As I ruminate, and in this rumination both to God and Man, I ponder the depths of long-suffering. What a joy and burden that You name it a gift of the Spirit. A gift? A gift to suffer long? A gift from the Spirit. Not our gift, but His to give.
Suffering is a part of this life. I find it comical, if not disheartening, when we (people) find suffering surprising or unexpected. When, factually, figuratively, and literally, it is one of only a few things that is promised by life. Birth. The sun’s rise and fall. The rain’s shower. God’s goodness. Suffering. Death.
His promises are always Yes, and with them, we give our Amen. But how and why that promise comes to pass is ever-changing.
Moses was called by God, and at age forty, moved into action. This action saved a slave but caused the death of an Egyptian slaver. The next day, when his heart drove him to action again, he attempted to help two fighting Jews. But they rejected him for his crime the day prior. And he fled. God’s promise was to use Moses. And Moses moved in his Amen. But that Amen, whether or not right, drove him away into the wilderness in fear. Where was God’s promise, then? In the desert for forty more years, pondering if his life of meaning would forever be over. Wondering if his last chance was gone. Deliberating alone over what would ever come of his people he left behind?
In Chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, the early Church is persecuted by Saul and the Sanhedrin. And with that persecution, the apostles and disciples of Jesus scatter. And from that scattering, the movement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ arises. Without persecution, our Gospel would never have moved across the face of the earth.
The rains will come. It is a promise.
And they bring what we would describe as both good and bad. This does not mean Christ is out to kill, steal, or destroy in order that His will be done. But He will remove all pleasantries from your life to get there, and especially to draw you into faith.
Passion is not something always pleasant. It is neutral. The word derives from Pascho, meaning, “in a good sense, to be well off; in a bad sense, to suffer sadly”. History more commonly refers to it as Suffering. Jesus’ passion was the cross. And though it was good, it was no pleasant physical thing. In his second letter to the Church of Corinth, Paul describes our suffering and affliction as the cause of consolation and salvation in others. Therefore, the endurance of such suffering is effectual. It is both pain and pleasure. “Good” and “Bad”.
Passion holds the promise of great relief at the end of such suffering. If I may be so crass and carnal, we see it in the physical world with the purging of our body’s fluids. A build-up and release in the bladder and bowels. Even sexual satisfaction and vomiting are painful acts that bring pleasure in the purge.
The sexual act may be the most elementary of all “sufferings” and “reliefs”, and by it, people have become addicted. A rudimentary action that hardly moves past genuine pain and suffering, and because of such limited suffering, comes a short and fleeting pleasure and wholeness. Though this is only carnally speaking. Sex between lovers that are beyond mere physical attraction, married and in the image of God, discover far deeper emotional and spiritual pleasure through it as well. For Sex is the strongest physical act two people can perform—greater than war or famine. And the Kingdom of Darkness would have you and I believe it to be solely a physical act, and with it under that guise we find the paltry satisfaction of pain and pleasure mingled together. Nothing like the fullness that God intended. But I will discuss Sex another time. For now I only mean to show its powerful connection to Suffering.
We define passion incorrectly in today’s age. Driven by lust, pleasure, convenience, and comfort. But God is not. He is driven by faith. And faith comes when there is no hope. For hope that is seen is not hope. Therefore, faith that is real is amidst hopelessness. But hope does not disappoint in hopeless times. Neither does faith fail when it is up against the impossible.
A few months ago, I was in deep confabulation with a friend. He mused God would never bring us thus far, simply to let us fail. But his words were not directed at God’s unfailing love or commitment, rather the belief that that which we had built would never fall apart. As he claimed these words, I was reminded of story after story in the Bible (Abraham’s desert, David’s cave, Elijah’s mountain, Jonah’s plant, Stephen’s stoning, Paul’s imprisonment, Jesus’ cross) that involved great distress and breaking down of what “we built” even amidst great faith. Likewise, I pondered acts of sin that led to destruction (David’s rooftop, Lot’s wife, Abraham’s lie, Peter’s betrayal, Moses’ murder, Eve’s appetite).
Whether by our sin or by the movement of God, He will do whatsoever He pleases. And that pleasure may be the proponent of our suffering. For it is not by my will that I live, but by His.
