Suffering In The Name
Soldiers of the United States Army know it well. It is a simple,
heart shaped medal, with a cameo of George Washington on it. The
background of the medal is purple in color; hence its common name,
the Purple Heart. It is accorded to those who are wounded in combat
for their country. Other medals are given for bravery; some for
excellence in military work. But this one is unique. It says, “I
suffered for my country. I might not have done anything heroic;
maybe I’m just a private. But I was there, where I was ordered to
be—and I have the wounds to prove it.”
It is proof indeed. Consider Ananias. Christ approaches him to go
to this Saul and restore his sight. Ananias explains carefully that
this Saul is one who persecutes the church. What, then, will
convince this Everyman that the conversion of Saul is real? The same
evidence that convinces us today: suffering. High and holy words can
be just that: words. Ambitious plans for evangelism can be just
marks on paper. But suffering convinces us; it tells us of the real
Interestingly, Christ does not send Ananias to Saul to tell him
of the great things he will accomplish with that suffering. He
offers no hint of the value of this man’s writing. He speaks only of
his suffering. Why?
· First, because that suffering is in imitation of the Suffering
Servant, our Lord. This man was destined to become great in the
kingdom; the closer to our Lord, the closer to his ways. His way
contains suffering at every step.
· Second, so that you and I might know how to boast as
Christians. We are not to tell the world of our accomplishments, our
trophies, our medals. Rather, if boast we must, let us boast in our
Note, please, that the suffering is “for the Name.” The Name of
Jesus is above all other names; at his return, all will acknowledge
this. We are taught to honor that name, and to praise it. So much of
our worship centers on praise of his Holy Name! But what brings true
glory to the Name is simply this: the suffering we endure so that
this Name might be exalted.
Only the heroic win great medals; but each of us can earn the
badge of suffering for Christ.
Lord, we live in a land of ease, with freedom dearly bought.
Steel our hearts to suffer for you.
Among the many dynasties that ceased to exist during and after
World War I was the Romanoff dynasty. The Romanoffs were the rulers
of Russia—before the communists seized power. According to the
accepted history, all the Romanoffs were executed by the communists.
But a persistent legend insists that one member, princess Anastasia,
survived. Many claimed to be Anastasia; but in those days before DNA
testing such a claim would be strengthened by showing that Anastasia
was a carrier for hemophilia. It was the hereditary disease of the
There is a hereditary disease for the family of God: it is called
suffering. The children of God are warned that, like Christ, they
are going to suffer for the privilege of being a Christian. This
should surprise none of us. It is a matter of family resemblance.
The more you look and act like Jesus, the more this world wants to
make you suffer. The powers of this world crucified the innocent
Christ; persecution of his followers is no great leap. Especially
when those followers shine the light of the world on the corruption
of this world system. Satan likes the darkness.
There is, you see, a war on. It is the war between the forces of
evil, who rule this world system, and the forces of light. In every
war there is suffering, and this is no exception. But in every war
there is glory, too.
We must be careful here. Speaking of armed conflict, Eisenhower
once said, “there is no glory in war worth its price.” This is true;
but in the war the church is waging the glory is far greater than
the suffering. Every war has its heroes; so it is with this war too.
Indeed, we will ultimately think the suffering small compared to
the glory when our Lord returns. At the return of our Lord the war
between light and darkness will end. That war has already been
won—at the cross—but the suffering goes on. The Cross is our
Gettysburg—the Civil War was won there, but the suffering went on.
When our Lord returns, he will bring with him the proper reward
for those who have suffered for him. What that reward will be is so
wonderful that we cannot understand it—yet. This too is seen dimly,
but one day it will be clear.
Lord, like most soldiers we have no great desire to suffer. Give
us your calm strength and inner peace when we do, so that our
suffering might be an example to all around.
Help When We Don’t Understand
One of the most dangerous areas for the faith is a hospital
corridor. You sit outside the room of a friend, with family, and you
pray. But how do you pray, and for what? It can be a puzzle.
Some things are “always good to pray for.”
· Praying for patience always sounds good—until you remember that
patience is usually taught by suffering, especially when you cannot
see the end of it.
· Praying for peace sounds good too—all of us want a sense of
calm warmth. But what if there is no peace in this situation?
· Praying for humility, especially the humility to accept what
God will do, also is recommended. But we seem to want to possess
humility; we don’t want to have it taught to us.
Those are things we’re willing to pray for; but even these have
their ambiguities. Sometimes we’re not so sure of what to ask:
· If your child is in trouble with the law, do you pray that the
judge will be merciful and lenient, or that he’ll teach the kid a
· Do you ask God Almighty to lengthen the life of one suffering
some fatal disease, or take them home quickly?
There are other such prayers, too. But in all these situations we
have help. The Holy Spirit is with us:
· The Spirit shares our agony, expressing it to God in ways which
are too deep for words. He knows our hearts.
· The Spirit intercedes for us. Have you ever wondered if that
prayer you spoke in the hospital corridor was really the right one?
The Spirit knows the mind of God; he will bring it to the Father
just as it should have been prayed.
· The Spirit is our comforter. When we must play the part of “the
designated rock in the family,” the Spirit is there to support those
who support the others.
The Spirit is within us, and knows our minds. He also knows the
mind of God the Father. From our mind to God’s mind the prayer
goes—by way of the Spirit.
Father, how gracious of you to provide the Spirit for us! Even
the comforters need a Comforter at times. Thank you that in our
weakness you have given us such help.
1 Corinthians 4:11-13
How do you know a pirate when you see one? The question may seem
silly to some, but those who know the author will recognize the
importance of the question. For example, a man wearing a black eye
patch will find that “frequent flyer” equals “randomly selected for
search” almost every flight.
How do you recognize the genuine apostle of Christ? The problem
was not a trivial one in the early church. Indeed, recognizing the
real thing from the fake in the church is a problem that has not
gone away. Paul gives us two tests here.
First, there is the test of suffering. Note the pattern here; it
still can be used today:
· There is the matter of “daily bread.” Does the man live in
luxury, or is there want?
· Poor clothing is another thing. A three thousand dollar silk
suit should tip you off as to where the man’s priorities are.
· Homeless? Not common in our land, but at least we could look at
the lodgings. Are they plush, or workaday?
· Finally, there is the matter of income. Just exactly how does
the money come in? Does the man work hard, or is he too busy being
The second test is the fruit of persecution:
· When your faith is reviled, do you snap back in anger? Or do
you bless your enemies, as our Lord did?
· Is persecution met with devious returns, or with simple
endurance and patience?
· When you are slandered, how do you reply? Do you snap back with
an equal and opposite falsehood? Or do you attempt to conciliate and
Sometimes we think that this is an impossible requirement. A man
would have to be a saint to act like that. Which is precisely the
point; only a saint would act like that. “Saint” is not a plaster
figurine but a child of God. This is how they are supposed to act.
