Discerning Difficulty

October 30, 2022

David Sorn

What do you do when you’re serving Jesus, and it gets really hard? Is God still in it even if we suffer?

Discerning Difficulty

October 30, 2022

David Sorn

What do you do when you’re serving Jesus, and it gets really hard? Is God still in it even if we suffer?

SERMON TRANSCRIPT | Colossians 1: 24:29


Good morning. My name is David Sorn, and I’m the Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.

Let me start with a controversial statement: I think much of how the American Church has talked about serving God over the past 25 years has been unbiblical

Think about how churches have traditionally talked about serving God and others

First they’ll start by having you take a spiritual gifts test

Which is some online test that feels like you’re about to get your enneagram number of something.

And then, after you find out your spiritual gift, you are supposed to put it to use.

And why??? What do they tell you?

Because this is how you were made!

And they say that using your Spiritual Gift is how you will find fulfillment and happiness!

Has anyone ever stopped to question how much this sounds like our American Culture?

American culture constantly tells kids that if they find out who they truly are and put those talents to use…

…THEN they will find ultimate happiness.

Okay, but let’s talk about this, because what happens if when you start to serve God…

…rather than finding happiness and fulfillment, you find difficulty and suffering?

Now what?

What happens when you start sharing your faith with your friends, and all it does is create tension in your friendship group?

Or, what happens when you feel like God wants you to say “yes” to being a small group leader, or “yes” to serving the needy with one of Local Partners, but it’s exhausting, and way harder than you thought.

Now what?

For most of us, when we encounter difficulty in serving God, we come to the following (wrong) conclusions

Our wrong conclusions when we suffer in serving:

1) God must not be in it

2) I should stop serving and take care of myself

Okay, but why are those false?

And when we face difficulties in serving God, how do we rightly discern what to do with those difficulties?

I want to talk about that very thing this morning.


I think we can find much wisdom in the life and teachings of the Apostle Paul, the author of the letter that we’re studying, Colossians.

Go ahead and grab a Bible, and let’s take a look at this letter

Page 805

Colossians 1:24

If you were here last week, Peter Schuett was here, and told his amazing testimony of how God reconciled him and made him new, and how verses 21-23 show us God can do the same in each of our lives.

Let’s take a look

(Colossians 1:24) – NIV

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering 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.

This can be a confusing verse, but it’s actually quite powerful.

Let me unpack it.

(Discerning Difficulty Title slide)

And while we do so, let’s break apart this FIRST false conclusion as well

Our wrong conclusions when we suffer in serving:

1) God must not be in it

2) I should stop serving and take care of myself

….this idea that If we encounter difficulty in serving, “God must not be in it”

Okay, so in verse 24, Paul says that he fills “up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” (or sufferings)

Now, at first glance, this almost sounds heretical.

What could possibly be lacking in Jesus’ suffering?

His death was sufficient for us.

It forgave us, and it didn’t need anything else.

So what is Paul saying then?

Well Paul says that he is suffering, “for the sake of the body” (that’s the church…and those not yet in the church).

And what Paul is saying then is what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions is the presentation of those afflictions to others.

In other words, Christ suffered in love for people, but most people out there don’t yet understand (or know about) that “suffering love”

And so what is the one of the main ways God will use you to help people understand Christ’s love?

Through your difficulties and suffering!

Now, let me remind you, that so much of this series on Colossians will sound foreign to your modern American ears, but it’s not foreign to the truth of Scripture.

If this verse is not making sense yet, let me explain it a different way:

Two weeks ago, I happened to read a story of a Christian from India who walked barefoot from village to village preaching the gospel in his country.

His hardships were many, and his suffering was great.

After a long day of many miles and much discouragement, he came to a certain village and tried to speak the gospel but was driven out of town and rejected.

There is a lot of persecution in India right now.

Anyway, this evangelist went to the edge of this village dejected, laid down under a tree, and slept from the exhaustion of his difficulties.

When he awoke, people were hovering over him and the whole town was gathered around to hear him speak.