So how much suffering can you endure? And with said suffering, how much faith will you adhere?
For dawn comes after the darkness. The light shines hardest in the nightmare. And the greatest growth comes from the greatest suffering. What of you to abandon lust, pleasure, convenience, and comfort?
Let me switch focus in fear that you claim me as a liar.
Samuel Chand (who I admit I stole all of this next thought from) taught that Growth Equals Pain. It’s obvious to prove this point in the illustration of exercise. Of course, straining muscles to their limit will cause their growth. It’s less obvious, but just as true, in an example of your small business plan. Say, perhaps, you start a new business. And at its onset, you are willing to hire anyone to get the job done as you get your feet on the ground. Even your Uncle Jerry, though he isn’t the most effective or sharpest knife in the drawer. Over time, you realize that letting Uncle Jerry go for a more prominent accountant is what’s best for the growth of the company. But that requires pain. Because Growth equates to Change. And Change will require Loss. And Loss will produce Pain. Therefore, Growth always equals Pain. Great leaders and followers of Christ know Pain is worth it, because they see the Growth on the far side.
But what if God wanted to take you to a place that you had never seen before? What if He wanted to affect as many people as He could in the process? What if he wanted to let the whole world burn so that He could save his children? How many times have you begged Him for that, and if He came through to answer your prayer for Change, how much would you be willing to Lose and how much Pain would you be willing to endure?
When my son was in the hospital, comatose and sedated, all I wanted was for the event to be over. “C’mon, Father, end this,” I begged. “I know You have healed him. By Your stripes, he was healed. Now get him out of that bed.” But no matter how much faith I had or Word I spoke, Harvey’s condition would not change. And in the process, I learned God’s timing vastly outweighed my own. His promises were Yes. And my Amen attached to it. But the Time was irrelevant. In it, God created testimony, miracles. He changed the staff, doctors, nurses, therapists, and other patients. He changed our church. He changed the faith of those after us. He changed me. Not with a miracle. Not with a promise. But with Time. With endurance. With long-suffering.
So shall He mature you. If you will let Him. You will always have a cop-out alternative. You will always have a way to give up. Abraham didn’t have to move. David didn’t have to hide in a cave. Elijah didn’t have to stand up against the Baal-worshippers. Paul didn’t have to tell the truth. And Jesus didn’t have to remain silent before Pilate.
And with those “not have to’s”, God did not have to make Abraham a father of many nations, give David the Kingdom of Israel, destroy the worshippers of Baal before Elijah, spread the Gospel through Paul’s letters, and save the world with the Cross.
I’m reminded of a time I nearly gave my truck away to a friend in need. He was in a bind and needed a car more than ever. But he was holding out for God to bless him. He kept talking about how he was praying and waiting for a miracle. Meanwhile, God told me to give him my truck. I spent nearly two weeks getting it in working condition, changing filters, spark-plugs, detailing the thing. And the day I went to meet him with a key in my hand, he came to me excited about the vehicle he had purchased that afternoon. I wondered if I had ever swept the feet out from under God the same way that young man did to me that day. How many times have I “fixed the problem” just before God miraculously provided?
What is faith? And is it alright to give in to earthly wisdom and do the “wise thing”? There is therefore no condemnation with Christ Jesus. And I know He does not lord over me angered and embittered thinking, “that’s the last time I try to help you, son.” He will give countless opportunities for us to show our faith and growth. And yet, eventually, we will die. Eventually we will lie in our bed wondering, if we had only dared to believe harder and push ourselves further, if God would have used us like He used Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and Jesus. If only we didn’t back down from suffering, but pushed through the fear—the great damned wall of it—and got to the other side.
Oh, how I will speak about Fear soon enough! Until then, know this: Your growth will only come with great suffering. The greatness you want to hold will be on the other side of pain. And this year—2022!— is a year of Hard, as He told me last December. A year of Hard and a year of Truth.
Let us put aside these foolish things like lust, pleasure, and convenience, and ask ourselves what we are willing to burn to the ground in order to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Adventure waits for me to die again
The time of death and the death of time
without reason or rhyme
I must commit
to remain uncommitted
My soul must long
to never long again
My dreams too great
yet never great enough