God's StyleBy Nathan Mates
"I can't make it to church, I've got a sudden, killer, headache." "I feel very queasy, I better skip that church meeting." "I was feeling intense pain, so I skipped that event. Once it was over, I felt better." So often we've heard those words said, or even spoken them ourselves. Such things happen, but it is important to correctly identify the source of such things.
Jesus says this about his way of getting our attention: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." [Revelation 3:20] On the other hand, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." [1 Peter 5:8b]
God is all-powerful, able to do all things, but is a God of love, compassion, and grace. He does not force us to do anything-- heavy-handed methods can not be done in love. God gently guides us to a point where we see that he is right, On the other hand, Satan is the master of every dirty trick in the book (you could call him the author of that book) to hurt us, keep us from God, and keep us from relationship with others. Pain and suffering is what Satan is good at; as a bumper sticker says "Satan hates you, and has a horrible plan for your life."
As the title of this writing goes, God has a style, a pattern, that he uses to guide us. Satan has a rather different style. If you are feeling attacked before, or on the way to a church event, resist the temptation to think that God doesn't want us there. Intense pain while doing God's will is almost certainly not from God. That is Satan's preferred style to hit us with pain. Yes, Satan may come in with far more subtle approaches, but in his most natural form, he's the most identifiable.
While God may allow Satan to attack our lives [e.g. Job 1:12, 2:6], Peter notes that Satan is on God's leash, and we have the capacity to handle it: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." [1 Peter 5:8-9]
So far, what I've said has been fairly black and white: pain is from Satan, and God doesn't do that. Please, note, however, that this started from a discussion of pain before/during church events. I am reasonably certain that 99.9% of the time, God wants us to go to church each week, to be in fellowship, and to be in prayer. The early church was commended for doing just that: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." [Acts 2:42] It's Satan that doesn't want us doing such things, and any pain associated with such things is almost certainly from him.
If God doesn't want us at church or a church event, he's usually got something else going on for his kingdom. Jesus himself said that there are things more than sacrificing at the altar: "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." [Matthew 5:23-24] God wants us to come to him with a pure, clean, heart, and loves our repentance and restoration to each other more than a burnt offering.
Satan, on the other hand, wants us to be miserable and separated from church. There's no healing, no restoration, no Christian growth if we're sick for a few minutes or hours. Once again, look to see the signature styles involved-- God wants us to grow as Christians, and Satan wants us useless for God.
All of the above being said, there are times when God does hit people fairly hard. In the days of Noah, God drowned all of the world except for 8 people. Jonah most likely didn't feel very good sitting in the belly of a huge fish. The Israelites were invaded, lost their capital city Jerusalem, and exiled to Babylon. [2 Kings 25, etc] God certainly allowed all of these to happen. But, what they have in common is that the punishment came after people disobeyed.
God does let us play with fire (or sin) long enough to get burnt and hurt in the process. In fact, Paul recommends this for some of the most unrepentant sinners, saying "hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord." [1 Corinthians 5:5, the nature of the sins that caused such a judgment are in 5:1-4] If we disobey God, we're lucky that God doesn't let us get hurt any worse. But, as above, heading to Church is almost certainly not disobedience for Christians.
There is also another category of suffering that God allows: persecution for doing right. Jesus was the ultimate example of that: he was sinless [2 Corinthians 6:21], yet suffered a humiliating, degrading death on the cross. Jesus didn't deserve any of what he suffered, but he did so to take away the sins off all Christians so we can have a right relationship with God.
Beyond Jesus, there's many that have suffered for doing right-- from the extreme case of martyrs who refused to deny Christ, to those who have lost jobs because of their faith, to those who are ridiculed for their beliefs. Such things are allowed, because, as Jesus triumphed while suffering, we can triumph and show God's power at work by a right response to such suffering. [1 Peter 3:18-22]
God's got a purpose when he allows us to suffer-- in fact such things are promised by Jesus: "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." [Matthew 10:37-39] On the other hand, Satan would rather us suffer for no purpose other than to suffer and feel miserable.
God's style is to gently guide us into relationship with him, and continually steer us on to being more and more like him. [2 Corinthians 3:18] Satan's style is to try and hurt us, distract us, make us ineffective for God, and make us blame God for all the hurt. In the midst of pain, don't let your judgment be clouded; recognize their signature styles.
If you're unsure, ask yourself this question: "If this takes place, who's getting the glory? Is God exalted by this, or am I being pulled out of relationship with God and other believers?" If the answer to that is that it's Satan, do what Peter recommends as quoted above in 1 Peter 5:9 "Resist him, standing firm in the faith." As Christians, Satan is no longer our master, but God is-- and God is far more powerful. Armed with God's power and strength, we have the ability to resist Satan, and go ahead with God's plans for our lives. It may not be easy, it may not be pleasant, but God is teaching us to rely on his strength more and more.