It’s a good test for those who claim to be speaking for the Lord;
it’s a good test for all of us.
Lord, most of us are not burdened with such afflictions. You give
us no more than we can endure. Teach us to value the suffering you
give us, and the growth it brings.
The Fellowship of Suffering
2 Corinthians 1:5-7
It is our custom each year to send out Christmas cards,
particularly to those living at a distance. Each year we carefully
examine the list of addresses to remove those whose address is now
unknown or those who have died during the year. Doing this brings up
One such memory is “Fred and Nancy.” Fred was in basic training
with me during my military service. The two of us were together for
most of those three years as well. Fred and I suffered together;
that bonds us for life.
In a very real sense, then, the suffering which we undergo for
the cause of Christ is also the suffering of Christ. We are said to
be his body on earth; when your body suffers, you suffer.
You may object; “that’s just a metaphor.” Very well; consider it
this way: in the same New Testament we are taught that my wife’s
body is my own; the two of us are one flesh. I can certainly tell
you that her suffering is my suffering. She knows the same thing;
indeed, she will talk of when we were in the army.
But if our sufferings are indeed Christ’s sufferings, then our
consolation in suffering is also his. We may not see this at the
beginning; that is because our hearts have not been sufficiently
enlarged by suffering yet. Consider those you know who suffer as
Christians should. Is it not the case that their trials—which seem
so large when viewed by those who have suffered so little—have
changed them into those whose endurance and even joy in suffering
are now great? Suffering enlarges the heart.
It does so by a simple method. The heart is enlarged as it grows
closer to the heart of Christ. As one draws nearer to him, being
open hearted and generous becomes much easier. Similarly, as you
suffer in him the heart also grows.
There is one other way in which we and Christ share our
suffering. The world looks on. The world cannot see Christ, but it
can see us. In suffering with him the world can see him in us.
Consider that in the way we face death we are witnesses of the
Resurrection. If we fear death, we die like anyone else. If we
embrace death as our going home, how can the world fail to notice
the witness to the Resurrection—and thus the glory of God.
Lord, it is hard, hard to consider suffering as a way of being
one with you, but it is so. Grant us trials within our strength;
grant us your strength for our trials.
Vessels of Clay
2 Corinthians 4:6-10
In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was
One of the central facts of the faith is this: the God who
created all things, who brought forth light, took upon himself the
form of a human being and became the Light of the World. He became
man, that we might become like God. Indeed, he has made it clear
that we are those who carry within us the Holy Spirit, the awesome
power of God. You think not? Consider the greatness of the average
· He has direct access to the throne of grace, being commanded to
approach the Almighty with boldness.
· By the appointment of God Most High, he is an ambassador of
Christ, an ambassador of reconciliation.
· More than these, he is counted as one of the children of God.
Such power, such surpassing greatness—a temptation to pride if it
were allowed. So God has arranged that this light of the world
should shine in us—vessels of clay.
Clay? Dust you are, and to the dust you shall return. Why, then,
does not God transform us into something more suitable for such
awesome power and authority?
· First, it is so that others will see the light through the
clay, and not be blinded and turn away.
· For our own sake, the world will know his perfection seeing it
peek through our imperfection.
We do not need to be super saints to be the ambassadors of
Christ. He is willing to use anyone who is willing to carry the
light. Someday we shall be transformed; in the meanwhile, remember
that the church was started by twelve ordinary men.
Until he comes, there will be the scowl of the authorities—but He
will not neglect us. Bodily pain we will have, but it cannot crush
the Spirit within us. Our minds will be perplexed by new ideas and
clever argument—but we will not despair. Persecution will follow us,
but God will never forsake us. Like Job, we may be struck down with
all kinds of woes—but not destroyed. Like Job, we know that our
Lord, your way is perfect. Let your light shine through the
imperfections of your children.
A Manner Worth Of The Gospel
Shortly after Errol Flynn starred in Robin Hood, Danny Kaye
spoofed it, starring in The Court Jester. The plot is one of
mistaken identity; by such mistake Danny is hypnotized into
believing he is a man of complete confidence. In such a state, his
co-conspirators ask him if there is anything left to do before he
assassinates three of their enemies.
“Are they married?” asks Kaye. Yes. “Flowers for the widows.”
Confidence. It seems to elude most Christians, but here Paul
teaches us the secrets of Christian confidence. In typical fashion
he exhorts us to live lives worthy of the Gospel we carry. How are
we to do this?
· We are to be firm in one spirit. Do you see that this is not an
individual thing, but a command to the church? It is something which
cannot be done as an individual.
· We are to be firm in one mind. So often we are told that God
wants our hearts, please check your brain at the door. Here Paul has
it otherwise. Let our doctrine be sound—and singular.
If we do this, we will not be alarmed by our opponents. Like
Danny Kaye, we will see them as powerless to influence events. How
can this be?
· The world works by intimidation much more than by force. When
the threats come, we need to remember that those who are with us are
more than those who are against us.
· Our unity and confidence are a sign—for our opponents. A sign?
Yes, one that tells of their doom.
· Equally, it is a sign of our salvation—for it is God who gives
the power in which we overcome.
We are the heirs of an enormous privilege: we are those who are
selected to suffer for Christ. It is our green beret, our varsity
letter, our championship ring. We are not just privileged to be
believers, but we are like the Apostles themselves—men persecuted
and abused, but ultimately triumphant.
Lord, how often those of us who are not athletic, those of us who
are not popular, those of us who are not brilliant at anything, long
to be “on the team.” Now we are; and on the one team in all of
history which really counts. Suffering is temporary.
Mercy in Suffering
This passage introduces to us one of the more common ways of
suffering for Christ. This is not suffering at the hands of an
antagonistic government, nor is it persecution of any kind. It is
the suffering from risk.
Suffering from risk means simply this: you choose to go where God
sends you, knowing that you could encounter illness or accident
there (usually much more likely than at home). You know (in our
time) that there will not be good medical care available. You could
die from a heart attack that, back home, would have been handled
successfully. You choose to take the risk.
You take that risk, however, for the cause of Christ. It may be a
short term mission trip to the third world, for example. The theory
says we should take no thought for the morrow; if God calls us home,
who are we to refuse? Even knowing that, we know the risk as well.
Often, as in this instance, the anxiety is shared between the
sufferer and those at home.
But if “to live is Christ, to die is gain,” how can Paul say that
God had mercy on both Epaphroditus and himself? From the sufferer’s
point of view, we can at least point out that his pain had ended. In
this instance without death, but we often see situations where a
loved one has suffered long and hard—so that death is viewed as a
release as well as a homecoming. This man was rescued from death; do
you not see that this is merciful not because he did not die but
because he was given more opportunity for service—and reward?
