Discipleship?

By David Lyons

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Navigators are known for what we call “life-to-life” discipleship. This personal approach to helping people grow in Christ is not a program; rather, it involves long-term friendship—going through all of life together while keeping Jesus in the center. Even when tragedy strikes.

In Nigeria, a small group of Navigators had to withstand a wave of sudden family deaths. As Navigator leaders Jeremiah and Jenine discipled their close friends, Achi and Imara, Jenine’s mother died in a car crash. (The names in this story have been changed.)

Then, a week later, Achi’s father died.

A few months after that, Imara’s parents died in a car accident.

In the midst of this turmoil—as everyone struggled to understand, and as they mourned—Jeremiah and Jenine were able to bring comfort to Imara and Achi. They experienced what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 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 receive from God.”

“My wife, having been through what she had been through [with the loss of her own mother], meant that there wasn’t a better person to comfort Imara,” Jeremiah says. “When Imara comes to the house, they talk, cry together and read scripture together. Because Jenine went through her mother’s death, she could help Imara go through her own pain. When Jenine says she understands what Imara is going through, she really does.”

In the same way, Jeremiah’s experience of losing his mother-in-law enabled him to comfort Achi when his dad died.

“Somehow, I was able to offer him comfort,” says Jeremiah. “It’s a tough, tough thing to do. . . . How we respond to what we go through informs how we can help people going through something similar.”

This is how Jeremiah sees discipleship. “It’s a relationship, but it’s also that I’m interested in you, not just interested in us having Bible studies. It’s you. And in the context of life, let’s seek Christ together.”

That is a great summary of life-to-life discipleship. It might not involve helping people through mourning and death, but it is always personal and transparent. I remember how my first mentor responded when I confessed my deepest sins to him. Despite my failures, he believed in me. He said, “David, God’s hand is on your life, and He has great things in mind for you.”

That touched me deeply. It taught me that influence happens when we love those we mentor. This may be Jesus’ most powerful leadership rule: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

Life-to-life leader development is tailored to the specific needs of each person. It’s not a one-size-fits-all program. Disciple-makers understand the Scriptures and know how to help people move toward Christlikeness, but they are part of the story. They lead without being an overlord. They teach without being academic. They share their lives, not just their knowledge.

Matt, who is mentoring me now, tells me to crawl inside the skin of my friends, to get to know what they need. Other mentors say to me, “It’s not what you prepared that matters. It’s what they need when you are there.” Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”

Life-to-life leader development takes time. It’s costly. It’s not an efficient program. Sometimes it is hard to measure. But it’s powerful. It’s the way Jesus developed people.

My mentors chose to make a hand-crafted investment in me, and they’ve stuck with me despite my failures and flaws. I’m forever grateful. I want to pass that on. Don’t you?
 
David Lyons is an International Vice President of The Navigators. He serves our 5,000 staff in 115 countries by coaching leaders and leading change. David is author of Don’t Waste the Pain.

Spiritual Prep for Coming Storms

By Alan Ch'ng

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Advanced technology and professional meteorologists can save many lives by predicting hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, and other natural disasters. Having information ahead of time enables us to prepare—to evacuate, to run to storm shelters, to stock up on food and water, to put gasoline in generators, or to board up the windows of our homes.

But do we follow God’s counsel to prepare for the inevitable storms of life? Believers and unbelievers alike go through these storms. The difference is that believers have Jesus in the boat with them! In fact, how we respond to the adverse circumstances in life is a huge witness to the reality of Jesus in our lives.

In recent months, several of our close friends in the Asia-Pacific region of the Navigator Worldwide Partnership have been facing extreme hardship. A friend who worked with us in a campus ministry discovered he has lymphoma. Two others, in their early 40s, recently learned that they have advanced stage cancer and are undergoing treatment. In the past few years we have lost friends to cancer. In a few cases, the surviving spouse was left to care for very young children alone.

I have seen each of my friends weather these storms with tremendous faith and hope. That is not to say that they experience no fear, or that they completely transcend the suffering. They don’t. But despite the hardship, they demonstrate a peace that passes understanding, a hope for the future, and a solid stance in knowing that nothing can separate them from the love of God (Romans 8).

I have asked myself this question: How is it that these men and women have been able to face these challenges with such hope and peace? What have they done to prepare?

A few years ago, a close friend and coworker called to tell me that his wife had been admitted to the hospital and was also found to have cancer. As time passed, I had to ask him what sustained them through a time like this. What had made their faith grow stronger than before? What enabled them to see the eternal, and to gain the peace that comes from knowing that God is in control?

