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