Today I was in on an international phone conversation between a number of bloggers and Ajith Fernando, a well-known Christian leader from Sri Lanka and one of the main speakers next month at Cape Town 2010. One of the themes of his writings and ministry over the years is suffering and Christian faith. His recent article, “To Serve is to Suffer,” has raised a lot of discussion (note the tagline: “If the apostle Paul knew fatigue, anger, and anxiety in his ministry, what makes us think we can avoid them in ours?”). He discusses how the pendulum that has swung many times over the years between expending oneself for the sake of the work of the gospel, and the need for balance and rest. He says that the perceived danger of stress and burnout has caused some to avoid the valid and biblical costs of service. Service is sacrifice–even suffering.
I asked Ajith what he would say about the issue of heart attitude. How do we serve sacrificially, even to the point of suffering, but make sure that we don’t slip into self-righteousness, Phariseeism, bitterness, drivenness, or comparison. His response? This is a real issue, and should be discussed. Service is important, but the most important thing is Jesus. Everything we have and everything we get to do in service to Jesus is of his mercy. When we serve out of his mercy then “the dominant emotion” that results is joy–not anger or resentment. There are many angry Christian workers. Joy comes out of gratitude. And when we are grateful, then we have the right motive to serve and to suffer. Ajith expands on that idea in his book The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry.
Among the many responses to Ajith’s article is this response from Miroslav Volf.