His answer was profound. He said that for many years they chose to live in a close relationship with Jesus, and to stay committed to the spiritual disciplines of being with God in His Word and in times of prayer. They prepared for the storms of life by being anchored in relationship with Jesus.

Paul, writing in Ephesians 1:18-20, calls us to know Jesus deeply. "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead . . ."

And, the writer of Hebrews advises us to follow the model of Jesus as we go through hardships. "And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Jesus, in Matthew 7:24-25 said, "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock."

Preparation for life’s storms, as you can see, is about developing strong foundations in Jesus—our rock. Building that relationship is possible because Jesus, on the cross, opened the possibility for us to anchor our lives in Him. Now it is up to us to respond to Him by entering that relationship fully.   

Alan Ch’ng is an International Vice President. Before joining the International Executive Team, Alan led our Asia-Pacific Region for more than six years. Alan and his wife, Connie, moved to Colorado Springs in April 2013. They have three grown sons.

The Fellowship of His Sufferings

By Chris Treneer

Claire and her mom, Anna

Claire and her mom, Anna

I would prefer to know, love, and become like Jesus just by sitting in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea and my Bible, or by spending hours praying for my family and reading a devotional book. But sometimes the path to knowing, loving, and becoming like Jesus includes pain.
 
Over the past two and a half years, Mike and I have walked with our little granddaughter, Claire, and her parents, Matt and Anna, through Claire’s battle with leukemia. It has been one of the most painful and profound learning experiences of our lives.
 
There has been so much that Claire has not been able to understand: the bitter tasting medicines, the unnerving visits to the clinic, the “pokes” (as she calls them) when nurses take blood samples. She has had to endure the surgical placement of a port for chemotherapy treatments. She’s always hated the spinal taps. And she’s had to persevere through the difficult side effects of chemo.
 
As I’ve watched Claire struggle with this frightening illness, I’ve been reminded of Jesus’ call to become like little children (Matthew 18:3). Throughout the treatments, Claire has trusted her mother. The greater her uncertainty or pain, the tighter Claire would cling to Anna. Claire did not understand why she had to take her medicine; she did it because mummy said so. She still does not like having “pokes” for her ongoing blood tests, but she holds Anna tight, closes her eyes so she doesn’t have to look, takes deep breaths, and courageously trusts what her mummy asks her to do.
 
Whenever I have been with Claire and Anna at the clinic or hospital, I have leaned on Psalm 63:8 (which has become one of my favorite verses): "My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me" (NASB). My relationship with the Lord should be like that, clinging to Him through the painful, frightening, discouraging things of life.
 
Claire is becoming like Christ. Her experience of suffering has made her empathetic toward others, even at age five! She has an understanding of Jesus’ suffering that is touching. When we were talking about the Easter story together, Claire told me, “Jesus’ pokes were so much worse than mine.”
 
So, as our family’s journey with Claire demonstrates, the path to Christlikeness often passes through suffering. We continue to be concerned about what might be ahead. We realize that suffering is part of life, but I believe that we can choose to face suffering in a redemptive way, to join with Jesus in the fellowship of His suffering. Having that perspective changes everything.
 
A letter from my brother, Peter, helped me to see the importance of my attitude. He pointed out that, in Philippians 3:10, Paul tells us about the power of a redemptive attitude in the face of suffering. Paul expressed what he wanted most in life when he said, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death . . ." (NASB). He considered other things to be worthless in comparison to knowing Jesus. He had decided what he wanted most in life—to know Jesus, even in His sufferings.
 
This leads me to a question: What do I really want most in life? What do you want most in life? I don’t know about you, but I am not very keen on experiencing pain and hardship. But I know that life will bring its share of suffering, and eventually death; so, like Paul, I need to choose my attitude.
 
Before my father died, when I was young, he taught me that in every situation I must choose one of three attitudes: I can choose to have a rebellious attitude, a resigned attitude, or a redemptive attitude. When we see suffering as a chance to walk with Jesus—to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering—then we can redeem the suffering and let it help us to grow in knowing, loving, and becoming like Jesus.
 
Our attitude makes all the difference. 

Chris Treneer co-labors with her husband, International President Mike Treneer. Chris served with Mike in Kenya for 16 years, after which time Mike led the European work. They have lived in Colorado Springs since 2005, when Mike became International President.