Suffering for Jesus

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We use this term loosely in ministry, usually followed by a stay at an all-inclusive resort or a trip to some exotic place no one would consider “suffering” at all. But, despite our quips, suffering is a part of ministry; it is a part of relationship with God, in taking on His work in the Kingdom. No one knows that better than those that have been there, and yet we use comments like “Jesus isn’t suffering, broken, ill, or misused so neither are we.” Where does that asinine train of thought come from? True. Healing is in the name of Jesus, but Jesus didn’t heal everyone from everything. So if we suffer it isn’t because we do not believe on the name of Jesus.

 In fact, if you think about sovereign saints that believed whole-heartedly and passionately in the healing work of God and the manifestation of His grace, don’t you think of all people, the disciples would have been spared from suffering? And you cannot speak of suffering without bringing up Jesus Christ, a man who suffered and died a cruel death in a state of innocence so that we would forever be cleansed from the cancerous cruelty of guilt and shame. Therein you will find freedom, but we are never guaranteed freedom from suffering. If that were the case, what do we make of the words of Jesus that say, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.” He didn’t say “might” or “may  have” but a definite “WILL.”

 The words that got John and Peter and countless other martyrs through weren’t based on the denial of their pain, but the Truth that got them through was the understanding that no matter what, God had not forsaken them, and any sacrifice or suffering was worth the love of Christ. It is the same Truth that gets the countless Christians persecuted daily for their faith through to the next day even as they bury their children, spouses, and friends.

 We have to stop pointing at suffering as punishment and pain as an act of disobedience. The truth is, we are all going to suffer in one way or another in the flesh as long as we are earth bound. We have a choice in how we react to that suffering, in bitterness or in joy. Let me explain, joy is not happiness. No one is happy to suffer, no one laughs through chemo or transplants, but at the end of the day, they walk through it knowing they are led by Hands that know suffering and unfair pain. It doesn’t mean they are not afraid or they do not have moments of hopelessness, but in the end, they rest in the knowledge that He sees, He knows, and He promises that there is more on the other side.

 We cannot be afraid to suffer, and we cannot condemn those that do, questioning their faith, and challenging their obedience.  If you do not suffer, praise God! It isn’t because of anything you have or have not done, and if you suffer, praise God, because He has seen fit to send a message through you. Some of the bravest souls I know, didn’t deny their pain or their suffering or their illness, they acknowledged it, embraced it, and made it a part of a lasting testimony of faith. 

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Forgive me, God, I’m depressed.

ImageI hate it. I really do. I am a positive and hopeful person most of the time, but then like a thief in the night it sneaks up on me, stealing whatever positive thoughts and hopeful expectations my heart had settled on but not fully embraced.

 I feel guilty. How could one so loved and so forgiven and so obviously favored feel so down? I can so easily speak to another about the Truths of God to help pull them out of their pits of self-abasement, but when I am lapping from the pool of self-pity, I simply forget there is Living Water dammed up inside. Do I forget? Or do I choose not to drink thinking in some twisted way this is my punishment for past sins and aggressions?

 That’s when the lies begin to surface and hover around my heart like a million bees stinging the vulnerable places. Every angry word spoken to me, every accusation made, every failure and misunderstanding find their voice and threaten to undo every Truth I have hidden there. It becomes too much, too loud, and I start to shut down, undone by the venom, needing an antidote but feeling too unworthy to drink from His cup.

 And in those moments, I am so homesick for His compassion and mercy I am literally ill. What is wrong with me? I tell myself, “You better pull yourself together! There are people depending on you! If you become so depressed and overwhelmed and you know the Truth and study it daily, what hope does that offer others that don’t have that foundation?” And I curl up, letting my Saviour cover me with His love and strengthen my frame while I weep over my failures yet again.

“The Lord has compassion on us for He remembers that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14-15)

I don’t have to look far to find other ancestors in the faith that had the same struggle. The Psalms read like the diary of a manic depressive; David was no stranger to depression. He went from the heights of favor and provision and praise to the depths of despair and anxiety and fearing for his life. And yet, he was still regarded as “A man after God’s own heart.” I once heard that wasn’t because he always said the right thing before God but that he spoke all that was on his heart – whether it was highest praise or confession of unthinkable sin. Nothing was hidden from God. In that, I suppose I am not so different from King David.

