I’ve made no secret of the fact that the past year has been hard.
Like really hard. Like get-me-out-of-here hard.
And yes, sometimes in the midst of it I have wondered where God is. I have asked Him, “why have you forsaken me?” Didn’t even Jesus in His darkest hour ask the same question (see Matt. 27:46)? And yet..
Somehow through it all, somehow all along, even in those moments when I was struggling for my very breath and feeling the deepest pain...
I rejoiced. I found joy. I felt joy. Something about the fact that I knew that there was something worth fighting for, Someone worth living for who was even worth dying for…that caused me to have this odd sense of joy in the midst of it all.
I promise before God that what I am telling you is true. It is not a lie.
Even in those moments in my car when I felt like the weight of everything was going to crush me. Even in those moments when I could not keep the tears from falling down my face…or worse…those moments when the ache was so deep that even tears wouldn’t come…I had this sense of anticipation deep within me that said, this is where I find out what’s real. And I know the secret. I already know what’s real. I just have to fight to keep that truth in my mind now…fight to get it down into my heart like never before.
And friends, that real is Jesus. And this is now my message, this is now my story: Suffering is part of the beauty of life. Suffering is part of the joy of walking with Christ. I know it sounds crazy, but stop, still yourself… isn’t there something within you, a little glimmer of hope that what I am saying is true?
We look at the canon of Scripture, we look at the words of Christ, we look at the lives of the apostles and the start of the Church and we cannot escape the reality that suffering is part of this Kingdom walk, and knowing that is meant to be part of our strength, part of our journey, and part of our joy.
Jesus started them early. Jesus, while He was still on this earth, put His disciples through a boot camp of sorts, a supervised operation that would be a glimpse into the path all disciples present and future would be called to take. As He commissioned them, as He told them of the power they would have to cast out demons and to heal sickness and disease, He warned them what would happen to them as carriers of the Good News:
“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.” Matthew 10:16-18, NLT
Why didn’t the disciples hightail it and run right then? Could it be because they knew Jesus…they knew Him and they knew He was worth it all…He was absolutely worth the risk, not only because they recognized Him as Savior and they knew they were unconditionally Loved by Him, but also because they were desperate for others to know this Savior, too?
Don’t be fooled. This call that Jesus gave to the original disciples is our call, too. The promise of suffering will look different for each one, but it is promised. But like those first disciples…oh don’t run away now. If you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), then will you not also believe that He works all things together for good (Rom. 8:28), and can you not trust Him in trial and flood and fire and scorn and torment and pain and persecution and affliction and suffering…and not only trust Him, but know Him there? (see Isaiah 43:1-3) And oh may this hope of knowing Him more and becoming like Him even in His suffering (Phil. 3:10) be cause not for running away, but for greater steadfastness and deeper joy!
If only my words were adequate to express this heart of God behind every moment of refining suffering, of every moment of pain endured for His sake. I hope that with my inadequate words you still might understand because your spirit resonates with the YES that comes from the Spirit that works within you to will and to do what pleases Him (Phil. 2:13) – and don’t you know what pleases Him, what the joy is that is set before Him? It is your redemption, dear one. The restoration of man to God and God to man…and do you know how the Scripture actually goes?
[L]ooking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2, NLT
He endured the cross for the joy set before Him. He found strength in the most agonizing suffering because of the joy. And we look to Him, we look to His example. It is to be the same for us. Are you willing to live it? We pray the prayer, “Oh Jesus, make me more like You!” but when trials arise we tend to say, “Why are you doing this to me?” But can’t you see? These are two sides to the same coin – Christlikeness and suffering cannot be mutually exclusive.
How do I begin to even scratch the surface of this greatest of callings, this most sobering of realities that is yet somehow the deepest of joys offered to mankind? Oh Holy Spirit, grant me the words…
As Christians we pray – we pray for revival, we pray for Kingdom come and will be done, we pray the prayer in emotional worship services of “Use me, fill me, send me”. We sing “Holy Spirit, You are welcome here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere”, but as soon as conviction falls or we sense the Fire that consumes what is impure in us, we close our eyes, we turn away, we scoff at it and yell the word GRACE! as if somehow “grace” is a salve to put on in order to numb our conviction. We know God is real and we ask for fire, but is the fire we are really asking for a fire to make us shine bright for all to see, or is it the consuming fire of God that leaves behind nothing except that which is pure and incorruptible?
