Sunday, August 19, 2012

I Will Suffer. And Suffer Well.

"It's granted to you, it's given to you, it's a gift to you, with a big bow, that you will suffer."
- John Piper

   Today at Willingdon, the sermon happened to be about a topic that I haven't written about on this blog for quite some time - more than a year, in fact. It was about God's role in the reality of pain and suffering, appropriately titled "How Can A Good God Allow Suffering?" [1]

   The sermon itself was powerfully delivered and convicting in what Pastor John had to say. But it wasn't what he said that I ended up thinking about over the course of the afternoon and evening, as much as I thought about my own heart and convictions. I remembered the little that I had reflected and written about pain and heartbreak in this tiny online journal of my own story, especially the personal decisions that I had come to as a result of those experiences.  It seems that things have been brought back to that today.

   Among the forefront of those memories was the death of my friend Yeswanth, who was tragically killed in an accident at the age of 28 early last year. I had written about him in the post "Death Came Calling And Took My Friend" and the posts that followed [3 - 5]. I still think about him on occasion, and the impact that it had on my perspective on life. Today was one such occasion.

    Some hours ago, I listened to John Piper's "Christ and Cancer", delivered at Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980. The words of that sermon in turn reminded me of this video excerpt delivered at a conference, titled "You Will Suffer":

    So where does all of this leave me today, looking back at all that I have heard, experienced, written and thought about over the years? What am I going to do with what I know in my heart to be true? And in the midst of my contemplation, two words were spoken in my heart in that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit that I have come to know and recognize so well:

"Suffer well."

   He did not have to say any more. I understood. Many years ago, as my life was crumbling around me, I had made Him a promise, a commitment - that whatever happened to me, I would stay with Him, if only He would give me the grace to do so. I have learned since then that that is a dangerous thing to say; it is not for the faint of heart, for God takes those kinds of prayers seriously and acts on them.

   God responded by systematically and painfully stripping me of all that I had built my identity on. The emotional crutches that held me up; the affinity for the comfortable life of indulgence; my security; my agenda; my little plans within the little bubble that I had constructed; my "self" - self-esteem, self-worth, self-help, self-sufficiency, self-ishness, self-centredness, self-exaltation, self-indulgence, self-interest and all the illusions with which I pampered myself. In fact, it has never ended; it still goes on today, everyday as layer by layer is exposed and torn off without mercy.

   The hammering on God's anvil has been painful, and it will not stop until the day I die. But it has been what He wants and that I needed - to be changed, conformed to the image of His dear Son. And that is not just worth living for; it is worth dying for.

   My Master calls me to suffer. Yes, suffer. Suffer with Him, suffer for Him. For His pleasure, for His glory, that those who see it will be compelled to fall to their knees, lift their hands to the heavens and confess that "Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." So with Peter and John in the book of Acts, I count it joy "to be shamed for The Name."

   There is no room for hesitation or indecisiveness as I look down the road. His bloody feet have walked this path for me, doing for me what I could not do for myself; He has gone on ahead of me to show me the way, and I see the blood-stained prints marking the road that I must follow. There are no promises, no guarantees that things will go well on this road. No promises of health, wealth and prosperity in this life. No promises of stability and personal success, but that every need will be met. No promises of social acceptance, attention and approval, but that I will have His respect and approval, which is the only respect that matters. No promises of the "good life". No promises that every prayer will be answered, but that every prayer will be heard. No promises that my heart will not be broken a thousand times over, but that His grace will be sufficient, and that He will be enough.

There is only one simple, clear command: "Come. Follow Me."
 I have only one simple, clear reply: "Yes, Master. I will come with You."
   So I reject it all. I reject this notion of "the good life." I reject this tendency for self-preservation, to keep my life comfortable at all cost. I reject this craving for more stuff, more trinkets to accumulate for myself. I reject the culture of this world and everything it stands for in its abandonment of God and truth. I reject this contempt for the elderly and unborn. I reject the mockery that is made of marriage and family, manhood and womanhood. I reject the notion that I need not suffer, should not suffer, will not suffer.

"Then I said, 'Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God,
And Your law is written in my heart."
- Psalm 40:7-8, NKJV

[1] How Can A Good God Allow Suffering?
[2] Death Came Calling, And Took My Friend
[3] He's Dead. What Does That Mean?
[4] Is He There? Does He Care?
[5] Help, God. It Hurts
[6] When God Wants To Drill A Man...
[7] The Perfume Within The Pain 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Birthday Reflections

"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
shall abide under the shadow of the almighty" -
Ps. 91:1
   Another birthday has come and gone in the three months since I've last posted. So much has happened, so much has changed - especially me. Time on God's clock has ticked away, but it has not been idle or wasted. 

   Through trial, doubt, difficult questions of life and faith, discouragement, disappointment, obedience, submission, chastisement, fervent prayer and supplication, hot days and cool nights, laughter, joy, happiness and contentment - the Grand Weaver of my soul has been quietly and powerfully working in the background as He has pulled yet more threads of the tapestry of my life together. 

   By His grace and mercy, He has allowed me to emerge from His hammering on the anvil tested and refined - kept in faith by the power of God and through His Holy Spirit working mightily in my heart; strong, unmoved, resilient, steadfast, grateful, humbled, repentant, softer, kinder, gentler, and sure -

sure of my faith and in Him who I believe, 
sure of Him who has called and sustains me, 
sure of my salvation, sure of my destiny, 
sure of my future, and what awaits me
sure of His holiness, sure of His justice
sure of  my sin, and His wrath upon it
sure of His mercy, sure of His grace
sure of His kindness and His power to save

sure of my Christ, sure of His Cross,
sure of leaving all that is loss
sure of His word, sure of its power
sure of His name, a strong tower
sure of His gospel, sure of its truth
sure of its message, sure of its proof
sure of His Spirit, sure of His presence
sure of His voice that speaks in the stillness

sure that I'm sure, sure Whom I know
sure where I've come from, and to Him I'll go.

   This birthday gone by was a good time for reflecting, and remembering God's work in my life. I found it fitting that the Psalm reading of the day before was Psalm 90, and that of my birthday was Psalm 91. Together, they reminded me of my fleeting mortality, the constancy and eternity of God, His worthiness of all glory and worship, and His power to sustain and guide me through life. I spent part of the afternoon doing a photoshoot at Deep Cove in North Vancouver, taking photos that I thought were personally significant and connected with my Psalm readings. I thought I'd post them and the verses that they were related to here:

"Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or You had ever formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
- PS. 90:1-2, NKJV

"For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night...
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labour and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off and we fly away
Who knows the power of Your anger?
For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

-Ps. 90:4, 9b-12, NKJV

"Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

He shall be like a tree

Planted by the rivers of water
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper

- Ps. 1:1-3, NKJV

    What a great, gracious and merciful God, who has allowed me to see the end of another year in my life, and the start of the next year. Though I have been unfaithful, He has been faithful. Though I have faltered, He has remained the steadfast rock of my refuge. Though I have been undeserving, He has been gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in His steadfast love. I'm looking forward to the days ahead.

     It's good to be back after a long break. See you in the next post!
- The Wisdom Seeker