What Was All That Suffering For?
By Xi’en, Italy
After becoming a believer, I saw that plenty of leaders could really endure lots of hardship. They’d keep working, doing their duty through wind or rain, and the brothers and sisters looked up to them. I really admired them and hoped I could become someone who could suffer and pay a price, like them, and gain others’ admiration. So, I was really enthusiastic in my pursuit. I was later elected as a church leader. I was really busy in my duty every day, and the others praised me for handling hardship when I was so young, and said I was someone who pursued the truth. I was thrilled every time I heard something like that, and felt it was all worth it. Later, the scope of my responsibilities grew and my workload kept increasing. I saw some of the sisters I worked with could really suffer and pay a price. They always went to bed really late and sometimes went to gatherings on an empty stomach, without the time to eat. Their hosts praised them for having a burden and being able to take hardship. I felt that if the brothers and sisters liked people like that, then God certainly did 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 seeing the other sisters there working, I felt embarrassed to go to bed, afraid they’d say I was focused on the flesh and didn’t have a burden in my duty. So I forced myself to go on, but I couldn’t escape the constant 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 focus on the flesh and be looked down on by the others. Sometimes after staying up late I had to get up early for a gathering, and I’d be sleepy riding my bike to it, and then sleepy in the gathering. I wanted to take an afternoon nap, but I was afraid the others would say I was coddling myself physically. Every day, I forced myself to stay up late, and pushed myself through it. One day, riding my bike to a gathering, I was so sleepy, I was in a daze the whole way and ended up crashing into a ditch, which scared me awake right away. Walking my bike along the road, I wondered why that happened to me. In my introspection, I realized that ever since I was elected as a leader, all I thought about was gaining admiration through my ability to suffer, afraid people would say I was focused on the flesh and greedy for comfort. That meant I lacked routine in my life, and I wasn’t even resting properly.
One day I read some ofexposing the Pharisees, and compared myself to that. 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” (“Six Indicators of Life Growth” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). What God’s words reveal was really poignant, really hard for me. I was acting exactly like the Pharisees did. They loved putting on an act with their superficial behaviors, intentionally praying on street corners and preaching God’s words so people would think they were really devout and loved God. But in private they didn’t practice God’s words at all. Those things they did were just for show, to gain 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 being praised by everyone, I strove to be that kind of person. When I was chosen to be a leader, seeing the other sisters work late into the night, 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 didn’t even dare take 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 appearing to do good things. Suffering and expending myself that way was all fake, all deceptive. I was taking the Pharisees’ path—how could it not disgust God? After that I made an effort to adjust my work and rest times, and I’d go to bed as usual when I was done with that day’s work. I felt a lot more relaxed when I did that.
I came abroad a year later. I saw that some of the sisters I lived with could really take hardship in their duties and 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 focused on comfort. Also, I was a leader, so what would they think of me if I went to bed earlier than the others? They might say I couldn’t handle suffering and didn’t have a burden for my duty. Thinking 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 nodding off after 1 a.m. They told me I should 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 bed 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 with it. I was concerned about what the others would say about me, so I’d rush to get back to work. To look like I carried a burden, sometimes I’d intentionally send out a group message when it was really late so everyone 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 the flesh too much? So, I didn’t buy them. In a gathering one day, I found out that a sister wasn’t in a good state, and needed some fellowship and support. But since she was in a 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 called that sister and didn’t finish fellowship until around 2 a.m. She told me, “It’s late for you, you should go to bed. It’s bad for your health to always burn the midnight oil.” I was really pleased to hear her say that. It was physically uncomfortable, but 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 a doctor told me it was related to long-term sleep deprivation. I ignored that and kept doing the same thing. 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, couldn’t withstand as much hardship as others, so would they 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 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. Later 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 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 conquer physical needs, 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. Their only wish is that they do all this in front of others, that other people 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 God’s house.’ 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, this is what people like. 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” (“Item Nine: They Do Their Duty Only to Distinguish Themselves and Feed Their Own Interests and Ambitions; They Never Consider the Interests of God’s House, and Even Sell Those Interests Out in Exchange for Personal Glory (Part Ten)” in Exposing Antichrists). God’s words expose an antichrist’s essence as terribly evil. They’ll resort to any tactics to put on an act, to put up a false front to achieve their awful aim of controlling others and being admired. For example, they intentionally procrastinate in their duties, staying up late and getting up early so it looks like they are devoted to God. They toil for ages and skip food and sleep, neglecting physical needs in duties, so that people admire and adore them. They end up bringing people before themselves. God hates and condemns that kind of behavior. I felt terrible, really uncomfortable when I held myself up to God’s words. I was acting just like an antichrist. I wanted the others to see I could take hardship, I didn’t coddle myself and had a burden for my work, and wanted them to admire me for being a good leader, so I took great pains to put on a show in my times for work, rest, and meals. I didn’t rest when I should have, and I intentionally stayed up late when it wasn’t necessary for my duty. I kept on doing that even when I developed some health issues. I was afraid others would say I cared for the flesh too much and have a poor impression of me, so I didn’t take care of normal physical needs or buy supplements I needed. I was slyly establishing myself by acting nice, suffering and paying a price, so others would think I pursued the truth, that I was diligent and devoted to my duty, and a good leader, then they’d respect me more. My efforts were all tainted with fakeness, deception. I was making myself look good, misleading others with a false image. I was on an antichrist’s path. I didn’t want to keep doing things that way, so I prayed to God, ready to repent and change.
