As Christians, we are all called to suffer with Christ. How that looks varies from person to person, but the overarching tenet is the same. We all face trials of various kinds, which are allowed by God to develop our character, advance His kingdom, and bring glory to His name.
It helps to read of other great men and women who have suffered for Christ. Like Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And whether from the pages of Scripture, or in books from the last 2000 years, we have the examples of godly saints to instruct and encourage us as we walk through the same fiery trials of this sin-cursed life.
Unfortunately, many biographies gloss over the sufferings of our favorite heroes of the faith. While they share important facts about people’s lives and works, they can sometimes leave us feeling “less-than” as we consider all they accomplished during their short lifespans — and compare it to how little we feel we’ve done with our lives. We measure our skills and abilities against their time-honored accomplishments, and feel like we fall desperately short.
That’s not the point of biographies, of course. They are written for our instruction and encouragement, not our jealousy or despair. But too many biographies are just cleaned-up revisions of what people were able to accomplish in their short years on earth, without the struggles they faced along the way or their ignorance of how God used them in others’ lives. Yet it helps tremendously to learn more about their sufferings, brokenness, failures, and frailties. It encourages us to read of their “humanness” and realize their lives were just as messy and discouraging as ours.
12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry
That’s one reason I picked up 12 Faithful Men, a book that considers the lives of 12 men throughout history — from the Apostle Paul to modern-day martyrs — who suffered in various ways for the sake of the gospel. As such a compilation, it doesn’t attempt to give a full biography of each person, but does share the pertinent biographical facts related to how they struggled and endured in ministry.
Each chapter is focused on one person, and one specific way they showed faithful endurance through their unique trials. It shares specific details of their sufferings, direct quotations from their correspondence or sermons, and a few key takeaways that we can glean from their examples. Many of the names were familiar, but not all — unfortunately, it was a little harder to relate to the unfamiliar ones due to the brevity of each chapter. However, there were a plethora of end notes, which provided quite a few resources for further reading about each of the men.
The first chapter considers Paul, the “Apostle of Pastoral Affliction,” and served as sort of an introduction to the whole book. In considering a brief theology of suffering, it shared six Pauline lessons on faithfulness that we would do well to heed, whatever our occupation may be. It then went on to consider the following 11 examples of faithful endurance:
- John Calvin: Faithful in Exile
- John Bunyan: Faithful in Prison
- Jonathan Edwards: Faithful to the End
- John Newton: Faithful amid Disappointment
- Andrew Fuller: Faithful amid Heartbreak
- Charles Simeon: Faithful Shepherd to Hostile Sheep
- John Chavis: Faithful in the Face of Racism
- C. H. Spurgeon: Faithful in Sorrow
- J. C. Ryle: Faithful amid Personal Ruin
- Janani Luwum: Faithful unto Death
- Wang Ming-Dao: Faithful amid Political Coercion
As I read each chapter, I found it especially helpful to note the variety of trials. Some suffered severe persecution for their faith, some from family deaths or betrayals, and others from financial hardships or emotional struggles. Everyone’s suffering looks different, and everyone’s response to suffering looks different! There is no one-size-fits-all manual for facing persecution (other than trusting in God to carry you through it).
Encouragement for Those in Ministry
While the book is officially written to men who are pastors, I found it extremely helpful in strengthening my own faith. Lord willing, I have many long years of ministry ahead of me — and I know I will face many trials, especially as we seek to share the gospel with unreached people. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I know we will face persecution of some sort, financial difficulties, relational stress, and physical challenges. I know, because we’ve barely gotten our feet wet with ministry and yet have already walked through many of those types of trials.
Reading these “portraits of courageous endurance” gave me hope that, though the road may be long and hard and filled with hurdles, God will continue to work in and through me to accomplish His purposes. It fortified my faith in our good Heavenly Father, who will never allow anything in our lives that is not for our good and His glory. I know suffering will come — but I also know the One who will walk with me through that suffering.
This compilation of biographical sketches should be an encouragement for any Christian, no matter what your calling in life, and especially for those serving in full-time ministry. We all face hard things as soldiers of Christ, but those in pastoral ministry or missions of some sort seem to experience an extra measure of trials. If that’s you, I’d highly recommend this book as a way to prepare or strengthen your heart and mind, and remind yourself of the truth that God does not waste our suffering!
Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for sharing my honest opinion. All thoughts expressed herein are completely my own.