The Art of Suffering Well

by | May 2, 2011 | Old Magazine Articles

The Art of Suffering WellJesus promised we would suffer for His
name, yet how many of us know how to rise above our struggles? While he
and his wife battled cancer, Billy Hornsby offered this profound message on how to face life’s biggest trials—including death.

Editor’s Note: In
light of Billy Hornsby’s death (see “Transitions”), we wanted to
pay tribute to this remarkable church planter by sharing one of his
last public messages, which he delivered in December to his home church
in Birmingham, Ala. At the time, the cancer in Billy was progressing
rapidly and, though he believed God for healing, he was upfront about
the possibility of dying. Given this context, Billy’s powerful words—and
how he lived his last moments on earth—take on new meaning and prove
that God can provide grace, strength and victory in any situation, no
matter how bleak the outcome.


Have you ever started a year thinking, This is going to be a great year—in fact, I’m going to have the best year of my life?
At first, everything seems to be going great and life is good. But then
tragedy strikes. Maybe your business goes south, or maybe you get a
dreaded disease. It rocks your world because you have such great
expectations for the future, but suddenly you find yourself in despair
over a tragedy that’s affected your life.

I experienced this firsthand after
finding out in 2009 that I had melanoma and then recently discovering it
had spread throughout my body. It was shocking. I was left reeling. And
like most people who have a head-on collision with tragedy, I dealt
with several emotions that tried to rob me of my inner life.

Fear was the first thing to hit me. Fear
has no equal in messing up your life. First John 4:18 says, “There is no
fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves
torment.” I trust in God. But I’ll be honest, when you get a bad
report—especially when you find out you have a disease—it can be
terrifying. Some days I’d feel as if I had the victory, and yet the very
next day I’d feel completely destroyed by my emotions. Fear has the
power to torment.

Dread can also torment you and rob you of
your joy. You start wondering about what will happen tomorrow, next
week, next month. In my case, it was: What’s going to happen when they do this procedure?
I had to go through several medical procedures, and I began to dread my
reactions to the treatments. Even though I’d say I wouldn’t experience
any of the side effects from these procedures, I did—and I’m convinced
some of them were worse than they were supposed to be because I dreaded all that time. Dread steals your todays. The more you dread about tomorrow, the more you lose today.

I’ve also encountered doubt. I don’t
doubt God at all. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t blame things on God; I
don’t get angry at Him. But when doubt tries to creep in, I can feel
the condemnation. We know condemnation isn’t from God; it comes from the
enemy. And when we’re facing a tragedy, we don’t want to doubt—of all
the times in our lives, that’s when we know we need to have faith.

But doubt will naturally begin to breed
condemnation if you let it linger. You’ll begin to think you really
don’t have any faith and that you’ve let God down. That condemnation
will open the floodgates to fault-finding questions: Did I do something wrong that’s causing me to go through this? Is God punishing me for something?

We all struggle with this, even when we
know these attacks are straight from the enemy and not God punishing us.
My mama used to tell me: “Billy, that’s what you call life. As long as
you’re on earth you’re going to have pain, you’re going to suffer,
you’re going to get sick. When you die you don’t have to worry about any
of that stuff. But while you’re living, some of that stuff is going to
come your way.”

So if we’re all bound to face suffering,
how do we avoid giving in to these emotions—very real, powerful
emotions—that the enemy uses to steal our life? When we’re struggling,
when we’re suffering, when relationships fail, when health fails, how
can we stand with God in faith and live in the covenant He’s made with

1. Run to the Word.

I live in a city that offers some of the
best medical care in the nation. The doctors, hospitals and medical
centers that have helped me have been an incredible blessing through my
trial. But none of these is my hope. The Word of God is my hope. It is
my cure. Proverbs 4:20-22 says: “My child, pay attention to what I say.
Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them
penetrate deep into your heart, for they bring life to those who find
them, and healing to their whole body” (NLT). What a promise! The Word
brings health to your body; like medicine, it brings a cure to the
entire body.

