We must never treat suffering as an abstract philosophical issue. Jesus’ disciples did this in John 9; when seeing a man born blind, begging, they wonder “who sinned this man or his parents?” Jesus reproves them saying “neither, but that the works of God might be displayed. As long as it is day we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work” (vv2-4).
The Lord here was thinking of his own ministry life and death – remember how John stresses, when Judas leaves to betray Jesus, “it was night”, - oh what darkness. But this is also a passage and a verse that has spoken powerfully to me since I’ve been ill. As good old Bishop Ryle says, “there is no work in the grave towards which we are all fast hastening”. The night is coming and this is the day of salvation. Heaven will be amazing, but it will be too late for evangelism and I feel that imperative strongly. Time is short and we must take every opportunity to tell others of Christ.
What I have also found is that God has not only given me motivation, but also practically helped me in this area in two other ways. Firstly that suffering opens up an opportunity to shine out the glory of God (v 3). People often think that Christians believe they are better than everyone else. But when we are struggling along with fear, suffering and death we are demonstrating that we are precisely not like that. We are vulnerable and weak and, interestingly, people often find that accessible. The man born blind, in his troubles, was lying in Jesus' way and so are we. What can we say to others? Well, we can pass on what the blind man was told (v 37) “You have now seen the Son of man, in fact he is the one speaking with you”.
Secondly, but how can we then help our friends “see” the Son of Man (as, of course, they too like all of us have been born blind). Five years ago a Christian friend of mine in the City of London convinced me to try inviting my non-Christian friends to have a chat with me about the bible. He had found the Word 121, which is simply John’s gospel with really helpful notes written by Rev William Taylor of St Helen's Bishopsgate alongside each verse. I was nervous about this and was staggered (Oh ye of little faith!) to find that many of my friends were only too willing to chat with me. Word 121 works because the gospel is supernaturally powerful and the notes assist to make each verse so accessible. John’s gospel is littered with people who are suffering in one way or another and whose lives are transformed by meeting the Saviour. That’s what happens in my experience using the Word 121; as we open God's word together, Jesus steps off the page and starts speaking to both me and my friends.
Has your faith become all about you without you realizing it because, to be frank, you have never known how or felt qualified to share the Gospel? Yet doing so is exactly what we are all called to do in the Great Commission, and in using Word 121 I have found the how! It is available free on the web for zoom meetings or in printed book form. So many ordinary untrained Christians throughout the world are discovering that God has prepared the hearts of their friends to agree to just take a look at what the best-selling book of all time actually has to say. Oh what wonderful joy in becoming a page-turner …a bible sharer...as my Saviour does all the work, bringing new life through His Word! You too can become a Word sharer - find out more here at https://www.theword121.com/ and start asking. I believe you will be amazed at whom God has prepared to say “yes” to looking at His Word!
Almighty God, through your only Son Jesus Christ you have conquered death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: by your grace put good desires into our minds and, in your mercy, help us to bring them to their fulfilment, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.