Merciful to Paul? Yes, indeed so. Obviously he has found the man
useful in his work. The Philippian church supported Paul in his
work; Epaphroditus was the messenger carrying that support. He was
also the personal link to that church.
Therein lies the lesson. This is a man about whom we know very
little. He achieved no great distinction in the histories of the
church. He was, in short, a delivery man. But do note this: he was a
delivery man for Christ, and a faithful one. Paul tells us that such
men are to be received with joy, not for their accomplishments but
for the risk he took in serving our Lord.
Lord, we are so cautious, wanting everything to be arranged in
advance so that nothing can go wrong. Yet we forget that we are in
your hands. Help us to know that you do indeed work all things
together for the good of those who love you.
It is a curious phrasing. When you stop to read the verse, alone,
the question leaps out at you: how could the sufferings of Christ be
“filled up?” Are they not sufficient indeed for his grace?
There are several ways to look at this; each gives us an insight
on suffering for Christ.
· There is the aspect of “what would Jesus do?” His suffering is
the model for our own.
· We can also see it as continuing the sufferings of Christ. The
church is his body on earth; like our Lord, we will suffer.
· We can see it as completing the sufferings of Christ. His own
were for the salvation of the world; but someone’s got to care about
· As Paul mentions here, there is also an aspect of “taking my
share.” Christ for the world; we now suffer our share so that Christ
might be lifted up.
· And, in this instance, Paul could be said to be bearing the
sufferings of the Colossian church in a place far from them.
Such suffering is on behalf of the church, the body of Christ. We
can appreciate that fact in two ways:
· We can see it locally—the suffering in our own presence which
is a witness to the glory of Christ. Men do not suffer for that
which they know to be false.
· We can see it globally—the inspiration that comes back to the
“home church” from the missionary abroad, the suffering that thrills
Paul’s reaction to his suffering: joy. It may seem strange; even
Christ himself asked that the cup would pass from him. No one
volunteers for suffering. But if we volunteer for service, and the
suffering comes with it, the usual reaction is to rejoice. Why? It
means that the enemy takes you seriously.
It’s also the right reaction. God commands it for his servants.
Why? It is a token of their faith; if they know that “great is your
reward in heaven” - and believe that—then they know how their Lord
will reward them for their suffering.
Lord, is the reason for our little suffering the fact that our
complaining is so great? Fill us with joy in our sufferings, so that
we will be the sign of your care to all who will see.
2 Thessalonians 1:3-5
It is a sad fact that I am no gardener at all. I very much
appreciate the beauty of a well cared for garden, and admire those
who can cause such things to grow. But it is quite apparent that I
can kill cactus—by neglect. Fertilizers, insecticides, all sorts of
chemistry are of no avail; plants just die for me.
Of course, this is not how it should be. Indeed, the measure of a
garden is how it grows—and the measure of the gardener. So it is
that Paul praises and thanks God for the growth of the church at
Thessalonica. So what kind of growth is this gardener looking for?
· Faith. Faith points directly to God; it is the basis of our
relationship with him. If you will, faith corresponds to the root
system of a plant. You cannot see it (unless you really dig for it)
but you know it must be there. The stronger the root system, the
more abuse the plant can take. The stronger the faith, the more
suffering the Christian can take.
· Love. Paul refers here to the love Christians should have for
one another. We might consider these to be the branches of the
plant—that which is visibly there to hold the plant together. For
that is the purpose of Christian love—that the church may be one.
Branches may be graceful, or twisted—without affecting how well they
perform their task.
· Perseverance. Perseverance is shown to those outside the
church. Perhaps we might compare them to flowers. They are the
outward sign which tells you what kind of plant this is. Sometimes
the flowers can be picked—and then grow back. Our perseverance
should provoke those outside to ask, why? We should be ready with an
By their fruits you will know them. The Thessalonians have shown
their faith, love and perseverance. Paul then tells them that God
has confirmed the fact that they are worthy of the kingdom—because
he has permitted them to suffer for the faith.
Suffering for the faith is a sign, a token. It means that God
does not need to shelter your little faith, tiny love and lack of
perseverance—but rather can turn you loose on the world.
Lord, how often we think that riches and ease are the true sign
that you love us. Teach us to understand that in suffering for the
faith you confirm that we are soldiers in the army of the Lord.
2 Timothy 2:11-13
At first Paul’s words here seem somehow mystic, and therefore
difficult for the modern, scientific mind. But perhaps we can see
the point by analogy. It is, you see, a question of “in” or “out.”
How do you know if someone is in or out of a group? You might
keep a roster; Revelation assures us God keeps the book of life. But
we will not read that one until Christ returns. Until then, we shall
need some way of telling who is on the Lord’s side. This is most
important when we ask ourselves, “am I really certain that I am
saved?” How do I know?
· There is the sense of having been on the team. The Bible gives
no support for the idea that individual Christians are selected for
their goodness. Rather, the presumption is that they are members of
the church—that is, on the team of God.
· There is the sense of having passed the test. Many things in
life are given only upon passing a test which proves your ability.
The Christian life is much the same; the suffering we endure for the
sake of the Gospel is the test. Pass it, and know you are His.
· There is the sense of enduring the ordeal. Sometimes our
membership is not so much one of the team or profession as much as
those who have survived. Combat veterans know this; cancer victims
How do we die with Christ? The Bible tells us that we do so in
baptism—but also we must die to the things of this world. By
rejecting the world’s values and choosing Christ, we die.
Endure with him? Do you not know that it was for Christ’s
suffering that he was given the name above all names? That name will
be universally worshiped when he returns. But at the same event we
will be given a new name as well. He is our forerunner in the coming
kingdom of God.
But if we deny him, he denies us. There is no fence-sitting in
this. If you confess him, he confesses (claims) you before God the
Father. The question is, did you keep the faith? Do not despair; he
is always faithful—even in forgiveness. Commit your life to him,
join in his work—and join in his reign.
Lord, all of our worldly thoughts push us away from you. Help us
to keep the faith. Keep us mindful of your suffering for our sake.
Give us confidence in your faithfulness.
Preachers and teachers are well known for scattering examples
throughout their messages. It is supposed that examples make things
clearer to the student, and also provide a more human face to what
sometimes appears to be abstract reasoning.
However, we should note one particular human tendency in this.
When you are the one who is giving out the examples, they are close
at hand; relevant; indeed, altogether enlightening. When you are the
one receiving the examples, they are rather distant. Indeed,
examples are a way of teaching patience—for the student is required
to be patient until the teacher has reached the end of his examples.
Patience and suffering are hand in glove. A lack of patience (for
which those examples are famous) can greatly increase the suffering.
