God's Gift of Gospel Suffering

by David Daniels on

Articles 9 min read
Philippians 1:29 Colossians 1:24

Our driver raced down the long road between Durame and Arba Minch, trying to get the three of us to the airport in time for our flight back to Addis Ababa. The trusty SUV had seen better days, ever-beaten up by the unforgiving potholes connected by brief patches of pavement through the Ethiopian town. 

An hour and a half from our destination, there was a perceptible “clunk.” We all looked at each other as our driver slowed and pulled to the shoulder. Upon initial, quick inspection, the truck looked fine. But when we started moving again, the back tire rolled off the frame and the SUV slammed into the asphalt. The six lug nuts had been mysteriously sheared off in the last kilometer or two. We were stuck. And the clock was ticking.

The demonic tire (what else do you call it?) was just one more challenge in a series of unfortunate events. During my week of training pastors, I enjoyed no hot water. In fact, for most of my stay, I had no running water at all. The electricity in our town was shut down each evening around 8 pm so there was no reading, preparing for the next day’s lessons, or connecting with family back home. As usual on international trips, I experienced severe jet lag, getting no more than a few hours sleep the first three nights and zero hours of sleep on the fourth. The coup d’état was me letting my dietary guard down, eating tomato on my pizza, and paying a high price for the 24 hours following.

What a miserable trip.

A gloriously miserable trip.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I rarely suffer. Sure, I battle hay fever, flight delays, cracks in my phone screen, or a stain on a perfectly good pair of pants—all typical inconveniences while living in a broken world. These nuisances are normal. But the difficulties I face because I am on mission are of a different sort.

Suffering has been the lot of every missionary sent since the church began. Peter and John were jailed (Acts 4:3); Paul was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, robbed, and abandoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-29); Stephen was stoned (Acts 7:54-58); and John was exiled to Patmos (Revelation 1). As the missionary movement expanded, men and women moved around the globe taking the Gospel to the most inhospitable places and endured many of the same persecutions and problems. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to more people giving their lives to cross-cultural mission today is the dread of all the difficulties we can easily avoid if we just stay put in our comfortable first world.

Guilty as charged.

However, after 40 trips to make Christ known in various places, I’ve begun to adjust my perspective. Two verses have gradually reshaped irritations I and others face when we’re taking the Gospel to the nations. In the first, Paul reflects on his present imprisonment and those who were making his ministry hard. He knew that death was a real threat and encouraged his Philippian brothers and sisters to remain strong no matter what. In this context, the Apostle wrote, “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).

The word “granted” means more than “to give.” It means “a gift.” God gave us the gift of believing and receiving Christ. And, with this gift of salvation came a second: Suffering. God’s grace is to believe on Christ and be broken with Him. The obvious question is, “In what way is my suffering for Jesus’ sake a gift?”

The answer is in identification. Just as my faith in Jesus identifies me with Jesus, so my suffering for Him identifies me with Him as well. In other words, to willingly accept the likely inconveniences that come with the Gospel mission—large or small—is to embrace Christ as our suffering Savior. It is better to suffer for Him than it is to live at ease with myself. I am never more like Jesus than when I endure the harder thing in my attempt to make known Jesus and His Gospel. 

The second verse comes in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. To the church, he writes, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Certainly, the Apostle wasn’t suggesting that anything was lacking in regard to the sufficiency of Jesus’ death of the cross for sinners. But, what was still needed was the personal declaration of Christ and His cross to the nations. As such, Paul was glad to suffer in his delivery of the Gospel message in order to prove both people’s value to God and the Gospel’s value to people.


At a Christian summer camp in east Texas, counselors are given daily “get-to’s.” These are chores like kitchen duty, cleaning bathrooms, or early morning tasks. The camp has turned the language of obstacle (have-to’s) into opportunity (get-to’s). Mission affords the Christian opportunities to prove Christ and His Gospel of greater worth. This gift is almost impossible to discover in my convenience culture.

So, there we stood, in the middle of a desolate road somewhere in southwest Ethiopia. We had calculated our arrival at the airport without a minute to spare—not a wise decision in a foreign country. As a few townspeople gathered around and our driver hatched a plan, all I could mutter under my breath was “Thank you.”

First, I thanked God that we were spared. That the wheel came off when we were slowly accelerating and not barreling down the road at 60 MPH was a humbling miracle.

But I also thanked God for the freak incident. I was not in control. There were no immediate fixes. No auto mechanics. No one to call. It was hot. Our plane was on schedule and the clock was ticking. I couldn’t even speak the language to offer my suggestions. I wouldn’t be in the predicament if I had just stayed close to home.

And that was the point. If I could and would have avoided the difficulty, I would have missed identifying with my Savior who walked headlong into suffering for my sake. And would have missed the opportunity to prove that Jesus and His Gospel are worth it all. Thank you, Jesus, for letting me be just a little bit more like You. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “Ethiopia, I rejoice in broken tires and happily choose to be stuck in the middle of your country because my Jesus and His saving grace are worth you knowing about it!”          


My family knows that night #3 is usually the hardest for me on international trips. Jet lag has never been my friend and the third night often brings no more than a few minutes to just a couple of hours of sleep. Several years ago, while in Burundi, the Lord turned my irritation into invitation. Sitting in my dark room trying to will myself asleep, the Spirit of the Lord began to speak into my heart. The more I listened, the more I learned. I began to quickly type each lesson into my phone:

  1. Physical rest is temporary and is God’s way of giving us a deeper longing for our eternal rest (Hebrews 4:8-10).

  2. Momentary suffering is a way that I affirm the value of the Gospel of Jesus. The message is worth the price of infinite misery (Colossians 1:24).

  3. If my lack benefits others, the loss is worth it (Hebrews 13:16).

  4. God’s grace is sufficient for all of my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

  5. I have the skill and will to do many things but I cannot will myself to sleep. This is a reminder that I am wholly dependent on God (Proverbs 16:9).

  6. Every inconvenience I consciously choose and humbly endure for the sake of Christ identifies me with my Savior who died for me (Philippians 1:29).

Looking back, I realized that I could insert any difficulty in the place of jet lag–stomach viruses, delays, lack of air conditioning or hot water, dehydration, lost lug nuts, and more. Missionaries throughout history have suffered much, much more. Now, I prepare for my mission trips looking forward to every challenge God might permit me. In fact, on the previously dreaded “Night #3,” I ready myself with a Spotify playlist and headphones for a personal worship service and prayer, thanking God for the privilege of suffering for Him and His Gospel.

In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul beckons, “[J]oin with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God….” God invites us out of predictable convenience into unpredictable inconvenience. Mission offers us the opportunity to exercise this gift. Expect and embrace all the challenges that come with cross-cultural mission. Not because you “have to,” but because you “get to.”

Durame group Ethiopia DD.jpg

The author with national and local church leaders in Durame 

About the Author

Dr. David Daniels (D. Min. Dallas Theological Seminary, M. Div. Denver Seminary) is Lead Pastor of Central Bible Church and author of Next Step Church, Next Step Discipleship, Next Step JournalWonder, and An Unexpected King.