Friday, September 4, 2009

Power and Suffering: Can they Coexist?

Philippians 3:10 (New International Version)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

The actual text from which the portion pulled for the poster above may not capture all that the text shares. While I want to know Christ, its not always beautiful sunsets. There are storms in the midst of knowing. There are deserts in the midst of knowing. There is pain in midst of knowing. And, there is healing.

This passage for years has haunted me. It has followed me like a nagging ache or pain. I have read through this portion of scripture so many times, asking "Who would want to know this? Who would sign up for this? This sounds spiritually sadistic." If Paul had simply reversed the ideas, I may have been quicker to agree and accept his approach. Ending on the power of the resurrection sounds hopeful and empowering. But, the portion doesn't stop there. It goes on to discuss the struggle of pushing forward; the staggering forward to know Christ, and suffering is a part of that.

Here is how I have come, not to rationalize, to understand Paul. When you enter suffering the only people who can comfort you are the ones who know suffering. The only God that can calm your heart and mind is one who suffered. The shared experience of suffering draws people closer together. Paul wanted all of Christ, not just a little bit. He wanted to know Christ fully and be fully known. He wants to embrace the risen Jesus, but before he can get there, he has to go through the cross.

How can we call Him Lord if we don't first understand Him as Savior, and how can we know him as Savior if he doesn't know us.

Hebrews 2:17-18 (New International Version)

17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

This is a God who knows us, and wants to be known. This is a God who made himself knowable by becoming like one of us. Can power and suffering coexist? They did in the person of Jesus. Do they exist in the life of the believer? They did in Paul.

2 Corinthians 12:10 (New International Version)

10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Are they able to exist in my life, when all that seems to be present is the suffering? Yes. But you are not able to get there through inner strength or intestinal fortitude. They exist together through surrender. They exist together through seeking the Kingdom.

In my own struggle with suffering I have experienced God's power through my weakness. I have been moved to do and be in ways contrary to my natural inclinations to hide and escape. In moments of despair God has shown up. Even as I type this, I can tell you that I am being carried by the Holy Spirit through God's word to trust and obey.

Dr. David Jeremiah, in his wonderful message about discouragement encourages us when we feel like stopping, running, and hiding that we need to press on and keeping pushing forward because if we don't then we miss out what God has in store for us and miss His provisions. But, it is not us who push forward, but Christ in us.

1. Cry Out to God, first, not second.
2. Continue the work you have been given.

Cry Out today, and keep moving forward. Keep being faithful and obedient to the ministry you have been given.

Next Post: We Have A Winner: A discovery in brokeness and learning how to live with it.


Amy said...

"The only God that can calm your heart and mind is one who suffered."
This is right on the money. We got our diagnosis at St. Francis, and I remember sitting in the little room and seeing a crucifix posted up on the wall and thinking, "God knows my pain. He lost a child and he watch that child suffer terrible things." I have never related to God more fully in suffering than in that moment. If we didn't serve a God who suffered, if we didn't follow a Lord who suffered, I don't know what I would do when hard times hit. Thanks for the great insight.