This is particularly true of what might be called “forced patience.”
May I offer you (pardon me) an example?
Let’s suppose you’ve been sent to the hospital lab to endure
various tests. Test results are never returned immediately; indeed,
the staff seem to think that they have all the time in the world. So
what do you do?
· Most of us worry while we wait. We call the lab twice a day and
get angry when nothing is available.
· But some of us have discovered the truth: the lab results will
be the same whether they come in today or tomorrow. Our worry only
affects us, not the results.
This also leads us to suffering by suspense. We think of all the
horrible diseases we might have. But because you don’t have all of
them, will God help you worry? Or will he confine his help to the
one you really do have? When the result finally arrives, are we
convinced that God doesn’t care—and thus do not bring this to him in
True patience is a great help in suffering. You take the long
view; indeed, even the eternal view. Give to God the things that are
God’s—especially such cares. Let Him do what He will do; ask only
for what you cannot do. Then do what you can, leaving the rest to
Him. You might as well give him your worries; He’s going to be up
all night anyway.
Lord, how little we learn in so long a time! Open our hearts to
your comfort; let us meet suffering with Godly patience.
1 Peter 4:12-13
The tale may seem strange to you, but it is true. My boss called
me up and told me (after saying that he was not supposed to tell me)
that I had been accused of sexual harassment. By the time the
charges were fully fleshed out, it was quite near rape. The matter
had been cooked up by one of my colleagues along with my manager’s
boss—an ardent feminist with a bitter hatred of Christians.
My first reaction was, “Why me? What did I do?” That’s the wrong
question. If you are a Christian, you will face suffering for the
sake of Christ:
· First, because you are like your Lord. He was innocent—and see
what the world did to Him.
· Next, because a time of testing is needed for every soldier of
the Lord. Would you go into combat untested?
There is a right reaction to the suffering for Christ:
· First, don’t be surprised. You were warned.
· Second—”keep on” rejoicing. A Christian should always be joyful
in the Lord. Suffering is just temporary.
· Finally, know that you are blessed—the Spirit rests upon you.
It means that Satan knows you as an adversary, and the Comforter has
come to your side.
If tales such as this can have a happy ending, this one did. My
accusers overreached themselves, embellishing the accusation until
it became a criminal matter. The person from corporate personnel
decided (rightly) that such an accusation needed to be well
documented before being presented to the police. In the course of
that documentation it was discovered that on the day I was alleged
to have been harassing my colleague, I was actually in Chicago—over
a thousand miles away. Very quietly both women were “asked to leave
the company.” Except for a chance encounter with someone in the
know, I would not have known the story. But you can see that I had
cause to feel relieved, if not rejoice.
The tale does not end there. Indeed, all such suffering for the
sake of Christ has not yet seen the final act. When our Lord returns
those who have suffered with him—little, as I have, or much—will
rejoice with exultation. Fellow sufferer, fellow heir.
Lord, our sufferings today are light compared with those of the
early church. Help us to bear them with rejoicing.
1 Peter 5:8-10
Since the beginning of mass produced steel implements there has
been a curiosity about the greatest steel weapon of the past—the
Damascus sword. Legend has it that Richard the Lionheart met
Suleiman the Magnificent in negotiations. To impress him, Richard
drew his sword and cut a chain in two. Suleiman, drawing his
Damascus blade, cut another chain in half—and then held the sword
out, edge up, and dropped a silk handkerchief onto it. The blade
neatly sliced it in half.
The secret, recently discovered, is that the smiths of Damascus
would hammer the blade out flat, fold it over, and repeat the
process—hundreds of times. Patient hammering at the forge made the
God uses a similar technique. The combat is real enough; our
enemy is indeed ferocious. But as good soldiers of the Cross we are
to resist him—just as other Christians do. We are being hammered
out. But all this must end sometime.
See what God is forging in you! A weapon of his own design:
· Perfect—the word means completely fitted for a particular task,
not sinless. He is shaping you to his own ends.
· Confirmed—the word implies one whose direction is firmly set.
It means that you will be sure that you are going in the path he has
chosen for you.
· Strengthened—not just in power, nor just in your ability to
resist. You will also be strengthened in knowledge and in faith.
· Established—the word in the original means to build on a firm
foundation. You will be one of those Christians who cannot be moved
from his appointed post—no matter how fierce the assault.
Hammered by suffering for the faith, heated in the forge of
Satan’s anger, over and again, you will become the Damascus blade in
the hands of the Christ. The task you are given will be completely
beyond you now—but when the forging is done, you will be ready and
able. It may seem hot and grim now, but trust the Master—he knows
how to use the forge of tribulation.
Lord, how often we complain of our little trials! Yet by those
trials we are forged into an instrument of your design for your
purposes. Teach us to be content with this.
The Necessity of Christ’s Suffering
My grandfather died when I was just a baby. I always cherished,
however, the stories my dad would tell about him. Children seem to
need their grandparents somehow.
One of dad’s favorites was this. My grandfather had been a
professional baseball player in his youth. He was a pitcher, and
particularly fond of that bane of a hitter’s existence, the curve
ball. My dad would often find himself with a catcher’s mitt on the
receiving end. Granddad would tell him exactly where to position the
mitt. He would tell him not to move it; the ball would arrive there.
But the curve ball is deceptive; it appears to be going one way and
then drops and goes another. Dad said it took him many curve balls
in the stomach to learn to keep the mitt in place.
Prophecy is like that. We look at it in our own way, bending it
to fit our particular theory. We are trying to describe the flight
of the ball; the prophet was simply telling us where to hold the
The prophecies of the coming of Christ are many and often
surprisingly explicit. For that reason, they were not seen coming
true. The Christ to come would be the Suffering Servant; the people
wanted the Conquering King. So they placed the mitt where they
wanted the pitch—and the curve surprised them.
We’re that way too. We read of the glories of our Lord’s return,
and all seems a path smoothed by angels to keep us from all possible
harm. But just as our Lord’s path was laid out many years before, so
is ours—and both lead down the Via Dolorosa—the way of suffering. As
it was prophesied that he would suffer, so we should know that we
But take heart; if his road leads through suffering, it ends up
in glory at his return. If our paths are his paths, then our path
ends in glory as well, when he returns. As he was given the name
above all names for his suffering, so we too shall be “given a new
name” - transformed into his resurrection likeness.
It sometimes surprises Christians that Christ had to suffer—this
was part of God’s plan. Likewise, we must suffer as well, for we are
Christians—the little imitators of Christ. It seems a burden now;
but one day, it will be honor enough for any man.
Lord, we favor the times of ease over the times of strife. Both
must come in their due measure; may we see each for what they are.
Strengthen us so that we may be prepared for the suffering ahead—and
the purpose it will accomplish.
