For some of us, suffering means having the cable go out, missing a meal or the dry cleaners losing our favorite shirt. We have blurred the distinction between inconvenience and suffering. But, how much do we really understand true suffering? We want to live like Jesus by following in His footsteps, but not the blood-soaked ones that lead to the cross. We want love, peace and grace by the gallons, but we quickly say, “No, thank you” to suffering.
I recently heard a quote by Elizabeth Elliott, wife of missionary Jim Elliott who was killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. She said, “God will not necessarily protect us from anything it takes to make us like His Son.” I let that soak in for a while and realized I had thought my greatest form of chronic suffering was my RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis). However, as I watched Jesus’ suffering depicted in the mini-series, The Bible, I began to see how my suffering doesn’t even fall in the shadow of His suffering. While I understand the struggle of carrying heavy objects great distances, I thankfully have no idea what it feels like to be scourged and to have nails driven into my hands and feet. So, on that grand scale, my suffering becomes a mere inconvenience.
What’s your struggle? It’s probably not rheumatoid arthritis, but it might be your job, your spouse, your children, some other health issue or it just might be your own form of RA. After reading The Message’s paraphrase of Matthew 5:8, I realized rheumatoid arthritis wasn’t my greatest struggle. It was another form of RA – Rotten Attitude! Matthew 5:8 is in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus lists the Beattitudes. The NIV reads like this, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” But, when I read it out of The Message it fell fresh on my weary body, “You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” I need to be willing to let God turn me inside out. It takes suffering to do that.
When we look closely at Jesus’ suffering we realize its purpose was to demonstrate God’s power. If I had been Jesus I would definitely have needed some Holy Spirit power to keep my mouth shut during the trial. I would have wanted to take a swing at the soldiers who put the crown of thorns on my head. I certainly would have had a hard time asking God to forgive the guy with the hammer. I would have fought, resisted and attempted to escape rather than giving the power of God a chance to resurrect me.
I am certain God continues to lead me to methods which ease my struggle with arthritis. He’s shown me the power of a healthy lifestyle. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I didn’t resist unhealthy food, never exercised, considered fasting unnecessary and refused to get enough rest. But now, God is teaching me something new. He’s showing me I need to change my Rotten Attitude into a Right Attitude about my ailment. In John 9, when Jesus was asked why a man had been born blind he responded, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” That’s what I want to believe about my struggles. I realize God has worked mightily teaching me what I need to do to feel better, but I should thank Him for giving me a platform on which His power can be displayed. He may choose to heal me immediately like the blind man in John 9. He may choose to heal me over a period of time like the Mark 8 blind man who required two touches from Jesus before his sight was fully restored. But then again, he may choose to have me wait on my healing until I meet Him on the Last Day. I am becoming more and more satisfied with whatever He chooses. Whatever His choice, I want to let it be used to demonstrate His power. I can rest knowing that one day soon I WILL be healed!
I am also slowly, but surely, understanding Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 when he asked three times for God to remove his thorn in the flesh, only to hear God say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I love how The Message puts Paul’s response, “Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”
By changing my focus, God is changing my attitude. Instead of dwelling on what might possibly happen to my physical body on down the road, God’s teaching me to see how He’s working in my life today. The days of quiet rest that I used to resist and feel guilty about now give me time to refuel for His next scheduled adventure. My weakness slows me down enough to spend time with Him so His Word can energize my steps and sweeten my days. I am finally beginning to see my “thorn” as a precious lens through which God reveals His amazing love for me.
Thanks for listening and letting me use this place as a way of working all this out in my mind and heart. I believe all our journeys are similar. God just uses different things to hone us into people who unashamedly give God’s resurrection power a chance to do its thing. If you would like to add your words of encouragement, I know some people like me who wouldn’t mind listening. Feel free to add a comment below.
May you not shy away from God turning you inside out this week!
“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, NIV)