The headman of the village explained that they came to look him over while he was sleeping and when they saw the blistered feet…

…they concluded that they had been wrong to reject him, and now they wanted to hear this message that he was willing to suffer so much to bring them.

Do you see what’s happening here?

This is exactly what Paul is talking about in verse 24 when he says that he fills up his flesh with the affliction and suffering of Jesus that is still lacking for some people.

That village hadn’t yet seen the “love of Jesus in action”

A love so deep that it would suffer to bring them salvation.

What Paul wants for his readers is for them to say:

I am going to be a visible representation of the “suffering love of Jesus” in my neighborhood, at my workplace, at my school, to my lost family members…

…no matter how much I must die to my own self-interest, or my own preferred schedules, or my own comfort levels.

I mean think about the setting of the letter of Colossians.

If you were here week 1, I mentioned that Paul is writing this letter…from PRISON!

He’s suffering immense difficulties from serving Jesus, but how does he start verse 24?

He says, “I rejoice in what I am suffering!”

I rejoice!

You actually see this kind of talk a lot from the early believers in the Bible.

In Acts, Peter and John are flogged by the Pharisees, and they “rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer” for Jesus

I always read those passages and think, “I’m just not sure the first thing I would do after a flogging is rejoice”

But why are they rejoicing? What do they get that we don’t get?

Because most of us, when serving God gets hard, we bow out.

Like I started with, we say, “This can’t be right! God must not in this! This is a closed door!”

What do these early Christians know that we don’t know?

Well, two things really.

1) they know that difficulty doesn’t necessarily mean God isn’t in it.

All of the great heroes of the New Testament suffered in serving God 10 times more than we’ve ever experienced, and yet they were walking right in the center of the will of God.

And 2) They know that nothing spreads God’s message like our suffering in serving Him.


This will make more sense as we keep reading, so let’s open back up to Colossians

Colossians 1:25-28

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(Colossians 1:25-28) – NIV

25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

(Discerning Difficulty Title slide)

Okay, so we see Paul willing to become the servant of suffering.

But why??

Because it’s worth it…

Because God called him to it…

And Because, as we’ve been saying in this series, “Jesus is over everything.”

Our goal in life is to glorify God, not to maximize self-comfort and fulfillment.

And listen to me: You will not suffer for Jesus if you think Jesus exists for you, and not you for Jesus.

And one of the downfalls of believing that Jesus exists to serve you and make things go well for you….is that anytime serving or obeying Jesus gets hard…

You’re going to lean towards dropping out.

Over my 20 years or so of ministry, I’ve watched so many leaders say encounter difficulty, and then say, “I think God’s just calling me to something else.”

What’s usually underneath that is a belief that says: “I’ve encountered difficulty, and my discernment is that if God wanted me to be in this, He’d make a way…

…but He hasn’t, so it’s time to step back”

But what’s happening here is I think so many American Christians have bought into this sneaky version of the Prosperity Gospel without even realizing it

If we suffer for serving Him…we’re apt to say: “God, why would you do this?”

As if He’s not supposed to let you face difficulty

As if God doesn’t intentionally use difficulty…

But let me ask you, do you know anyone who suffered more than the Apostle Paul who wrote this letter to the Colossians?

Paul was put in prison multiple times


Multiple times he had no food, or even clothing

He had chronic health problems that never went away

Never got married

He was whipped 5 times

Beaten with rods


Paul suffered, and he suffered mightily.

But let me ask you 2 questions:

Did God love Paul?

And did God use Paul tremendously?

Absolutely and Absolutely!!!

Okay, so then let me ask you:, “If you were to write your future over the next 20 years, and you wrote the story of yourself deeply learning the love of God and God using you tremendously in your workplace, your church, neighborhood, family…”

If you were to guess how that might look, would you write difficulty and suffering into your story?

Do you think God would use suffering to accomplish some of those things?

Because that’s what God seemed to do for everyone else in the Bible.

