Can a Church Go Through Extreme Suffering? A Study Through the 7 Churches of Revelation
Again I would like to encourage pastors and members alike to consider your church in the light of the seven churches portrayed in the book of Revelation. Compare yourself to these churches and find out which one best fits the description of your own congregation. Only then can you realize where you really stand spiritually.
No one likes suffering. Nobody is eager to go through adversity. Still, I wonder why we are dreading it, as more often than not it drives us to a more intimate relationship with our Savior.
The church in Smyrna would now-a-days be considered a church to avoid at all cost. After all, who in their right mind would embrace suffering? Still, this church is one of two churches that God considers rich. We sure could learn a thing or two from them.
“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (Rev 2:10, NIV2)
Yes, Smyrna was a suffering church. Some people would say that this is an indication that they were not right with God and deserve their afflictions. These people who would say this are completely wrong! Although considered extremely poor, the church of Smyrna was extremely rich in the eyes of God: “I know your afflictions and your poverty-yet you are rich!” (Rev 2:9a, NIV2)
How could this be possible? Simply, they had a heart after God: “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (Heb 10:34, NIV2). To put it differently, they had their priorities right.
How differently we would react in our culture if our property were to be confiscated. We would scream and cry all the way to court. Not so with the Smyrnans! Their trust was solely in God, and they knew what was awaiting them in the end, when they met Jesus face to face. Are we that confident?
The Smyrnans didn’t consider adversity as a sign of God’s disapproval. Rather, they considered it a privilege to suffer like Jesus did. They couldn’t help but rejoice, even when facing death. Yes, there were some who were afraid. This is completely normal, but in their time of need they ran into Jesus’ arms and felt His embrace, and this filled them with courage.
“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1Pet 4:13, NIV2)
After all, trials are not there to shake us up, but to show how genuine we are in trusting our loving God. With God at our side, trials will make us unshakeable in the Lord: “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.” (Jas 1:2-4, NIV2)
Too many times we have our priorities wrong. Our agenda isn’t what matters most. Walking in Jesus’ steps is, as well as realizing He is the One who sustains us in everything.
Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the Smyrnans!
Last September, my oldest son and I camped in a state camp near the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania. It was a campground that most would consider rustic. It wasn’t even in our GPS. When we left the campground that evening, we forgot to include it as a reference point in our GPS, and we only did so too late, after reaching the main highway. I guess we were both too hungry at that time, as we were anticipating a delicious Italian meal. Eggplant parmesan, here I come!
On our way back to camp, it was pitch dark, and we couldn’t find the turnoff to the road that led to the camp. Desperate, we entered the name of our camp in the GPS, and all of a sudden it starting giving us directions! At least it thought it knew its location!
Unfortunately it directed us on an unpaved road that led up to what seemed like a mountain. It was an exciting adventure, to say the least, and we encountered some interesting artifacts from the past while driving on that unnamed road: oil rigs! That sure was fascinating, but it didn’t lead us back to camp. Still we persevered, hoping beyond hope that it would, until we were completely lost.
Yes, we were facing adversity, with no solution in sight. Instead of panicking, we enjoyed our ride. After all, our Heavenly Dad was with us, and He knew the way, wherever that was. We laughed like crazy, and the music emanating from the CD my son brought with him was fitting the mood: eerie!!! I had no idea how much fun it could be to be lost in the wilderness.
Eventually we faced a huge mud hole and had to turn around. Very carefully! We eventually got back on the road, but we still didn’t know where to go. It’s then that I was inspired from above to search for the Kinzua dam in my GPS. Its directions led us to the road where our camp was located. After our trip, we both agreed that this experience had been the highlight of our trip. It not only helped us experience God fully, it also brought my son and I closer than before.
May we always face adversity with a smile on our lips. After all, God will see us through, even if we have no idea how to get through!
Lost? Rejoice! You will have a trip out of the ordinary! God will see you through!
May we remember that suffering and trials are opportunities to experience God fully, opportunities that will make us rich in God’s eyes!
Oh no I lost my wallet! Can you help me?
(To access the entire, “A Study on the Seven Churches of Revelation” devotional series, please click here.)