Later on I was reflecting—why was I so focused on appearing to endure hardship? I realized through my reflection that I was harboring a mistaken perspective. I always thought that being able to suffer and pay a price, appearing to do good things, was practicing the truth and satisfying God, that God would approve of that. But I saw through the analysis in God’s words that that perspective doesn’t hold water. 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 eliminated!” (“In Faith, One Must Focus on Reality—Engaging in Religious Ritual Is Not Faith” in). “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 are not resolved merely by overcoming. 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” (“Good Behavior Does Not Mean One’s Disposition Has Changed” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). God’s words are perfectly clear. No matter how well someone seems to behave, it doesn’t mean they practice the truth, and it really doesn’t mean they’ve had dispositional change and gained God’s approval. In the Age of Grace, Paul was able to withstand hardship. He went to prison and didn’t betray the Lord in his efforts to spread the gospel. His behavior seemed really praiseworthy. But all his suffering, the price he paid 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 achieved dispositional change, but instead, he became increasingly arrogant, always showing off and bearing witness to himself. He even testified that he was the living Christ, and ended up condemned and punished by God. Thinking about myself, I only thought about appearing to behave well so that people would look up to me, but I wasn’t trying to practice God’s words or resolve my corrupt dispositions. As a result, I became more hypocritical and didn’t change my life disposition at all. If I’d continued in that pursuit, I definitely wouldn’t have gained the truth at all. I would have ended up cast out like Paul! Reflecting on this, I wanted to change my incorrect pursuits and perspectives right away.
Later, I read this passage of God’s words. “God gave man this 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 follow normal laws. 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, you will become exhausted, and your performance of your duty will become ineffective. At times like this you must immediately 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 rest 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 Discourses of Christ of the Last Days, Part Three). Reading God’s words was so illuminating for me. God has us live within the rules that He has pre-ordained, to work and rest properly, and do our duty on this foundation. When our work requires some suffering, we need to forsake the flesh, do our best to get it done. When we don’t need to stay up late, we should work and sleep properly and maintain a normal state. Then 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, soul, and mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38). God hopes that we can think of His will in our duty, truly have a burden, and do our duty wholeheartedly. Only that gains God’s approval. Considering these paths God has given us, I saw how foolish I was. God’s words are so clear, but I never put them into practice. I’d been acting based on my notions and imaginings, suffering lots of meaningless things. Then I realized I couldn’t keep focusing on behaving well, but I should accept God’s scrutiny, do everything before God without considering what people think. I had to do my best in my duty—that was what I had to do.
After that, in gatherings I dissected how I’d gone astray and the problems in my thinking so the brothers and sisters could gain discernment. Normally I focused on practicing God’s words, and didn’t put on an act anymore. Over time, I stopped worrying about how other people saw me, and I didn’t think about putting on a show. I felt a great sense of release. Through experience I’ve learned that only God’s words are the direction and principle for action in life, and acting by God’s words is such a relief. There’s no need to always be pretending, to live in such a tiring and painful way. Thank God!