Suffering For Love
Love is not easily discerned by scientific means. Science, by its
nature, requires measurement. It asks, “How much?” There is only one
way to measure love—by its action.
Consider, then, the love of God towards us, as shown to us at the
· Note first WHO died for us. Not just an appointed prophet, or a
volunteer saint. No; it was the one who was the author and sustainer
of all created things, God himself. He did not do this in some
symbolic way. Rather, he became like one of us, taking on this flesh
of clay, and walked the dusty roads of Judea. Those roads took the
King of Kings to Calvary.
· Next, please note that he DIED for us. It is a wonder indeed
that he came in the flesh to be with us and teach us. No, we are
taught that his specific purpose, from before the worlds began, was
to die for us. It was no ordinary death, either. No polite hospital
bed; rather, an old rugged cross—the painful, brutal death of a
criminal, an execution designed to inflict as much suffering as
possible. Worse, for Him, was that he was separated from God the
Father to do this.
· Finally, note that this life was given while we were still
SINNERS. He did not make any effort to separate the “worthy” sinners
from the unworthy ones. Christ died for all. But it is worse: we are
sinners against Him. You think not? Every sin we commit is first a
violation of his law of love. When we throw our insults at someone
we trample upon his “love your neighbor as yourself.” Every sin is
first a sin against God. Yet He sent His Son—to die for those very
What, then, should we do about this? Some would simply ignore it,
but the Christian cannot. We are the imitators of Christ, the ones
who ask, “What would Jesus do?” So then:
· Let us be the ones who bear the pain of love’s reconciliation.
· May we bear it, no matter the cost.
· May we bear it, no matter how unworthy those who receive it.
In His love He has suffered so much for us; we can at the least
take this as an example.
Lord, it is hard to understand just how much you love us. Only as
we imitate you can we know your suffering and your love.
Attitude, Altitude, Action
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
Of late there has been quite a stir about Mel Gibson’s movie, The
Passion of the Christ. One of the more interesting side effects of
the controversy is this: it was fashionable, for a little while, to
actually preach Christ crucified. It seems that it was only a fad,
however. So we might ask, why is this subject so unpopular?
Answered simply: we’re too proud to hear it. Paul shows us that
reaction here. Consider first the man who is waiting for miraculous
· His attitude? He tells God what will be required to make him
· His altitude? He knows he’s on a level with God. Religion is a
bargain between equals.
· His action? He turns away to seek elsewhere.
Now consider the one for whom intellectual logic is supreme:
· His attitude? He is the one who is passing judgment on God.
· His altitude? He is above God, looking down to see if God meets
· His action? He laughs—and waits for the next religion.
But God moves in his paradoxical way: for power he shows weakness
in the Crucifixion; for wisdom he gives us preachers—who, if they
lift up Christ, display the very power of God. Christian, take the
· Your attitude? We are the recipients of amazing grace, amazed
at the love which suffered so much for us.
· Your altitude? We are looking up to God—and therefore look down
on no one.
· Your action? We are the ones who imitate Christ—asking, “What
would Jesus do?”
The world looks at us and wonders why we cannot see the folly of
Christ crucified. We can. We see the folly of God—and find in it
that which is greater than all the wisdom and power our species can
possess. The old, old story is never fashionable, never up with the
times. Things eternal care nothing for the times.
Lord, we are so caught up in the moment around us that we often
fail to turn our eyes to you. Grant us the vision to see this world
for what it really is: temporary.
2 Corinthians 5:13-15
In the early years of the twentieth century a physicist named Max
Planck had a problem. The problem is now known as the “black body
radiation” problem. Planck was mystified; the theory in use at the
time gave an absurd result. By making one additional assumption,
however, the theory could be made to fit. His problem, simply, was
that he had no basis for the assumption. Out of the search for “why”
came modern physics.
The world looks at the true Christian, and a similar “why”
arises. By the theories of our day, the true Christian is
· The Christian seems to have no sense of moderation in all
things—when it comes to Christ.
· The Christian has no sense of reasonable compromise, being a
stickler for faithfulness.
· And—most inexplicable of all—the true Christian often does
things for his faith which can only be labeled “extravagant.”
It would be easy to conclude that the Christian is insane. Such
acts cannot be reconciled with the world’s view of normal. But at
other times the Christian seems eminently sane. This is particularly
true of the way they love each other. Dissension, slander and gossip
are nonexistent, and thus the group can do great things. And great
things they do: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and aged,
helping the poor. All these things are recognized as good works, and
the sign of a noble mind. How can this sanity be reconciled with the
The world sees, but does not comprehend, for they do not know the
one fact which changes us completely: Christ died for us. In
accepting his salvation, everything inside us changes, for the Holy
Spirit takes up residence with us; we are changed in our very
nature. Paul expresses it as strongly as this: we no longer live—but
Christ lives in us.
But—as we are taught—God is love. Therefore the Spirit within us
acts to bring us within the law of Christ. So it is we are beside
ourselves with respect to Christ—and sound minded in loving others.
Fools for Christ; for the foolishness of God is greater than the
wisdom of the world.
Lord, so often we want to be respectable and socially
acceptable—knowing that you were rejected by the world. Teach us to
laugh, Lord, as fools for you should.
No Longer I Who Live
It is one of the paradox statements. Paul is confronted with the
truth; there is no way to express it in worldly terms. He must use
the way of heaven itself—and that appears to contradict itself.
What does it mean to be crucified with Christ?
· First and foremost, it means that we have accepted the
sacrifice of Christ on the Cross as being sufficient to deal with
our sins before Almighty God. We put our trust in what He did, not
in what we do.
· It also means that we have “died to sin.” We have rejected the
world’s view that life at its best is nothing more than faster cars,
younger women, older whisky and more money. We reject the claim of
the world on us; temptation now becomes real, not just an excuse to
· Indeed, we have replaced the desires of this world with the
desire of Christ. We want to know more of him, learn more of his
thought and walk more closely in his ways.
It is a paradox. The world sees us as giving up all that really
matters; we in fact have gained the only thing that really
In the meanwhile, we have life in this body to deal with. How are
we to do that? Simply put, by faith. Faith points us to the source
of life itself, Jesus Christ. We have but a token of it now; upon
his return, we will know it in full.
Which brings up the pragmatic question: what do we do in this
“life in the flesh?” How do we get through it?
· First, by the imitation of Christ. He is the one who loved us
so much as to die for us, and there is no greater love. It is the
perfect love, and therefore worthy of our imitation. In so doing, we
die to the cause of death (sin) and cling to the source of life.
· We also do it by trust in his promises. We must keep our eyes
on the prize. He has promised eternal life if we are faithful.
