Suffering for Christ

“If I call will you come? When I cry do you hear?”

The questions from a song written by Zach Neese called Faithful God echo my own heart.

I’ve asked those questions in the midst of difficult and uncertain events.  I’ve wondered where God was while I suffered or watched people I care about suffer, even die.

Maybe you have, too.

Why is it we think God is in our midst when all is right with our world but we assume He is far, far away and out of hearing when the world is crashing down around us?

More and more I realize I don’t know all the answers. I’m not a theologian, only a forever-student of the Word.  I’m still learning.

I used to think I could “command” God to do what I wanted, the results of an idea that we can name what we want and claim it in Jesus’ name.  That should make it a done deal, right?

Another line of thought says if I can just think enough positive thoughts and eliminate all the negative ones, I will draw only good things to me.  That would be pretty powerful, wouldn’t it?

There is nothing new about those ideas.  It was put into a poem called Invictus by William Ernest Henley in 1800s.

“I am master of my fate; I am captain of my soul.”

 I have already decided.  I don’t want to be in charge of myself and my destiny.  Captain of my own soul?  I answer that question with a resounding “No!”

I don’t have sufficient intelligence or wisdom; I am too selfish, too self-focused, too emotional, too small in my thinking to design my own life, to decide what is best for me and expect a good outcome.

I have surrended the command of my life to the Captain of the Lord’s Host, Jesus Christ.  But when suffering is all around me, family, friends, the world, I still have questions.

Reading chapter 1 of Philippians recently, I see words that I’ve read many times before, but they spoke in a different way this time.

Verse 29 says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.”

I’ve always considered the suffering Paul talked about to be persecution for the Gospel of Christ, the kind of suffering preachers and missionaries deal with, the ones who give their all, live in foreign countries, and risk their very lives to spread the good news of Jesus.

I’ve never suffered like that.

But what if Paul’s words were expanded to include Christians who deal with mental, physical, emotional pain while still reflecting the light of God’s glory as they endure?

A friend tells me about a young woman with a husband and two small children who is dying of cancer.  Treatments are no longer effective.  She will not be a survivor.  She has little energy anymore while friends bring food and take the children out for a picnic or ice cream.  Yet, she musters the strength on a Sunday morning to dress in something pretty, wearing her face mask to prevent an infection, and she comes to church to worship.

I hear of a mother of six boys who was told the sweet baby girl she and her husband had waited for is diseased in the womb and will not survive long after birth. This mother courageously carried the child full term despite medical advice to abort. She gave birth and held her little girl until breath was gone. Her friends, her church, and her community are impacted by her faith.

I listen to heart-breaking prayer requests from the lips of my choir when we practice on Wednesday evenings.  Then I watch them lift their hands and hearts in worship to their God who leaves many questions unanswered.  Their joy shines though the burdens are heavy.

Another friend shares through tears the heartbreak of watching a family member’s life deteriorate before her eyes. Yet she continues to serve and fulfill her obligations, faithful to the calling of God.

A childhood friend who has many gifts and talents was struck with a debilitating disease years ago that allows only a few good days out of many painful one when staying home and resting is all she can do.  She recently shared her great joy at being able to serve her church in a way she can, organizing a greeter ministry.  It’s something she can do within the limitations of her illness.

Another childhood friend lost her husband this year to a lingering illness.  We have reconnected on Facebook. I recently asked her how she was doing. Her response was from a wounded heart that was fully and faithfully trusting her God.

I see the glory of God shining in those lives.  Though He slay them, yet they will trust Him!

That kind of faith speaks louder than a Sunday morning sermon in the church house.  It shouts loudly to neighbors, co-workers, people on highways and byways of life who will not hear the gospel except as it is lived out by persevering Christians.

So maybe Paul’s words ring true for you like they do for me today. When life spirals out of control and I feel myself falling with it, I remember that God told me in His Word that there would be days like this.  He has not left me in my suffering.  He is ever near the broken, the wounded, the hurting.  He has a purpose for it though I cannot see.  And perhaps . . . just perhaps His light will be reflected in me as I hopefully endure. 

The song I began with continues like this:

“If I call will You come? When I cry do You hear?  I believe every tear is caught up by a faithful God.

  So I will cry until You come, cast my cares into Your arms.  I can’t see past this storm, but I’m counting on a faithful God.”

Until the storm passes by, I’m counting on a God Who has been faithful to me in my past, is faithful right now in my present, and will be faithful until my life on this earth ends, and I stand in the presence of my God.

A promise from 2 Corinthians 4 rings in my ear:

  16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . .

Being there with Jesus will be worth it all.

3 thoughts on “Suffering for Christ

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