Think of it this way: What if God would have given Paul an easy life (like the one we always pray for: “Give me good health, the right job…”)

What if God gave Paul a life with lots of money, great health, great job, great family, and Paul just enjoyed his earthly pleasures in his hometown of Tarsus?

Anyone here think his life would have had the same result?

When it comes to this topic, so many of us Christians today believe things that would probably make the Apostle Paul pull his hair out.

We think, if my life goes well, and I do well at work, and my marriage goes well, and my kids turn out well, then, THEN, people will look at my life and want what I have: Jesus.

That’s baloney.

No one is going to come to that conclusion.

In truth, they’re just going to feel jealous of your great life, and probably just feel inferior about their own lives

And even if they did want Jesus after seeing all that, they’d just be wanting Jesus, not for Jesus’ sake, but because they think Jesus could give them a nice life like yours!

But do you know what does turn people’s head to want Jesus?

Your suffering.

Think about how non-believers look at our lives, not in our success and prosperity, but in our suffering.

Anybody can praise Jesus on the mountaintop, but when you praise Him in a valley, people will listen.

In many ways, this is how Christianity has grown from 12 people to over a billion followers…through suffering.

And not just the suffering of poor health, or hard circumstances.

But from the sufferings of those who did whatever it took to serve God

I think of missionaries like Hudson Taylor and Adoniram Judson who on the mission field lost spouses and children even…

And often, it was after they buried their family member in the ground of a foreign land, and still stayed, that then, the people wandered over to them and said, “That they said, “Tell us your message now”

Suffering is the story of our Christian heritage

The Roman Emperor Julian (who was the last non-Christian emperor)…was incredibly frustrated by the spread of Christianity during his reign.

In fact look at what he wrote about it:

“Let us consider that nothing has so much contributed to the progress of the superstition of Christians, as their charity to strangers. I think we ought to discharge this obligation ourselves, establish hospitals in every place—for it would be a shame for us to abandon our poor, while the impious Galileans [meaning Christians,] provide not only for their own, but also for ours.” – Roman Emperor Julian

See, in those days, during epidemics, the sick were almost always left for dead.

But the Christians (who had an assurance of eternal life) would go in and care for the sick…eventually even establishing hospitals

In those days, the average pagan Roman father (who wanted a son) would often leave his new baby girl in the gutter (with the mother screaming in the background), but the Christians would come and take the baby girl in.

(Discerning Difficulty Title slide)

Christianity exploded in the Roman empire not because “the Christians were the people that had the best lives

No, Christianity exploded because the Christians were the people that loved their God so much, that they would even suffer to serve Him and others.

And THAT is what turned heads.

And THAT is what opened people to their message.

Which, by the way, they were sharing all the time too

But maybe you’re thinking, “I get it, suffering promotes the Gospel. And I see that in India and the Roman Empire…but what about Suburban Blaine circa 2022?

And while we talk about 2022, I think we can start to break apart this second false conclusion as well:

Our wrong conclusions when we suffer in serving:

1) God must not be in it

2) I should stop serving and take care of myself

…the idea that if I encounter difficulty, I should stop serving and take care of myself

This is gonna get hard, but open up your heart to God’s way, not just your normal cultural way.

I think one of the ways you will suffer for Jesus, and God will use it tremendously, is if you give Jesus your most precious suburban asset: TIME

Often I hear about people stepping back from serving God, or they’re not ready to serve Him, and their reason is because they just have so much going on.

And so who do we cut out?

Serving Jesus.

And that makes it all the harder for our friends and family to believe us when we say, “Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life.”

Similarly, we sometimes don’t serve God, or we step back from doing so, because we’re tired, exhausted, we need rest.

And Biblically, that can be a good reason.

The problem is, I’m not sure I even know 5 people who are exhausted from serving God.

We’re exhausted because our kids are in 137 activities and we watch Netflix to 1am

This is why one of our Core Values is “We put God first”

We rightly prioritize our lives, so that we can do the right things.

It’s “Jesus over Everything,” even on our schedule.