Does it sound difficult. Consider riding a bicycle: until you’ve
done it, it looks difficult. Once you’ve done it, it’s easy. The
secret is to get on the bicycle and go.
Lord, to read the words makes it sound so difficult; to walk with
you makes it so easy. Teach us to walk closer to you.
Suffering For Marriage
Christ does not delegate authority without also requiring
responsibility. This is particularly true in marriage. Most churches
today teach that a wife’s submission to her husband is “obsolete
teaching.” The Scripture teaches the exact opposite; the wife is in
submission. Which means that the husband bears a great
responsibility. He is to love her “as Christ loved the church.”
Consider, then, just exactly how Christ loved the church:
· He loved her forgivingly—even forgiveness on the Cross. “Father
forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
· He loved her by cleansing her from her faults—so that she might
be holy and blameless. He himself took the blame for our sin, so
that we might be blameless.
It is also fruitful to see what Christ did not do with the
· There is no sense that he ever threatens the church—rather, he
sends Good News. The threat of hell is always there; Christ lifts
the threat by his love.
· He does not treat her with arrogance or contempt; there is no
thought of the church being humiliated by Christ. Rather, He is the
one who models humility for us.
· Nor is there any sense that he holds her up to comparison to
others. He does not “let her have a little competition.” She is,
rather, the one and only bride of Christ. How absurd it would be for
someone to proclaim that Christ had abandoned the church in favor
of, say, the Hindus.
So it is that Christ has given us the example of how a husband
should love his wife. Does she offend him? He forgives. Has she her
faults? He gently assists her to remove them. Is there blame? He
takes it upon himself.
Could he possibly threaten her with force, or violence? It is
simply not done. Does he lord it over her as her boss and tyrant?
How could he portray Christ’s humility in that? Does he find another
for comparison? No, his heart belongs to no one else. Indeed, the
two are one flesh. Ripping off his right arm would hurt less than
tearing away from her.
Lord, we are quick to see our privileges and pleasures, slow to
see our duties. Teach us to sacrifice for her as you have sacrificed
Glory and Honor
Alas, I cannot find it confirmed anywhere—so I will tell you the
story as it was told to me.
A certain minister was giving a tour of his new church building
to a group of ministers from other churches. The building had been
built on a lavish scale, using only the finest materials. At the end
of the tour the minister pointed to the cross on the top of the
steeple. “Solid gold plated,” he said, “Cost us ten thousand
“You were cheated,” said a black minister from the poor side of
town. “Time was, a Christian could get one of those, free.”
Have you ever wondered how it is that every other religion has a
symbol which is beautiful—a crescent moon, a flower, a star—while we
have the old, rugged cross? No dignity, no beauty—but it is glory
and honor to our Lord Jesus.
Think about it: The one who created all things was made lower
than the angels he created to serve him. Indeed, he came like one of
us, in the flesh. What motivated this immense condescension? His
purpose was simple: he came to suffer and die, so that by his
sacrifice we might be saved. By his suffering we are healed of the
deadly wounds of sin. The wood of the cross was given him at no
charge; the suffering and death he paid so that we might live.
He would be little noted for it, however, without this: By the
power of the Holy Spirit, God raised him from the dead. More than
this, he is crowned with glory and honor because of his sacrifice
It is fitting that this should be so. Honor and glory are not
given to position but performance. For this, he has the highest
honor and the brightest glory.
What should we be doing about it?
· First, in our own lives, we should give him honor and
glory—praise in song and in testimony to those around us. If we know
the power of the resurrection, we should say so.
· An even greater form of honor to him is this: we should imitate
him. We should accept our own suffering as a badge of courage, our
own sacrifice as an offering to God.
Lord, we are loud at praise on Sunday mornings; teach us to be
frequent in honoring you. Help us to accept sacrifice and suffering
as honor, both to you and received from you.
The Son Learns Obedience
This passage has long been a puzzle to many Christians. How, they
ask, could it possibly be said that Christ learned obedience? Is He
not the Son of God, and therefore by definition obedient to the
Father, being one in will with Him? Even worse, it is written that
he “was made perfect” - how can this be for the sinless, pure Lamb
How indeed that Jesus of Nazareth could be both completely God
and completely man is the mystery and miracle of the Incarnation.
The entire explanation is likely beyond our power to comprehend, but
there is one certain fact which will give us a clue.
That certain fact is this: Christ prayed, fervently and with
tears of agony, to be released from the sacrifice on the Cross. He
knew what was coming, and as man he wanted no part of it. BUT—did
you ever notice that not once did he pray for the resurrection? He
takes it as an accomplished fact: tear down the temple and in three
days he will rebuild it again. He is utterly confident of the
resurrection; his fear is in the sacrifice before it. The fact that
he would return from the dead was no consolation at all to him.
Perhaps now you can see the learning. He is human; he fears death
as do we all. In his case there is more than that; he fears the
agony of being separated from the Father, carrying the weight of the
world’s sin. It is of no use to say that, theoretically, this was no
problem; he would rise. The fear is there; he is like us. He
overcame this fear by his obedience to the Father. His obedience is
now shown to be complete. Some things you have to learn by doing.
In the same way he was “made perfect.” The word implies “fit for
a task,” (in the Greek) and to be a fit sacrifice there must be a
sense of giving something up, something you want to keep. It may be
charity to give old clothes to Goodwill; it is not sacrifice. He
gave the perfect life up as our sacrifice; that is perfect
obedience. The unblemished life is the most precious, and therefore
the perfect sacrifice.
It is fitting, therefore, that as he was made perfect by
obedience, we are given eternal life by obedience to him. He lived
his life with a purpose. We should do no less; our purpose and our
goal should be in him.
Lord, teach that we are not to drift but to follow—you. Give us
courage to overcome our fears as we walk in your way.
God Measures Our Suffering
It sometimes comes as a surprise that our suffering comes as no
surprise to God. We seem to be surprised every time it happens.
Should we be surprised when suffering comes?
The simple answer is “no.” God has provided us with ample warning
on the subject. At least one book of the Bible is devoted to the
topic (Job). Warnings are scattered throughout the Scripture. Yet we
continue to be surprised by its arrival. Why?
First, I suspect, is the fact that when you are not suffering you
think things will continue as they are now. Insurance salesmen know
that they must “back the hearse up to the door” to sell life
insurance. It’s not that we expect to die soon; it’s that we expect
it “later.” Things will be as they are—and we like that.
But what if we are suffering? We can usually see—or imagine—a way
out of the suffering. Thus we think it will soon be over. Surely God
will hear us in prayer; our expectation is that He will deal with
it. That’s the rub: our expectations. We need to remember that our
expectations are not an order to God.
Can suffering really be life long?
