85. What Was All That Suffering For?
By Angela, Italy
After becoming a believer, I saw that plenty of leaders and workers could really endure lots of hardship. They’d keep working, doing their duty through wind or rain, and the brothers and sisters all approved of them and admired them. I really envied them and hoped I could become like them: a person who could suffer and pay a price, and gain others’ admiration. So, I was really enthusiastic in my pursuit and I was later elected as a church leader. I was really busy in my duty every day, and the others praised me for being able to handle hardship, and they said I was someone who pursued the truth. I was thrilled every time I heard something like that, and felt like all the suffering was worth it. Later, the scope of my responsibilities grew and grew, and my workload kept increasing. I saw some of the sisters I was partnered with could really suffer and pay a price. They always went to bed really late and in the day they sometimes went to gatherings on an empty stomach, without the time to eat. I heard the brothers and sisters say that they were bearing a burden in their duty and that they were able to take hardship. I felt that if the brothers and sisters liked people like that, then God must too. So I started doing my duty late into the night. But after a while my body couldn’t really take it anymore and I’d start getting sleepy once it got past midnight. But each time I’d see the other sisters there still working, I felt embarrassed to go to bed, afraid they’d say I was heeding the flesh and that I didn’t have a burden in my duty. So I’d hang in there, but I couldn’t help with the sleepiness, and I wasn’t getting much done. In spite of that, I still didn’t go to bed. I silently urged myself on, thinking I couldn’t heed my flesh and that I couldn’t be looked down on by the others. Sometimes, because I’d stayed up late, when I had to get up early for a gathering, I’d be sleepy riding my e-bike there, and also sleepy in the gathering. I wanted to take an afternoon nap, but I was afraid the others would say I was craving physical comforts. Every day, I forced myself to hold out, and I pushed myself through it. One day, riding my e-bike to a gathering, because I was so sleepy, I was in a daze the whole way and I ended up crashing into a ditch, which scared me awake right away. Walking my e-bike along the road, I kept thinking about how this wasn’t a correct way of being. From my introspection, I realized that ever since I had been elected as a leader, all I had thought about every day was visibly suffering and laboring, always fearing that people would say I was focused on the flesh and craved comfort. That meant I lacked routine in my life, and I wasn’t even resting in a normal way.
One day I read some of God’s words exposing the Pharisees, and I applied these words to myself. God’s words say, “Do you know who are actually Pharisees? Are there any Pharisees around you? Why are these people called ‘Pharisees’? How are Pharisees described? They are people who are hypocritical, completely fake, and put on an act in everything they do. What act do they put on? They pretend to be good, kind, and positive. Is this what they are actually like? Absolutely not. Given that they are hypocrites, everything that is manifested and revealed in them is false; it is all pretense—it is not their true face. Where is their true face hidden? It is hidden deep within their hearts, never to be seen by others. Everything on the outside is an act, it is all fake, but they can only fool people; they cannot fool God. If people do not pursue the truth, if they do not practice and experience God’s words, then they cannot truly understand the truth, and so no matter how nice-sounding their words are, these words are not the reality of the truth, but words of doctrine. Some people only focus on parroting words of doctrine, they ape whoever preaches the highest sermons, with the result that in just a few years their recital of doctrine grows ever higher, and they are admired and venerated by many people, after which they start to camouflage themselves, and pay great attention to what they say and do, showing themselves to be especially pious and spiritual. They use these so-called spiritual theories to camouflage themselves. This is all they talk about wherever they go, specious things that fit with people’s notions, but which lack any of the reality of the truth. And through preaching these things—things that are in line with people’s notions and tastes—they dupe many people. To others, such people seem very devout and humble, but it is actually fake; they seem tolerant, forbearing, and loving, but it is actually a pretense; they say they love God, but it is actually an act. Others think such people holy, but it is actually fake. Where can a person who is truly holy be found? Human holiness is all fake. It is all an act, a pretense. On the outside, they appear loyal to God, but they are actually just performing for others to see. When no one is looking, they are not the slightest bit loyal, and everything they do is perfunctory. Superficially, they expend themselves for God and have given up their families and careers. But what are they doing in secret? They are conducting their own enterprise and running their own operation in the church, profiting from the church and stealing offerings secretly under the guise of working for God…. These people are the modern hypocritical Pharisees” (The Word, Vol. 3. The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days. Six Indicators of Life Growth). What God’s words revealed was really heartrending and difficult for me. I was acting exactly like the Pharisees did. They loved to use their superficial behavior to put on an act, intentionally praying on street corners and often preaching God’s words so people would think they were really devout and that they really loved God. But in private they didn’t practice God’s words at all. All those things they did were just for show, to gain approval and admiration. I was the same. I was particularly focused on superficial good behavior so the brothers and sisters would think well of me. Seeing some others able to suffer and pay a price in their duty and gaining everyone’s approval and admiration, I strove to be that kind of person. When I was chosen to be a leader, I saw the sisters I was partnered with work late into the night, and I forced myself to stay up late so I wouldn’t fall behind them. I’d trudge on no matter how sleepy I was. I even did away with taking a normal midday nap in my effort to present myself as someone who could take hardship. I was disguising myself at every turn, trying to gain the brothers’ and sisters’ admiration by visibly doing good things. Suffering and expending myself that way was completely fake and deceptive. I was taking the Pharisees’ path—and how could this not disgust God? After that, whenever I wanted to disguise myself, I consciously forsook myself, not putting on a show in front of others, and I also adjusted my work and rest times, and I’d go to bed when I was done with that day’s work. I felt a lot more relaxed when I practiced in this way.