Let me tell you another hard example of what suffering can look like for us…

You know, lots of times in Suburbia, serving Jesus gets cut out in the name of “serving our kids”

We say, “I’m gone too much. I’m out every week serving this family or this ministry, or if I went to Africa for 2 weeks to share the Gospel, it would be hard on my kids….”

And underneath all that is this belief that we don’t want our kids to suffer in any way from us following the gospel.

And I just want to tell you that’s a cultural lie from the enemy.

Parents, you are not going to raise on-fire Christ followers, if they never see you sacrificing for Him.

If on your schedule, your kids are always more important than Jesus, what will they grow up to think of themselves?

I was talking with a couple this week who told me that once a week they double the amount of food they make for dinner, and invite over neighbors who don’t know Christ.

But they said, “Often, inside, what they want to do is just have another dinner with their kids. Buy less food. Have more intentional family time.”

But they embrace the difficulty of hospitality and outreach because their #1 priority is not their comfort, and their #1 priority is not even their kids, their #1 priority is Christ.

It’s serving their God

And I know this message makes you want to go, “Yeah, but what about, and what if this, and what if that?”

And certainly, there is nuance and complexity here, but the truth is…

Our long list of exceptions and excuses have lulled us to sleep for too long

So what if you swapped your “what if excuses” for the “what ifs of faith”

And you said, “What if I started a Bible study in my neighborhood on Tuesday nights? What if? Even if it was risky, and scary, and difficult.

But what if? What could God do then?

Maybe, in your risk of difficulty, they would see something they never saw before.

You can say, “What if I said ‘yes’ to a leadership position at church?”

“What if I actually did what God has been whispering to my heart to do for years?”

But then we go, “No, but what if it’s hard?”

It’s gonna be hard! But for too long, we’ve been making our decisions based solely upon what will make me the most comfortable, and it’s time we get back to just asking, “God, what do you want me to do?”

“And if it’s hard, give me the strength to do it, no matter how difficult”


That was Paul’s attitude.

That’s the attitude of the early Christians.

That’s the attitude of the Christians WHO CHANGED THE WORLD!

Look now to verse 29:

Colossians 1:29

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(Colossians 1:29) – NIV

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

(Discerning Difficulty Title slide)

Paul is saying: “To get out and share the gospel, to build up the church, I will strenuously”

That means, “I’ll labor until extreme fatigue….”

Paul is not fazed by his difficulties.

He’s still in it.

He’s strenuously contending!

He has discerned his difficulties correctly.

I mean, let me just ask you:

Should Paul come to that 2nd false conclusion that we so often come to?

Should Paul say, “They whipped me, and stoned me, I can’t get healthy, they put me in prison……and so I need to step back and just take care of myself for a while.”

Is that what Paul should have said?

Because that’s 100% what we would say.

But Paul knows that God is working and moving, so he keeps strenuously contending.

(Discerning Difficulty Title slide)

But some of you are saying, “David, I can’t. I just can’t. I’m exhausted from serving like this…from sharing like this…from caring for this difficult person in my family …I can’t keep going…or, I can’t even get started!”

“You’re thinking, David, I’m not the Apostle Paul. I don’t have this endless energy inside of me like Paul”

Whoa, wait. Hold on.

That’s not what Paul said.

Read the text.

What does he write in verse 29???

Look at it.

Paul says, “To this end, I strenuously contend because I can do anything I set my mind to!”

Ah! That’s not what he said.

That’s the American Gospel, that’s not the Biblical Gospel

See, this is not about you and your energy and your ability!

It says “To this end, I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me!”

So you can face the difficulty, and you can survive the difficulty because it is CHRIST that is powering you through.

It is CHRIST that is with you and gives you strength.

And he loves you and will never leave your side!

You know, I believe God would say to many you, “In truth, most things are too hard for you, and I like it that way, because then (and for many of you, ONLY THEN), will you strenuously contend by using the right resources! Me. You’ll rely on Me.”

And then when you do that, what will people see???

Not you…but CHRIST in you…the Hope of Glory!

Amen? Amen.

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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