Pain is Part of the Plan
Dave Ripper and I are very excited about the upcoming Inter Varsity Press release of Fellowship of the Suffering: How Hardship Shapes Us for Ministry and Mission.
To give you an idea of the kind of things we discuss in the book, this blog features the powerful and challenging testimony of Dr. Evans Burns, missionary and teacher, in the excerpt:
I grew up with a health disability that would have prevented me from ever going to college, obtaining a job, or living a long, normal life. Before God mercifully delivered me from it, he graciously delivered me through it. Many days and nights I laid in the darkness of my room in much pain and nausea, praying in the silence that God would give me the sustaining grace to preach the gospel to the nations. I started pre-seminary at the age of 5 when God sent me my wisest and most influential teacher: affliction. Through his loving discipline, God taught me about his sovereign goodness and inscrutable wisdom.
Having grown up facing much affliction, and having learned well the theology of suffering under a sovereign God, I was still naïve to how unrelenting and inexplicable are the trials of the missionary life. If not for the doctrine of God’s wise sovereignty in suffering, I would never have made it. Long-term missions can indeed be a place of excitement and adventure; however, it is also inescapably a place of adversity and barrenness. It is moreover the land of self-emptying and learning to laugh at yourself; learning to think, feel, dream, and reason in a foreign language; learning to enjoy the adopted family of Christ in light of distant relationships back home; learning to keep silent in the face of stiff criticism from those who once supported you; learning to eat the Word of God as your daily food; learning to pray for your wife and children because their lives literally depend upon it; and learning to navigate wisely on the path of self-denial amid a global culture immersed in self-indulgence, self-promotion, and self-preservation.
I would soberly admonish any missionary candidate that the mission field is not all romance and radical adventure; it is also mingled with heartbreak, loss, and self-denial. But therein we discover God’s boundless love and wise providence. C. S. Lewis said in his poem As the Ruin Falls:
“The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.”
Perhaps D. A. Carson says it best in his excellent book on suffering, How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil:
“The more the leaders are afflicted with weakness, suffering, perplexity, and persecution, the more it is evident that their vitality is nothing other than the life of Jesus. This has enormously positive spiritual effects on the rest of the church. The leaders’ death means the church’s life. This is why the best Christian leadership cannot simply be appointed. It is forged by God himself in the fires of suffering, taught in the school of tears. There are no shortcuts.”
God loves his servants so much that he allows them to suffer, so that his grace will sustain them in order to make his glory known. Our weakness is the God-ordained instrument through which the Holy Spirit fills us with the power of Christ.
Evan Burns and his wife, Kristie, have served as long-term missionaries in the Middle East, East Asia, and now in Southeast Asia. He also serves as assistant professor of spirituality and missiology and director of online education at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary in Thailand.
Check Evan’s blog on “The Missionary Life: No Shortcuts” (December 5, 2014).