To take a common example, consider the black Christians in
America before the Civil War. Their plight was such that they took
comfort in knowing that Israel had been enslaved too. They looked
and prayed to the God of Israel to end their suffering. And indeed,
it was God’s people—those of the abolitionist movement—whose prayers
and actions brought about the emancipation of the black people. The
identification was so strong that Lincoln was often referred to as
Will God provide justice to the sufferers?
God is just; certainly He will. But we need to remember the
suffering of Israel—430 years total, some twenty generations, before
God sent Moses to deliver them. His justice is often not as swift as
we would like—but it is still his justice, not ours. The Day is
coming when recompense will be made. He then will have all of
eternity to right the wrongs which cause our suffering.
Lord, we are so impatient. Help us to remember those who have
gone before us, whose suffering was born patiently, hoping and
trusting in you.
Those who are, or were, parents of small children understand the
difficulty quite well. It frequently happens that your child must
learn a lesson—for his own good—which he will not readily
comprehend. For example, small children cannot conceive of being
badly hurt or killed for running out in the street. Such a thing has
never happened to them; therefore it never will. But the parent
knows that the child must be taught to stay out of the street.
This teaches us something about our heavenly Father as well—for
he has the same problem with us. Consider:
· The lesson he has to teach may be incomprehensible to you at
the time he needs to teach it. If you think not, cast your mind back
to your wedding day. How much did you really know about staying out
of trouble in marriage? Did he provide lessons in the form of your
· Suffering is usually caused to prevent a much worse form of
suffering. You spank the small child for running out into the
street—so that the child will fear the spanking and thus avoid the
car. By light suffering you teach the way to prevent heavy
· Such suffering may be exemplary. Little sister often learns
what not to do by watching big brother get spanked for it. So it is
with God; often he gives suffering to those who will serve as the
best examples. Why should he inflict suffering on many when one good
example will do the work?
· One other thing: as any parent knows, such suffering is an
agony to the parent as well. If you love your children there is a
constant temptation to shield them from suffering—even when you know
that the loving thing to do is to have them experience it.
If we, as imperfect human parents, find this technique so
necessary, then surely God will use it with wisdom beyond our own.
The loving God will use suffering to strengthen and cleanse his
children in a fallen world. It is not his will that suffering should
abound, just as it is not his will that any should perish. We need
to remember that as sinners we have given him a problem—not the
other way around.
Lord, how often we see our suffering as incomprehensible—and so
it may be, to us. Help us to know that your way is perfect.
Born To Trouble
It is amazing at times, how adept we are at lying to ourselves.
Despite our sins, we keep telling ourselves, “It’s not our fault.”
Two of the most common candidates are given here.
Mistake #1—it’s my environment
Ask someone to give you their picture of paradise on earth. You
will most likely get a description of some garden spot, often
tropical, which is “unspoiled by civilization.” The problem is that
I live in civilization; if I could just get back to unspoiled
nature. The idea has been around for a few hundred years, but it
always seems to have a fresh allure.
Paul Gauguin, the painter, was of the same opinion. He was
convinced that if he could get to Tahiti and live with the natives
there, all his troubles would be over. For surely Tahiti was the
paradise on earth he sought; surely the people there would not be
afflicted with pride, jealousy and such—how could they? They lived
in paradise. When he returned to France several years later, he had
learned: the troubles were there too.
Mistake #2—it’s my heredity
My father was born and raised in a small town in Ohio. He spent
twenty years in the Army; when he retired from the service he
immediately moved (with wife and three kids) to California. He had a
job offer at his last post; he had family to help him in Ohio but he
moved to California. I once asked him why: “Because no one there
cares who your father is.”
Running away from our families is almost a national pastime. We
have glorified teenage rebellion to the point where we must conclude
that our families are the source of our troubles. It’s my mother’s
fault! But really; isn’t this running away from who we are? And
doesn’t “who we are” get off the plane with us?
God showed us the answer in the Garden of Eden—the environment of
paradise, with no family ties, a perfect heredity. With but one
command to obey, both people disobeyed. The problem is not in our
environment or in our heredity. As Pogo said, “We have met the
enemy—and he is us.”
Lord, we cannot change who we are—but you can. Change us to be
like you so that we may enjoy paradise with you.
Saints Destined For Suffering
1 Thessalonians 3:1-3
When you speak to a modern American Christian about the
inevitability of suffering for the faith, you usually get a polite
smile. Oh, they know it’s in the Bible somewhere—but not likely to
happen to us. After all, this is America.
Our expectations are set with the thought that we will not see
persecution. There are two very good reasons why we think so:
· First, God has been very generous to us in this land. By its
history and (until recently) its law Christians have been left alone
to worship as they please.
· And, until recently, our society looked upon us as charitable
(and therefore worthy) people. We are a blessing to the community;
therefore the truly intelligent leaders were willing to overlook our
religious eccentricities—such as right and wrong.
But matters are changing. The Christian is a light in the
darkness, and the darkness is very dark indeed. To take just one
example, the homosexuality condemned for thousands of years as a
perversion is now righteousness itself; those who disagree are
intolerant. (We’re equally intolerant with bank robbers). This makes
us very inconvenient. We are also hard to ignore.
But we are easy to demonize—we’re “different.” We used to be
Christians; now we are weirdo right wing fundamentalist fanatics.
This is just a matter of timing. Persecution is to be expected by
the true Christian. Our expectations are wrong; persecution is on
the way. We are seeing early signs already:
· “The church has no business in politics. We’ve never tolerated
it before and we won’t now.” Really? To take the most prominent
example, the abolitionist movement was born and raised in the
church. Remember the Civil War?
· Most recruiters will tell you to remove any trace of church
membership from your resume. It’s not that we have a policy against
Christians, we just want to be careful. Besides, their ethics get in
the way of good corporate practice.
Rejoice, Christian—for the remnant who stand firm in the faith
there will be the crown of righteousness. Persecution, in whatever
form, is a sign that Satan takes us seriously.
Lord, when persecution comes, may we look to you for our help—and
rejoice, knowing that we are blessed.
Suffering for Sin
A friend of ours has a pair of twins among her grandchildren. The
little ones call her “Mimi,” a derivative of Grandma. Like most
grandmothers she is exceedingly fond of, proud of and protective of
her grandchildren. Like most, she spoils the kids rotten and then
hands them back; a form of vengeance, I’m told. But the
grandchildren learn early that Mimi is much more relaxed about
discipline than Mom.
One day Mimi returned home to find a recorded telephone message
from one of the twins, the boy. “Mimi, I’m in BIG trouble,” he said.
Grandmother investigated. Big trouble indeed; he had taken a garden
hose and soaked his twin sister with it. When she wrestled the hose
from him, he decided to prevent her from retaliating—by pulling out
a substantial portion of her hair. BIG trouble, indeed!
