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Serving Jesus in the Hard Times

~ By Kelly Carter
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Serving Jesus through discouraging times is not always easy, but it is something every Christian committed to doing the work of Jesus will face. Numerous times in the New Testament Christians are called to suffer for Christ and like Christ. Paul certainly did. 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 and 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10 attest to the hardships he faced, and in the context of 2 Corinthians he mentions his hardships because of the trouble he is experiencing from his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ!!
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None of this should surprise us. 1 Peter 2:21 quite specifically says that as Christians we should not only expect suffering but that we are actually called to suffer like Christ. Suffering as a Christian, then, should be counted as the norm for those desiring to serve Christ, whether this comes in the form of external persecution (like in 1 Peter) or in just becoming frustrated or criticized by those in the church.
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Knowing that we are called to suffer for Christ and that we should expect that discouraging times will come perhaps gives us some solace in our suffering for the Kingdom, especially when we know that there are millions of Christians the world over and in history who have suffered for Christ in ways we cannot imagine. But more comforting is the connection we have to God through His Spirit that directly brings to us His comfort. When we are close to God, enduring suffering becomes easier simply because we have a Spirit of comfort and peace who encourages us, who stills our hearts, who fills us with joy at the most difficult of times. That’s why James tells us to count it all joy when we encounter various trials. Through trials, when our faith is tested, we develop maturity and perseverance. In Romans 5:3-5 Paul even describes how we can glory in our sufferings because it is suffering that produces perseverance, character, and hope, and that because God has poured out His Spirit into our hearts, we are filled with the love of God.
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Finally, 2 Corinthians 1:5 points to how the sufferings of Christ flow into our lives in order that we might receive God’s comfort, enabling us then to comfort others with the comfort we have received from God. But, because misery loves company, the most natural thing in the world is for Christians who suffer for Christ to commiserate with other Christians who suffer, especially when it is the church itself that is the cause of their mutual grief. This temptation needs to be resisted. There is no doubt that suffering is unpleasant, but that we can be comforted by Christ in our sufferings should become an opportunity for us to lift others up in their sufferings for Christ, encouraging them rather than just joining them in their discouragement.
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So, are you feeling a bit discouraged in your work and sacrifice for Christ and the church, suffering grief, maybe even at the hands of those serving with you? The solution is certainly not for you to simply “buck up” and persevere. But neither has Christ left you alone in your suffering. From Him, from His Spirit, from the memory of those who have gone before us, and from others around us who endure suffering like ours, we can receive comfort and encouragement, allowing us to become positive sources of encouragement for others who grieve like we do in our service to Christ, even when our pain and discouragement comes at the hands of those who serve with us.
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Paul’s Hardships

We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry.  In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed.  Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

2 Corinthians 6:3-10

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Paul’s Many Trials

Again I say, don’t think that I am a fool to talk like this. But even if you do, listen to me, as you would to a foolish person, while I also boast a little.  Such boasting is not from the Lord, but I am acting like a fool.  And since others boast about their human achievements, I will, too.  After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools!  You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face.  I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too “weak” to do that!

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But whatever they dare to boast about—I’m talking like a fool again—I dare to boast about it, too.  Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.  Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.  I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.

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Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?

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If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying. When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me.  I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him.

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Paul’s Vision and His Thorn in the Flesh

This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.

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That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

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Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10

 

 

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

1 Peter 2:21

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We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:3-5

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For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:5

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