My notes from Michael Oh’s session at TGC13′s World Missions’ pre-conference, “God’s Love Compels Us.” (All notes are paraphrased.)
It seems that no matter how much we want to or how hard we try, we can’t avoid suffering. When we suffer we ask questions, “God are you really good? God do you really love me?” Today’s psalm, Psalm 22, shows us that God really does does love us and he really is good. Today’s thesis is this:
God has been, is and will be faithful to his people both corporately and individually in suffering—and the nations will come to worship the Lord through their suffering.
In verses one and two David is complaining about the perceived distance between his circumstances and his God. In verse one we hear pain in David’s voice, “my God, my God” he says. His prayer and honest complaint is “When Israel cried to you, you saved them—when I cry to you, you don’t!” There’s this painful reality that God has acted but doesn’t seem to be acting in David’s life.
David’s enemies are so near and God seems so far away. Long before there were lions, tigers and bear (oh my), there were bulls, oxen and dogs. They “encompass” him.
And then in Psalm 22:22, we see a shift, where David goes from his lament to praising God, it looks like we’re missing the second act of a three act play.
But before we get to the second half of the psalm, we need to see three things when it comes to suffering:
God is in control of everything.
This is usually the first temptation when suffering comes. Nowhere does David see himself as a victim of faith. Biblical reality is that God is working out all that he has sovereignly ordained, in this world and in this live, including your salvation.
Salvation is a part of God’s good design.
This is the second temptation we see when suffering comes—it may be part of God’s plan, but maybe God’s plan isn’t good. So how is it good? First, suffering is for non-Christians. Suffering functions to teach you of your need for Jesus Christ. Pain is a God-given indicator that something is wrong—and the most significant thing that is wrong is your relationship with God is broken. In Japan, supposedly the most advanced society on the plant, why would four percent of middle school girls sell their bodies to dirty old men? It’s not because they need money. They get their $300 and spend it the next day on a Gucci wallet. It’s because of their spiritual emptiness. Money and wealth are not something to be lauded and sought after. But poverty and pain are not good in and of themselves—they exist to point us to the solution to these things, which is in Jesus Christ. And Christians need to be present with those who are in pain, so we can share with them the lessons of pain, and point them to the solution to pain. But suffering is also for Christians. We seek after emotional, spiritual, financial comfort—but if this were Jesus’ goal, his ministry would have been very different. Suffering and pain are part of our discipleship.
Not all suffering is the same.
There are at least three types of suffering found in Scripture:
Suffering as the consequence of sin.
Common suffering. This is suffering that effects people whether or not they’re Christians. It includes illness, typhoons, financial struggles, poverty, death itself.
Christ’s suffering. This is suffering for the sole reason of standing up for Christ. It also includes common suffering that is compounded for the sake of Christ—financial struggles due to generosity. Many Christians have never experienced such suffering. Our lives are so innocuous that they don’t bother Satan much at all.
What kind of suffering have you experienced—do you know anything of suffering for Jesus Christ?
Tabulating what kind of suffering you have is not the point. The point is following Jesus. Christ and accepting the often difficult and always wonderful consequences of doing so.
David learns these lessons and in the second half of the psalm we see the fruit:
We see David exhort believers to give praise to God—and we see David exalt the world to join in giving praise to God.
Why do we praise Him? Because he has not despised the afflicted. The poor will be fed. The wealthy will be fed.
Now, can I say something about money here? Many pastors think we value money too much. But we might value money too little because we don’t seem to understand the value it holds for furthering the gospel. It’s value is redeemed when it’s invested in eternal, gospel purposes. When we don’t believe God’s promises, we spend frivolously or hoard fearfully. When we believe, we release ourselves from the need to build an earthly inheritance.
Jesus said the field is ripe for harvest, but the laborers are few. I used to think the problem was there were too few willing to be sent, but I think the problem actually is there are too few senders.
William Carey once said, “I’ll go into the mine if you hold the rope.” But the message being sent to missionaries today is “Buy your own damn rope.”
When we sit on our money, our hearts become clogged, and the whole health of our lives is in jeopardy when we don’t give sacrificially and joyfully. Giving that is joyful, sacrificial and displays the glory of God in the gospel is the goal.
In this psalm, David says that he will share these blessings—that he will lay out a feast in celebration. What would it look like if we really believed that?
Every spiritual blessing. Without qualification, without hesitation. In verse 27, we can see the extent of God’s blessings in salvation. The ultimate celebration is the sharing of these blessings with others—this is a missional intent. A personal doxology is not enough.
Let me be clear, missions is not the primary purpose. Worship is—but we have been given a primary mission that flows from the primary purpose. And that primary purpose is lost if the mission is neglected. David exhorts Christians to worship and calls the world to join in that exaltation.
We live in a world with more than two billion people who have not and will not hear unless someone will go and suffer. If Jesus Christ being proclaimed among all the nations matters to you, won’t you get involved?
Our suffering is not merely for our own sanctification. It is to prepare us for proclamation. Proclamation of the difficulty of life in a fallen world, but also of God’s grace that sustains us in the midst of suffering and will ultimately free us from that suffering in the end. Suffering has missional purpose with missional implication. Where you have suffering at work, you have gospel fruit.
This psalm echoes Jesus’ suffering on the cross. We hear his cries to God, his enemies surrounding Him. And like David, we have full confidence that God will not leave us nor forsake us. But for Jesus, God turned his face away and poured out his wrath upon Him.
We ask questions like, “Why does suffering exist,” and the ultimate reason is so that Jesus would suffer for US. In a meaningful purpose-filled suffering so that God would be worshipped throughout the world and through eternity.
We suffer so we might take the gospel to the ends of the earth, that the worthy name of Jesus might be worshiped, that our God might become their God.