When a four year old does it, we talk (and laugh discreetly). But
as adults we sometimes do the same sort of thing, We know that the
universe is a moral place; what goes around, comes around. It’s a
moral place because its creator, God, is righteous.
Think this through step by step. When we sin, God:
· Has the power to act.
· Has the will to act.
· Has clean hands—so there is no reproach to Him.
Fair warning served. But see if you recognize our response:
· After our sin, we like to issue an apology to God—usually a
lighthearted one; the Almighty has a great sense of humor.
· We know that his standard for repentance is much lighter than
our own. He’s in the forgiveness business, right?
In short, we think we can “work the system” with God. Real change
is not required; surface actions alone will be sufficient.
We need to remember who is God. We need to remember that he is
righteous and just. The grandchild in this instance was no doubt
surprised that just because he knew Grandma’s phone number and
called for help did not mean he was going to get away with it.
Likewise, just because we apologize in prayer does not mean that God
will lift the instruction of suffering from us.
Lord, teach us gently that you require true repentance—so that we
may please you by how quickly and thoroughly we repent.
Whom God Loves, He Disciplines
For those with small children, McDonald’s is often a dining
destination. It allows you to stuff their little faces (often with
cheap toy included) while someone else cleans up the mess around the
high chair. But as the children grow older, you will begin to notice
something unpleasant at McDonald’s. Some of the children are
enjoying the playground; others are completely out of control. You
now must tell your children that this is not acceptable—even if
someone else gets away with it. You don’t correct the other
children; you discipline your own.
God, in distributing suffering , uses it to teach us. It teaches
us patience, as we endure what he has allowed. It creates endurance;
before that illness you could not lie in bed, idle, that long. Now
you know how to wait on the Lord. Most of all, there is this: the
suffering of today sharpens you to be an instrument of his grace
towards others. You understand this, at least in part. When you
underwent that trial, God sent someone who had “been there, done
that” to your side. That person encouraged you, lifted you up in
prayer, and made you know that if they made it, you can too.
Discipline. None of us appreciate it very much, but all of us
value it—in other people. It gets a bum rap.
· Discipline means “to make disciples.” It is designed to produce
someone who can imitate the one handing out the discipline—i.e.,
· The principle of “no pain, no gain” works in athletic
discipline—and in spiritual discipline as well. If you’re not
sweating, it’s not discipline.
· But—praise God—discipline means that you are “on the team.” The
football coach runs the drills for the players on the team, not for
those passing by/ God disciplines his children for his purposes,
So rejoice, Christian, when God disciplines you.
“Rejoice? Easy for you to say.” Permit me a personal example. A
staff member commented once that he had never heard me complain
about my eye patch. He won’t. That patch is God’s discipline (ask me
how, if you like). It means he loves me. How could I complain about
Lord, we do not cherish your discipline—but we should. Help us
to be grateful for your discipline, as your children should be.
Count It All Joy
One of the days I count as having a great amount of fun was the
day when a friend of mine took me on a tour of the battleship New
Jersey. He was the engineering officer at the time, and we crawled
happily all over the ship, examining everything that wasn’t
classified or locked. The ship is huge—approximately 60,000 tons of
steel. You might ask, “Why so large?” The matter is one of
engineering; if the ship is to go at a certain speed, carrying so
much armor and a certain size of gun, there is a minimum size which
will allow that. Anything less and the ship is flawed.
But even at that a ship (and her crew) must be tested and drilled
to be capable of going into harm’s way. God builds the battleships
of his church in much the same way. They must be of a certain size,
and have a certain experience.
Certain size? Yes, in the heart. The true combat Christian has a
heart big enough to take in what God dishes out. You notice that
James calls us brothers here. He knew what it was to suffer, and
still react to such treatment with joy.
It is in the testing and drilling that God creates his combat
Christians. As James tells us here, such trials are an attack on our
faith. Our hearts must be big enough to hold God’s joy, but our
minds must be capable of enduring the experience of such trials.
When you pass through such a trial, and emerge victorious, you have
the sure knowledge that your faith is fit to go in harm’s way.
Indeed, that faith is being perfected for God’s tasks.
One such perfection is in the matter of patience. Any fool can be
in a hurry; most of us fret away time with impatience. But those who
have been tested and drilled not only have the patience God gives,
they are also confident in it. It is of no use having a battleship
if the captain is afraid to use it.
Why, then, are we so reluctant to face such trials? Perhaps it is
because we think our faith is incomplete. We may be strong in one
area, but in others we are weak. But where did you think God would
send that trial? To your strengths? No, to strengthen you where you
are weak. The result is a saint perfected for the tasks God will
assign. Rejoice! God has found in you the raw material suitable for
him to forge into a tool for his own hands.
Lord, we do not often picture ourselves being molded into a tool.
Help us to know by faith that which we cannot see—that you are
creating a work for your own hand, for triumph to come.
It is with some sense of caution that we step into the book of
Revelation. No other book in the Bible has so many differing points
of view. No other such points of view are held with such vigor, even
to the point (frequently) where the advocates of one system condemn
those of another as worse than heretics—those who are antichrists.
We shall not attempt any grand explanation of this passage, but
confine ourselves to some simple points which, it appears, are
common to most points of view.
The first such point is this: these blessed saints—those who
serve at the very throne of God—started their journey in
tribulation. Was this “the great tribulation?” Maybe. Does it really
matter? Those whom God honors most came from tribulation—and no
minor version of it.
The second point is this: they are among the most honored saints
of all, for they are so close to God. From him they obtain the water
of life; he is the one who wipes away all sorrows; he is the one who
protects them. He is the one who shields them from all troubles from
without (the sun’s heat) and from within (hunger and thirst). Just
how literally we are to take this is up for debate; but it’s a good
working definition of paradise.
How did they make the journey from tribulation to paradise? The
only known way: the blood of the Lamb. It is only by Christ’s
sacrifice on the Cross that the saints in tribulation can become the
saints in paradise.
One thing which may surprise you is this: God planned it this way
from the beginning. The Cross is not an escape hatch maneuver, or an
attempt to get the play back to the plot. It is exactly what God
planned—including this paradise. It is therefore no surprise that
Christians—particularly mature Christians—often find themselves with
a longing for paradise. God has placed that longing inside his
creation so that we might seek such a paradise. He tells us the way;
it leads through sacrifice, it leads through persecution, it leads
through ridicule, it leads through pain—but it ends in glory. This
world is not our home, we’re just passing through. God has destined
us for glory eternally with him—if we are faithful. If we continue
in the way of Christ, paradise will be ours. Now you know what the
winners look like.
Lord, the ache in the soul often throbs. Like Paul, we don’t know
if it’s better to stay or go. Lead on, O King Eternal!