Kingdom work is hard by design. I don’t mean to suggest the evil we encounter along the way is a part of God’s plan. Instead, it is the work of Satan who tries everything possible to make us feel mistreated and abandoned. James was concerned believers might misinterpret their feelings in the midst of difficult circumstances when he wrote, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:13-14). Clearly, it is not God’s desire for us to be harassed by the Tempter, or to fall victim to his schemes.
Still, our exposure to hardship, suffering and sin hints of Divine intentionality. As Jesus’ painful death on the cross neared, He made this request of His Father in reference to His disciples: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). It is highly possible you have heard this excerpt many times before, but have you ever contemplated its strategic implications? This prayer was not a last-minute brainstorming session between the Father and the Son. If the kingdom of God on earth was to expand through believers, then it was necessary for them to live in non-kingdom places where they could love and serve non-kingdom people. Though inherently dangerous, this approach was the most practical means of reproducing disciples. How else can Jesus’ principle, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8), be put into practice?
Just as Jesus’ mission required Him to suffer for our sakes, our mission calls us to suffer with Him. One day there will be one kingdom, and death, mourning, crying and pain will cease (Revelation 21:4). But while we live as citizens of God’s kingdom, behind enemy lines, it is impossible to avoid the inevitable conflict. In the words of Paul, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29).