My wife Charlene is also going through
cancer. She’s been battling it for four years. I’ve been on chemo for
three months; she’s been on chemo for four years. The other day
we were taking chemo at the same time, and Charlene was getting her
treatment intravenously. The nurse couldn’t find a vein and kept jabbing
around until finally she asked my wife, “Honey, am I hurting you?” My
wife didn’t even blink: “I’m tough,” she said.

My brother says Charlene is the toughest
person in the world—and I agree. But I also know part of the reason why.
Every night before we go to bed, I ask her if she took her medicine.
She knows I’m not talking about the medicine the doctors gave us; I’m
talking about the Word. Every night I find her in the bedroom reading
the Bible—she’s taking in God’s Word because that’s her cure. 

The Word is where we get our strength and tenacity. The Word is our medicine.

2. Take no thought for tomorrow.

Jesus said, “Take therefore no thought
for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of
itself” (Matt. 6:34, KJV). Another version says, “Do not be anxious
about tomorrow” (ESV). At times fear paralyzed me. I once ran right
through a red light while driving because I was so consumed with fear
from all the things I was going through. To be honest, it took me a few
weeks to overcome this fear. But the way I did was by applying this
Scripture: Take no thought for tomorrow. It was like a command
from Jesus to me. When thoughts came to me of all the things that could
go wrong and all the suffering I might have to endure, I would tell
myself: “No, I’m not dwelling on that. I’m not taking any thought on
that whatsoever.”

When you start thinking about future
suffering or struggles, or all the bad things that could happen, stop
those thoughts immediately. Obey Jesus and take no thought for tomorrow.

3. Surround yourself with family, friends and intercessors.

I recently visited my brother in
Louisiana for a few days, during which most of my family came to see me.
It was so encouraging to have them express their love for me and pray
for me. They made me feel like a million dollars—friends and family can
do that.

Just as important as being encouraged by
family and friends is having people pray for you. I actively recruit
people to pray for me and agree with me in prayer. Knowing you have
people around you to lift you up makes the struggle easier.

4. Submit to God.

James 4:7 says: “Submit to God. Resist
the devil and he will flee from you.” Some people say they don’t believe
in the devil—and that’s exactly how he’d prefer it. He wants you to
believe he doesn’t exist. But I can tell you firsthand: We have an

How, then, do we deal with him? We must
submit to God, which means we have to line up our lives with God’s Word,
His principles, His will and His purpose. Only then can we resist the
devil. We don’t come against the devil on our own; we come against him
by the authority of the name of Jesus Christ. It’s only by His authority
that I can tell the devil, “The Lord rebuke you.” I tell my cancer, “The Lord rebuke you.” He’s my savior, my healer. My greatest weapon in resisting the devil is submitting to God.

5. Be a good soldier.

Paul told Timothy: “You therefore must
endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in
warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may
please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).

A few weeks ago I gathered my whole
family around me and we talked frankly about my situation. I reminded
them that I belong to Jesus Christ. He’s the one who called me into this
battle, into this ministry. Even as I’m facing this dreadful disease,
I’m going to live a life that honors Him. I may suffer, and I may
struggle in all this. But I’ve given Jesus my word that if I struggle,
I’m going to struggle well; and if I suffer, I’m going to do it as a
good soldier. I vowed to show others that there is enough grace from God
to withstand and overcome anything that comes my way. That’s the
promise of God to me.

That’s also a sobering message to give
your family. But I wanted to encourage my grandchildren, my sons-in-law,
my children and my wife that no matter what we go through, we must
endure it as good soldiers. I never want to bring disgrace on the name
of Jesus because I forsook His grace, love and peace and became so
self-absorbed that I pitied myself. Rather, I want my life to glorify
God—and it will, somehow. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m more focused now
on being a good solider than anything else, and I believe God will honor
that, just as He’ll honor you when you make the same commitment.

The Key Is Covenant

We often forget how much God honors our
commitments. He takes them seriously because He is a God of covenant—and
He does not take covenant lightly.