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.
Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. 1 Cor. 3:11-15, NLT
Oh God, may our desire to be seen in this world, to “burn brightly” even for the sake of “ministry”, may it not deceive and confuse us and make us shy away from the burning work you actually want to do in us…the work of burning away anything in us that is corrupt, anything in us that does not reflect the character of Christ, anything in us that is seeking our own glory instead of Yours. Oh God, be the consuming fire (Heb. 12:29) in us that leaves nothing behind but the incorruptible…nothing but what is purely, solely of you.
Being refined hurts. But it is a pain we can rejoice in. Because it is wrought by a discipline borne completely from Love, a Love of a Savior who knows that our sin, our brokenness, the lies we have believed, and the ways we are deceived keep us from knowing Him in His fullness.
This is why the Scriptures tell us:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4, NLT
To lack Jesus in any part of your life is to lack something vital, so this work of perseverance is our work of perfecting, a perfecting that by grace is not about us, but is all about Him and knowing Him completely…of becoming like Him and being vessels of His glory here on this earth. What greater joy is there than that? But oh…there is greater joy…and this is the most astonishing news of all:
THE JOY OF ETERNITY. This joy cannot be stolen from us. This joy is what keeps us going even if the trials and tribulations we face literally bring us to death itself. For death and the grave have been defeated!
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, ESV
Please tell me I am not the only one with tears in my eyes right now!! My friends, we are simply temporary residents, strangers, foreigners, and nomads on this earth (1 Pet. 1:1 & 2:11; Heb. 11:13-14). The fact that our refining is so much caused by having to walk in a way that is contrary to this world is because we do not belong to it! And that is our great joy! For the Kingdom we actually belong to is as real as this world we live in – in fact…it is more real. For it is eternal!!! This life on earth is but a vapor (James 4:14)…and so, too, are the trials we endure here. The Apostle Paul went as far as to say that they are “light and momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17) – and if only you knew what he had endured! Mocking and beating and stoning and whipping and betrayal and false accusation and shipwreck and more than most of us could ever even fathom enduring in a lifetime. Why are even these seemingly horrific things considered “light and momentary”? Oh friends, let’s together with Paul grasp the mysterious greatness of this!:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT
Oh friend, I want to step away from my computer and run over to you right now. I want to put your face in my hands and look you square in the eyes with the tears pooling in mine, and say, “Friend, oh, the pain is worth it. The trials are worth it. The joy is real, the joy of being renewed day-by-day, and oh…can you see? It’s not a renewal of ‘good girl, now that’s better’, something making us prim and proper and less messy or gritty…oh no! It is so much more than that! So much more than becoming a good church girl sitting in good church chair doing good church things out of the good church charity in her heart. It’s a warrior’s renewal, the renewal of a heart being strengthened in the sweat and tears of this real, messy, broken, pain-filled world, a renewal that grows grit that is rooted in the Love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. A renewal that causes us to fearlessly run into the deepest, darkest, most desperate places with the Gospel of Christ, with hands of mercy stretched out and with hearts broken open and spilling over with love that bleeds even unto death because we know where we’re going and we want everyone else to go there, too. This is our eternal glory. We will run straight into the arms of Jesus one of these days and when we get there, oh I hope that we fully recognize Him, for we’ve let Him chisel Himself into us all of these years, through trial, through pain, through persecution, through miracles, through victory dances, and through an immense, glorious, divine revelation of His incredible, audacious, relentless, intimate Love for us in the midst of it all.”
My suffering has given me great joy because it’s forced me to look behind the veil and recognize, This life is not all there is. I live for an eternal Kingdom and for a perfect King who Loves me and who is absolutely WORTH.IT.ALL.