“Before crosses used to frighten me – I used to get goose bumps at the thought of suffering – but now I embrace suffering even before it actually comes, and like this Jesus and I live in love.”
I have a picture of Jesus hanging on my wall.
Black and white except the blood, jarring in its redness, the white of the paper punctuated by the very wounds of Christ’s suffering.
“Thank You, Jesus,” I whisper as I look at the painting, “Thank You for what You’ve done for me. And oh, make me more like You, and may I accomplish all that You’ve called me to do. For You deserve it, You sacrificed your life for it.”
Do you pray like this?
I think that you do.
“Oh God, use me! Send me! Pour me out!” we pray with fervent hearts aflame with desire to be an instrument in the hand of God.
Yes, oh how we want to see our callings come to pass – this is what we dream of, right? We pray this and we know God will answer, because He’s faithful, isn’t He?
But then we find ourselves in the middle of suffering.
Suffering in a valley of confusion. Suffering because of rejection or betrayal. Suffering through physical pain. Suffering due to lack. Suffering because of broken dreams or longings unfulfilled. We suffer and then we question God.
Oh God, where are You? Why am I going through this? Aren’t You the Saving One who is supposed to deliver me from all evil?
This is a problem.
This has been my problem.
This has been your problem, too.
We encounter Christ, we give Him our lives, but inside our hearts we cry and question when the unexpected causes us pain.
And this is a problem because…
Oh friend hear this…
It’s a problem because it is often and usually there in the midst of our suffering that we truly get to know our Lord.
I’m carrying a cross today. And it hurts and I’m scarred, and the blood of it jars me in the midst of my black and white life. I feel the pain and I cry, too, but I have to tell you the truth:
I’m so glad He’s honored me with this suffering.
I look back on my life and I see the valleys and the mountaintops, and while the mountaintops granted me fresh air and a spring in my step, it is the valleys that are marked by a deepened understanding of who God is and a strengthening of my faith that I couldn’t have discovered without the suffering, and that I would not change for anything.
I’m not kidding. This is not a joke.
Those valleys were dark and horrible and crushed my heart ‘til it was hardly beating, my chest caved in ‘til I was hardly breathing, but I would do it again and again and again for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord the way I do now.
And I think you would, too, but maybe you just never had someone tell you that the crosses are worth it, that the blood being spilled is not in vain and it’s not the end of you, but it could in fact be the very beginning.
It’s the ultimate mystery of the upside-down-ness of the way our God works, of the way that He thinks. The omnipotent ruler became 100% flesh. The One who could have demanded allegiance just by showing a fraction of His power, instead came as a baby and wrapped in the humility that comes simply by being humanity.
He chose to save by giving His life – though He never did anything to deserve that much pain. He never did anything to deserve any pain at all.
Oh, does the thought of His undeserved agony break your heart as it does mine?
But He chose it. Out of His immense Love, He chose to break open and suffer so completely just so we could know Him. And then He offered us this gift:
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.” 1 Peter 4:12-13, NLT
At first glance it doesn’t look like a gift, this suffering. It looks like a mess. But can’t you see - the greatest gift of all time was also the biggest mess – Jesus, oh Man of Sorrows…
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!*
Oh, what a Savior! He wholly took our sin and our shame. And now, somehow in this mess that we live in, this sharing in His sufferings, this is exactly where and how He brings us to know His glory and His grace.
Oh friend, this pain is the very tool that is equipping you not just to truly know Him (and don’t you agree, there’s nothing more worthwhile than that?), it is also equipping you to fulfill your destiny.
He could not save us if He did not become like us for He couldn't have related with us, and how can we really trust someone who does not have a bloody idea what we are going through?? And there’s someone out there who needs that same bloody understanding from you, so that you in turn can show them Christ and how immensely wonderful He is right there in the middle of all the mess.
Oh dear cross that I carry, your rough wood is splintering into my shoulders and I have become so unsteady under your weight. But with tears in my eyes, I look at you with joy, for it is here that I know and gain Christ. And it is here that I become ready to make Him known.
And when this cross is lifted, I will not hope for another to be kept from me. No, but with anticipation of further knowledge of the One I love most dearly, further closeness with His humble heart, I will await its arrival...
...and for that of cross after cross after cross until eternity when all of this pain will be no more and I will perfected in Your presence. Because oh, don’t the scriptures say:
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2, NLT
So what about you? Are you buckling under the weight? Are you asking why this pain must be? I see you. I hear you. I understand and I cry for you. So here, let me come beside you and help you carry while you look at this rugged, bloody cross that is stained with your tears, so you can see that it must be. It must be so that you can become, and in the mess of it all is the most extravagant beauty of your knowing Christ and making Him known.
Let us no more fear our crosses. But in anticipating and carrying them, let us like this live together with Jesus in Love.
*Man of Sorrows; PP Bliss; Public Domain