A story in Genesis has really opened my
eyes to this truth as I’ve faced this season of trials. Abraham was
talking to God one day, reminding Him how he didn’t have any offspring
and that Eliezer of Damascus would end up being his heir because he was
childless. God replied by promising Abraham that his offspring would be
as numerous as the stars in the sky—and he proved this by entering into a
covenant with Abraham: “So [God] said to him, ‘Bring Me a 3-year-old
heifer, a 3-year-old female goat, a 3-year-old ram, a turtledove and a
young pigeon.’ Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two,
down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did
not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the
carcasses, Abram drove them away” (15:9-11).

Picture the scene: Abraham lays out
carcasses as part of the offering he’s making to God so they can enter
into covenant. As soon as he does, vultures swoop down on the carcasses
to devour them. But the Bible says, “Abram drove them away.” I imagine
Abraham didn’t just say, “Shoo, shoo!” More than likely, he got a
stick and went after those vultures. He drove them away because he
didn’t want them destroying his covenant with God.

Isn’t it just like our enemy to try to
swoop in and steal our covenant? Each of us needs a big stick because
we’re covenant people. There is nothing more the devil would like to do
than steal your covenant.

The story continues: “Now when the sun
was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and
great darkness fell upon him. Then [the Lord] said to Abram: ‘Know
certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not
theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them 400 years. And
also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come
out with great possessions’” (15:12-14).

Remember, God is making a covenant with
Abraham. I imagine Abraham couldn’t wait to find out what God would say
or do. But I’m guessing he probably didn’t expect God to say his family
would be slaves in a foreign land and would be afflicted for 400 years. 

Are you sure you want to enter this covenant?
I imagine God asking mid-sentence. And then He told Abraham of what
would happen at the end of those 400 years: “They shall come out with
great possessions.”

Yes, Abraham’s descendents would be
afflicted, but they would come out with all the riches of Egypt. Israel
would emerge as an extremely wealthy people as a result of enduring the

God concluded His covenant with Abraham
with a supernatural sign, which often gets overlooked when people read
this story. Verse 17 says: “And it came to pass, when the sun went down
and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a
burning torch that passed between those pieces.”

It’s significant to know why there was a
smoking pot and a flaming torch that passed between the pieces Abram had
offered. The smoking oven—or the “smoking furnace,” as it says in the
King James Version—is a sign of struggle. It’s a sign of torment and
affliction. God was letting Abraham know upfront that in this covenant
there will be struggles sometimes.

You may be struggling right now—it may be
with disease, family relationships, marriage problems, business
problems, financial problems. For those of us going through such trials,
it often feels like we’re in a furnace. Things are heating up, and
we’re struggling so much we don’t know what to do.

But let me encourage you with the good news God always
offers because of His covenant with us. Through Jesus, we’ve been
included into this same covenant with Abraham—and this covenant didn’t
just end with a burning furnace; it included a flaming torch that passed
between the pieces. The flaming torch symbolizes the presence of God.
He will never leave you and He will never forsake you. He will walk with
you through every fiery trial, every struggle and every season of

We are covenant people because of Jesus
Christ. We are the body of Christ. The Bible says that because of Jesus’
suffering, because of what He paid for, we have been healed. Isn’t it
wonderful to know that the Lord is with us through all our struggles and
through all our pain?

You will endure struggles. You will face
suffering. But when you know that the Lord is always with you, through
every situation—because of His covenant—you can struggle well and honor God.

Billy HornsbyAbout Billy Hornsby


In 2000, Billy Hornsby co-founded the
Association of Related Churches (ARC) with a handful of pastors who
desired to plant thousands of churches across the United States. Within
10 years, ARC was one of the largest church-planting organizations in
the country, and an astounding 90 percent of its churches continue to
grow after the five-year mark. Prior to leading ARC as its president,
Billy had been in full-time ministry since 1975, including serving as
senior associate pastor at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge,
La. The Louisiana native was also the European Coordinator for EQUIP, a
nonprofit organization founded by John Maxwell to develop Christian
leaders around the world, and had authored several books, including his
most recent release, The Attractional Church. After battling cancer for more than two years, Billy passed away on March 23, 2011.


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