I went abroad a year later. The brothers and sisters I worked with could really take hardship in their duties and they worked late every night. Sometimes, I wanted to go to bed early when I finished my work, but I was afraid they’d think I was heeding my flesh. Also, I was a leader, so what would everyone think of me if I went to bed earlier than other brothers and sisters? Would they say I couldn’t handle suffering and didn’t have a burden for my duty? When I thought in that way, I couldn’t help but start putting on an act again and stay up late along with them. But I’d start getting sleepy and begin to nod off after 1 a.m. They encouraged me to go to bed earlier, but I’d force myself to perk up and say, “I’m fine, I can handle it. I’ll go to sleep in a bit.” But then I couldn’t help but end up in a daze again. Sometimes I really couldn’t handle my sleepiness, so I’d put my head on the desk and nap for a bit, but I didn’t feel at peace doing this. I was concerned about what the others would say about me, so I’d rush to busy myself with work again. To make it look like I carried a burden, sometimes I’d intentionally send out a group message when it was really late so others would know how late I’d stayed up, that I was doing my duty into the night. I wanted to buy some nutritional supplements because of some health problems, but I worried about what everyone else would say. Would they think I treasured my flesh? So, I didn’t buy them. In a gathering one time, I found out that a sister wasn’t in a good state, and that she needed some fellowship and support. But since she was in another country in a different time zone and it was already the middle of the night for me, I originally figured I’d fellowship with her the next day. But then I thought that fellowshiping with her at night might make me look like I carried a burden for brothers’ and sisters’ life entry. So I contacted her and didn’t finish fellowship until around 2 a.m. She told me, “It’s so late where you are, you should go to bed. It’s bad for your health to always burn the midnight oil like this.” I was really satisfied to hear that. Though I was physically uncomfortable, it wasn’t in vain since it made her think I had a burden and a sense of responsibility. I started to have all sorts of little health issues after that, and the doctor told me it was related to long-term sleep deprivation. I ignored that and kept doing the same thing. Around this time, an upper leader was always reminding me that I shouldn’t stay up too late, that work won’t be held up if I’m early to bed, early to rise. I thought to myself that if I went to bed early, the others would think that I, as a leader, can’t withstand as much hardship as others, in which case, would they still look up to me? I didn’t take the leader’s words to heart. A sister saw I was unwell and said, “You must have too much on your mind. Having so many issues to resolve all the time and all that stress is impacting your health. As leaders, you have so many concerns.” I felt really pleased with myself when she said that. I felt the price I paid, the suffering I endured was worth it for others’ approval. This was until I read a passage of God’s words that gave me some understanding of the wrong path I was on. God’s words say, “Antichrists are sick of the truth, they do not accept the truth at all—which manifestly indicates one fact: Antichrists never act according to the principles of the truth, they never practice the truth—which is the most blatant manifestation of an antichrist. Apart from status and prestige, and being blessed and rewarded, the only thing they pursue is the enjoyment of the comforts of the flesh and of the trappings of status; and with this being the case, they naturally cause disturbances. These facts show that what they pursue, their behavior, and what is manifested in them are not beloved by God. And these are absolutely not the ways of acting and behaviors of people who pursue the truth. For example, some antichrists who are like Paul have the resolve to suffer when they perform their duty, they can stay up all night and go without food when doing their work, they can subdue their own bodies, can overcome sickness and discomfort. And what is their aim in doing all this? It is to show everyone that they are capable of putting themselves aside—of self-abnegation—when it comes to God’s commission; that for them, there is only duty. They exhibit all this in front of other people, they put it on full display, not resting when they should, even deliberately extending their working hours, getting up early and going to bed late. But what about work efficiency and the effectiveness of their duty when the antichrists toil like this from morning until night? These things are beyond the scope of their considerations. They only try to do all this in front of others, so that other people can see them suffering, and see how they expend for God without any thought to themselves. As for whether the duty they perform and the work they are doing is carried out according to the principles of the truth, they don’t think about this at all. All they think about is whether their outwardly good behavior has been seen by everyone, whether everyone is aware of it, whether they have left an impression on everyone, and whether this impression will provoke admiration and approval in them, whether these people will give them the thumbs up when they’re gone and praise them by saying, ‘They really can endure hardship, their spirit of endurance and extraordinary perseverance are beyond any of us. This is someone who pursues the truth, who is able to suffer and endure a heavy burden, they are a pillar in the church.’ Hearing this, the antichrists are satisfied. In their hearts they think, ‘I was so clever to pretend like that, I was so smart to do this! I knew everyone would only look at the outside, and they like these good behaviors. I knew that if I acted like this, it would earn people’s approval, it would make them give me the thumbs up, it would make them admire me in the depths of their hearts, make them look favorably upon me, and that no one would look down on me ever again. And if a day comes when the Above discovers that I haven’t been doing real work and replaces me, there will undoubtedly be many people who stick up for me, who cry for me, and urge me to stay, and speak on my behalf.’ They are secretly proud of their fake behavior—and does this pride not also reveal the nature and essence of an antichrist? And what essence is this? (Wickedness.) That’s right—this is the essence of wickedness” (The Word, Vol. 4. Exposing Antichrists. Item Nine (Part Ten)). God exposes an antichrist’s nature as terribly evil. They’ll resort to any tactics to put up a false front to achieve their aim of controlling others and being admired. For example, they intentionally extend their working hours, staying up late and getting up early so it looks like they are devoted to God. They toil in their duties from dawn to dusk, they skip food and sleep, and they neglect physical needs, so that people admire and adore them. Eventually they end up bringing people before themselves. God hates and condemns this behavior. I felt terrible, really uncomfortable when I held myself up to God’s words. I was acting just like an antichrist. To make others see I could take hardship, didn’t heed my flesh and had a burden for my work, and to make them admire me for being a good leader, I took great pains to put on a show in my times for work, rest, as well as the things I ate. I didn’t rest when I should have, and I intentionally stayed up late even when it wasn’t necessary for my duty. I kept on at this even when I developed some health issues. I was so afraid others would say I cared for the flesh too much and have a poor impression of me that I didn’t buy nutritional supplements I needed. I was slyly establishing myself by ostensibly acting nice, suffering and paying a price, making others think I pursued the truth, that I was diligent and devoted to my duty, and that I was a good leader, making them respect me. My efforts and expenditures were completely tainted with fakeness and deception. It was all to make myself look good and mislead others with a false image. I was on an antichrist’s path. I didn’t want to keep doing things this way, so I prayed, ready to repent to God and change my incorrect state.
Later, I was reflecting on why I was so focused on appearing to endure hardship. I realized that I was harboring a mistaken perspective. I had always thought that being able to suffer and pay a price, and ostensibly doing good things, were practicing the truth and satisfying God, that God would approve of this. But I saw through the exposure of God’s words that this kind of perspective doesn’t hold water at all. God’s words say, “What do the superficial good deeds of humans represent? They represent the flesh, and even the best of outward practices do not represent life; they can only show your own individual temperament. The outward practices of humanity cannot fulfill the desire of God. … If your actions always exist in appearance alone, then this means that you are vain in the extreme. What manner of humans are those who only carry out superficial good deeds and are devoid of reality? Such people are just hypocritical Pharisees and religious figures! If you do not shed your outward practices and are unable to make changes, then the elements of hypocrisy in you will grow even more. The greater your elements of hypocrisy, the more resistance there is toward God. In the end, such people will surely be cast out!” (The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. In Faith, One Must Focus on Reality—Engaging in Religious Ritual Is Not Faith). “Today, there are some people who, when they perform their duty, will work from dawn until dusk, or stay up all night and go without food. They are able to subdue the flesh, to ignore physical hardship—even to work when they are sick. But although they have these merits, and are good people, right people, there are still things in their hearts that they are not able to put aside: status, prestige, and vanity. And if they never put these things aside, are they people who pursue the truth? The answer is self-evident. Nothing is more difficult than achieving changes in disposition when you believe in God. People might remain unmarried their whole lives, they might never eat rich food or wear nice clothes, they might even say, ‘It doesn’t matter if I suffer all my life, or if I’m lonely all my life, I’ll put up with it—with God, these things mean nothing.’ It is easy for them to overcome and resolve the pain and hardship of the flesh. What is not easy for them to overcome? Their corrupt dispositions. Corrupt dispositions cannot be resolved merely by holding them in check. In order to perform their duty properly, to satisfy the will of God, and to enter the kingdom, people are able to suffer the pain of the flesh—but does being able to suffer and pay a price mean that there has been a change in their dispositions? It does not. When measuring whether there has been a change in someone’s disposition, do not look at how much suffering they endure, and how well-behaved they are, on the outside; instead, you must look at what the starting point, motives, and intentions behind their actions are, what the principles behind their conduct are, and what their attitude toward the truth is. Only measuring according to these aspects is correct” (The Word, Vol. 3. The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days. Good Behavior Does Not Mean One’s Disposition Has Changed). I saw from God’s words that being able to suffer and pay a price does not equate to God’s approval. In the Age of Grace, Paul was ostensibly able to withstand hardship. He spread the gospel, and didn’t betray the Lord when he was put in prison. His behavior seemed admirable. But all his suffering and expenditure was to make transactions with God. He wanted to exchange his suffering for a crown and the blessing of God’s kingdom. His good deeds didn’t mean he had already achieved dispositional change. Instead, because of these ostensible good deeds, he was always showing off and bearing witness to himself, and he became more and more arrogant. He even testified that for him to live was Christ, and he ended up being condemned and punished by God. Reflecting on myself, I only thought about appearing to behave well to disguise myself and make people look up to me, but I wasn’t focusing on practicing the truth or resolving my corrupt dispositions. As a result, I became more hypocritical and didn’t change my life disposition at all. If I continued in that pursuit, I definitely wouldn’t gain any truth at all. I only could end up cast out like Paul. Thinking on this, I wanted to change my incorrect perspective on pursuit right away.
Later, I read this passage of God’s words. “God gave man their body, and within certain bounds, its faculties will remain healthy; go beyond these bounds or violate certain laws, however, and things will happen—people will fall ill. Do not contravene the laws that God has set for man. If you do, this means you do not respect God, and that you are foolish and ignorant. If you contravene these laws—if you go ‘off-piste’—God will not protect you, God will take no responsibility for you; God despises such behavior. … When performing your duty, it is best to find a normal balance between work and rest. When your duty gets busy, your flesh should endure a little suffering, you should put aside your physical needs, but this must not go on for too long; if it does, it will be easy for you to become exhausted, and could impact your effectiveness at performing your duty. At times like this you must rest. What is the aim of resting? It is to look after your body so that you can perform your duty better. But if you are not physically tired but always look for a chance to slack off regardless of whether your duty is busy or not, you have no devotion. As well as being devoted, and performing the duty entrusted to you by God properly, you must also not tire your body out. You must grasp this principle. When your duty is not busy, take scheduled rests. When you get up in the morning, practice spiritual devotions, pray, read God’s words, and fellowship the truth of God’s words together or learn hymns, as normal; when it gets busy, focus on performing your duty, practice and experience God’s words, and incorporate God’s words into your actual life; this will make it easy to perform your duty according to the principles of the truth. Only thus will you be truly experiencing the work of God. These are the kinds of adjustments you should make” (The Word, Vol. 3. The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days. Part Three). Reading God’s words was so illuminating for me. God has us live in accordance with the rules that He has preordained, to live and rest properly, and to do our duty on this foundation. When our work requires some suffering and for us to pay a price, we need to forsake the flesh, do our best to get it done. When our work doesn’t call for us to stay up late, we should work and sleep properly and maintain a good mental state. In this way, we can be effective in our duty. I thought of this from the Bible: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38). God hopes that we can heed His will in our duty, truly have a burden, and do our duty wholeheartedly. This gains God’s approval. Considering the path God has pointed out to us, I saw how truly foolish I was. God’s words are so clear, but I never put them into practice. I’d always been acting based on my notions and imaginings, and undergoing so much meaningless suffering. I realized that I couldn’t keep focusing on ostensibly doing good deeds, and that I should accept God’s scrutiny, do everything before God without considering what people think, and diligently perform my duty. This is what I have to do.
After that, in gatherings I dissected how I’d gone astray and my mistaken perspective so the brothers and sisters could gain discernment. I’d normally focus on practicing God’s words, and put my heart into how I can bear a burden in my work and how I can perform my duty in accordance with principles, and I was no longer always focused on ostensibly suffering to gain the admiration of others. Over time, I stopped worrying about how other people saw me, and I didn’t think about putting on a show in front of others. I felt a great sense of release. Through experience I’ve learned that only God’s words are the direction and standard for conduct and action, and that practicing by God’s words is such a relief and so liberating. There’s no need to always pretend. Living in this way is not so tiring or painful. Thank God!