This is a sensitive issue about affliction and trials. It is difficult to say anything without appearing to diminish or seem negative about someone who is or has endured a long term illness and all that goes with it. I have never had to endure anything like that nor would I want to so I cannot speak from a perspective of experience. It is a terrible trial to endure, I am sure, and I always pray for those in the midst these diseases. But I feel it is necessary to make a distinction in what the bible means concerning affliction.
I believe that when the bible talks about the perseverance of the saints, patience through affliction, peace through troubled time and contentment when life’s needs are totally dependent on the Lord, the bible is referring to persecution from the world. Jesus warned the disciples that they would suffer persecution at the hands of the religious leaders and those who would want to please them, at the end of His time with them. Through the gifts of the Spirit and the strength only He could provide during those trials, we can endure persecution from the world because we know that is part of our maturing process in our relationship with Christ. We are so unworthy of this gift of God and it explains why the apostles rejoiced when they received punishment for sake of the cross, because God found them worthy to serve in His kingdom.
In our country we have had a long sustained religious freedom. We have had it relatively easy in regards to worshipping God, and I think we have become spiritually soft. I believe this is why we associate the affliction of cancer or a financial downturn with those bible passages of perseverance. Some always question God as to why He would allow this to happen and doubt God in His providence. I do believe it is our duty as a servant of Christ to assist those who are in these situations. Do I want to ask God to allow cancer to enter my body or to be on the streets penniless to strengthen my faith? I don’t but I would seek God if it happened, pray that my faith will not waver and would rely on His Spirit for all the strength I would need. I believe, though, that the affliction we have through cancer and other events can be categorized as a thorn in the flesh or weakness of the flesh, and through these we can bring glory to God and we worship and serve in our weakness and turning it into a strength for Him. It is an affliction but not what the bible is referring to what we have to persevere through.
We have not been confronted with persecution, in this country, that would compare to what the apostles and the early Christians endured, or those in countries like China and Islamic states. I do not know what they would think about what we consider afflictions to persevere through. I often wonder how I would do under persecution when someone who knows how to inflict pain without killing a person is trying to get me to deny Jesus Christ as my Lord. And I do not know the answer. I pray I can endure but God only knows. There will be a time when the church of the United States will face persecution on the scale of China. If we look close enough we can the seeds that have been planted years ago through Hobbes, Rousseau, Darwin, Nietzsche, Sanger, Freud and others starting to grow in our society. My prayer is that I can endure it and the church as a body can not only survive but thrive and flourish as the early church did under Roman persecution.
God, we need Your presence in our lives and Your Spirit to keep us from going completely soft spiritually and to forsake the way of the world for the sake of the cross.