What can you say to a friend who feels like giving up, who can’t take the hardship anymore? Here’s what I did say:
Jerry, I certainly feel for you. I can’t imagine how I would be feeling if what is happening to you happened to me. I have wondered what to say. Here’s my best shot. Hope to God it helps.
Today we need to remember the scores of pastors in China, who are doing what they have done for years, preaching the Gospel. And the government is doing what it has done for years, throw them in prison—some for the tenth time. They may stay there for five years. Someone told me that you can’t trust a minister who hasn’t been in prison. He’s the real deal. They refuse to be angry at God—or even the government. It is not about them and their welfare. It is not survive or else. It is obey or else.
Today we need to pray for the persecuted church in Africa, where throngs are fleeing for their very lives—and many don’t make it. Those who do refuse to recant under threat of the loss of life or limb. It is not about them. It is about their eternity.
Paul could speak. Look at the grocery list of his hardship (2 Cor. 11). None of us has anything close. Yet he was able to say to the Colossians: “I rejoice is my sufferings for your sake” (1:24). He called suffering for Christ a gift to be received rather than a burden to bear (Phil. 1:29).
And Peter told us not to be surprised at the “fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (I Peter 4:12). Unfortunate—yes; strange—no. Difficult—by all means; strange—hardly. Suffering is democratic; we all go through it, but all in different ways. Peter followed with this exhortation: “But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (13).
We live for the age to come. We live in the now; we live for the not yet. Like Peter, who went through great hardship and probably died crucified upside down, you can learn to “set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). We’re not home yet. We are called strangers, aliens, and sojourners. So we don’t settle down, as if this is all there is. When I am faced with hardship, I try to look beyond the horizon.
All of which enables us to do what the champions in the Hebrews Hall of Fame (Heb. 11) chose to do—put their marbles in the world to come. Like Jesus, we endure, for the joy set before us. If we have joy now, we enjoy. If we do not, we endure. It may be the most important quality for end-time believers who know it is going to get worse before it gets better. But the better is “out of this world!”