Do you fear suffering?
In Revelation 2:10 Jesus tells the church of Smyrna, “ Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.”
Let’s think about that for a moment. Isn’t having a healthy fear of suffering a good thing because it keeps us out of high-risk situations? Don’t suffering and pain go hand-in-hand and didn’t God give us pain as a warning sign?
But as I thought about this command from our Lord, I realized that the opposite of fear is not “to seek out” or “to look forward to.” So I looked up what the opposite of fear is.
According to Roget’s Thesaurus, the antonym of fear is faith.
I thought about the story of Jacob upon his return trip to his home land and the fear that gripped him. As you will recall, Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing he had intended to give to his brother Esau. Esau was so angered, that Jacob fled for his life. Years go by. He raises a family, prospers, and the time comes for him to return home. But returning home means facing Esau and the 400 men who, alerted to Jacob’s return, are on their way to meet him. A stream separates the land and picking up the story in Genesis 32:22, Jacob sends his family and all possessions across the ford and remained on the other side by himself where, it says, in verse 24, “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” As daybreak came, despite suffering from a dislocated hip, Jacob refuses to let go without receiving a blessing.
We have been given the same choice. Are we starting the new day in the grip of fear or are we clinging to God. What is faith other than an unrelenting holding on to God? We cannot allow fear to prevent us from the mission God has for our life. God does not promise that mission will be free of suffering and persecution. God never promises an easy road while on this earth. But the reward of the suffering of the path is that it is an on-ramp to the ultimate “high-way” of heaven that lasts for eternity.
But, let’s be honest with each other – we do not have the power to overcome this fear on our own. If we are fully aware of the pain and suffering that standing firm to the word of God will bring, our initial reaction is to draw away in fear. But, God does not expect us to overcome this fear on our own. We are not to overcome fear by looking through it to the reward on the other side, nor by convincing ourselves that it will be temporary or “not-so-bad”. While those may be true, they are insufficient. The only way we can overcome fear is by faith. The only way we can overcome fear is by following the example of Israel and relentlessly refuse to let go of God no matter how much the synonyms of fear (anxiety, despair, doubt and worry) grab ahold of us.
Hold the hand of the Lord firmer. He is reaching out to you with assurance, confidence, calm, encouragement and joy. “ Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” Do not allow fear to keep you out of those loving hands!
imprisoned, death, torture, whipped, cursed, falsely accused and tried, taken out of jobs, homes, land, the synagogue., stripped, beaten.
Some of this happens in places today. In all places, where followers stand strong in their faith, they are ridiculed and made fun of, caused to lose or forgo earthly riches, etc.
They are either in the grasp of fear or the hands of God – you can’t turn your life over to both. To allow yourself to be in the grip of fear is to deny that God has the power and authority and desire to protect you.
He suffered. It is an honor (not one we look forward to, yet we are taught so by the apostles) that He considers our faith strong enough to allow us to face that level of trial and persecution so that His message can shine through it.
I anticipate suffering in ever human matter possible – physically, emotionally, financially – as I continue to witness for Christ. I do not look forward to this suffering, but I do look forward to growing my faith through it and the comfort and assurance that Christ will provide through it.