I didn’t set out to write a series based on Revelation 2-3. As I began reading the book of Revelation during my quiet times, I wanted to find truths written to the churches that apply for my life. What came from that desire to find one thing in each letter . . . is this series.
The churches to whom John wrote dealt with many of the same issues we face in an increasingly godless culture. Just as the early churches made choices about whether they would live for Jesus or themselves, so too, do we.
We have the gift of being able to look at back at their strengths and weaknesses and learn from them.
This isn’t an in-depth theological rendering of these letters. Rather, each post reflects what God has taught me through studying both the letters and the churches. As we walk through Revelation two and three over the next seven weeks, I hope you’ll be encouraged and share your thoughts here! Past posts can be found here: Revelation Series
Can I just be honest for a minute?
I prayed for years that God would spare me from the hardships of life. I look back now and see what an unrealistic prayer that was. From my current vantage point I understand that this prayer opposes God’s best for me . . . for each of us.
As I read the words of Jesus to the church of Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), my heart went out to the people of that day. They were told that they would endure affliction.
They were afflicted and poor, and yet God called them rich.
They were rich because, in spite of their outward poverty, they walked closely with Jesus.
The people of this church were slandered by the “religious” people of their day. Reputations smeared in the dirt. Lies spoken about them.
This church suffered.
Any one of these kinds of persecution can drain the life right out of a person. This church faced all three.
Then the church of Smyrna was told more suffering was coming. Some of them would be sent to prison.
The imprisonment was a test.
I don’t pretend I understand all of God’s ways. I don’t know why He chooses to test His people with such painful difficulties.
I don’t know why He allows His children to face unjust treatment. Why He permits people to persecute His children.
We see it in our world today. People in the Middle East who are gunned down for their belief in Jesus. Others who are imprisoned because they insist on embracing the Gospel and its hope.
We see it to a lesser degree in our country as Christians are maligned for their “archaic” belief in a God who allows bad things to happen to the people He “supposedly” loves. Some are fired because they have minor displays of their faith on their desk, or computer.
When we view suffering through eyes that only see the circumstances, we develop a limited, sometimes worldly perspective.
God told the people of Smyrna to “be faithful, even to the point of death.”
God doesn’t allow us to suffer just because. When He allows suffering into our lives, He has a purpose, often more than one. We can choose to view it and respond to suffering (and God’s hand behind it) with an earthly viewpoint and become resentful.
Or we can choose to yield to God’s plan and accept the suffering, believing that He has a bigger purpose behind it all.
Sometimes when we walk through suffering, we learn more about God. We see Jesus with a deeper perspective.
Sometimes, we see ourselves more clearly—our strengths . . . and our flaws. God doesn’t let our flaws be our judge. But they can drive us closer to Him in the midst of the hard.
We can choose to be faithful in holding to our beliefs that God is a good God, even when our circumstances seem to portray the opposite.
When we view suffering through eyes of faith, we embrace an eternal perspective. Even if this does mean suffering to the point of death this side of heaven.
Will we remain faithful to the God we say we love?
God didn’t promise to rescue the church of Smyrna out of their sufferings in this life.
But, He did promise them a victor’s crown—life.
“Because He would give them life as their victor’s crown.”
This passage reminds me that truth is this—We will suffer in this life. We should expect it. Most of us will not suffer unto death, but none of us gets out of this life without scars.
Just because we suffer—or we suffer more than those around us—it doesn’t mean God loves us less for allowing it. He promises to be with us.
And He tells us we will have life as our crown.
In walking more years with Jesus, I’ve learned suffering is not the bad thing. The bad thing would be to accuse God for allowing it, rather than to trust that He knows what He’s doing in and through my life.
Even when I don’t.
As we live out our days in a world that increasingly turns its back on the one true God, we can expect to suffer. But, when we walk through trials with a determination to live faithful, God walks with us. And He assures us there is a crown of eternal life waiting for us.
What about you? How do you navigate the seeming discrepancy between God’s goodness and His allowing us to suffer? What is one verse that helps you stay close to God during times of suffering?