Those around me get frustrated with my emotions. My tears, not hidden, make others uncomfortable. The usual gleam in my eye is replaced with a glassy stare and those closest to me recognize it. “As Jesus is so are you. Jesus is not depressed, and neither are you.” I understand the meaning behind that, but the logic is unsound. No. Jesus is not depressed. Not now. But He had moments of such raw and overwhelming emotion that He was undone. Granted, I’m not in the Garden of Gethsemane about to take on the fullness of God’s wrath for the salvation of the world, but there are moments when ministry takes me to my knees and I cannot bear up under the weight any longer.

“Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

 And how do you do that exactly? The word for “cast” there is literally “throw, as if casting a net, far and wide,” and far too often I merely hand my cares over like I’m afraid they will be dismissed or worse, rejected. You see how the thoughts then are cyclical?

 But in those desperate moments, very much like the one that I am in today, this verse becomes my beckoning:

 “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

 With that declaration, my focus changes. The “self” cesspool that I was drowning in now is revealed for what it is, the destructive, defeat of an enemy that longs to see me stopped and silenced! And I declare with shaking voice, “You will not win!

 And this childlike warrior finds her weapon, takes her position, and resumes the fight. It is long and it is hard and sometimes I need a moment to run home and cry, to pull the covers over my head and beg for tomorrow to hurry faster, but my Daddy reminds me, “A failure is one that refuses to get back up. You, My child, are more than a conqueror!” Like my forefather David, I take aim at the giant before me, the impeding darkness of depression, knowing my God is greater than even my emotions.

I wear a Scarlet letter “A”

It was affixed to me a few years ago. I didn’t willfully walk into the title, it had searched for me for a long time. Exposing itself to me in childhood, beckoning to me in adolescence, and dangling just above my heart in my young adult years before solidly sewing its flimsy fabric over my heart.

Ironically, I didn’t set out to be an adulteress, in fact, this side of it all, I never was. I was a loving, passionate soul desperate to see a life find hope and help in what I was led to believe was a bleak world. I saw a hurting brother, and well, I don’t care to imagine what he saw. Mostly he saw a vulnerable woman that out of fear of failure refused to say no.

I did some stupid things. I’m not gonna lie. I cringe when I remember some of those things, but I could never paint as devastating a picture as he painted of me, broad red stitches on an already weathered and tattered soul. I felt like a pawn. Used and manipulated and set aside to try and figure out what had happened and where it had begun. And here is the thing about sin being turned from, it always comes back for one last play.

Luckily, Daddy God had gotten ahold of me. He had led me to confess and seek counsel and to expose the darkness… And just in time, because I didn’t realize how dangerous the game had gotten, and how vulnerable I had become. God only knows what I was spared that fateful night, but I know it is far worse than I ever suspected.

But, this blog isn’t about that night, or that sin exactly… This blog is about the freedom that broke through as I began to be honest about my journey. Even now some people will read this and say “There she goes again, whining about her story.” But those people don’t know me… And they don’t understand my purpose in this life much less this blog. Probably because they too wear the Scarlet Letter “A”.

“Afraid.”

They are scared to share their pitfalls and their failures because to do so will somehow compromise their righteousness. But this is what I found in my pit of self abasement, I was not alone. In fact, so many of us were held up in that tiny, airless, dark space we barely saw the others standing beside us. Our guilt and our shame was so thick, our letters sewed on so tightly we couldn’t make out anything. Some still linger there. Holding onto that last thread, allowing the enemy to label them and devour them with his lies, refusing God the ability to overcome them with love.

“Perfect love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
(1 John 4:18 NLT)

So I’ve risen from the pit, not perfect, but loved. And because I have been there and witnessed the lies – the pastors caught in adultery, the Bible teachers in homosexual relationships, the deacons dealing with addictions, and the heartache of a Christian mom of four still mourning her teen abortion, I can say with certainty, there is hope! We have wrestled the letter off of us and thrown it into the arms of our Daddy God and said “You saved me from even this!” You see, we know what others won’t dare to acknowledge, we are not perfect. We no longer look down from a pedestal of righteousness and offer grace, we jump in the pit, not afraid of the muck and the mire, no longer covered in shame, and we reach past their offenses into the hearts that just need mercy and grace and above all transcendent love. And they find it, not in our disdain but in genuine understanding, in words that say, “My sin may not look like yours but it is no less staining.”

So, I wear a Scarlet Letter “A” only because it is my ticket to help those who need it most… A ticket I paid dearly for, but one that Jesus paid in full. And, the crimson that covers its frame, removes my shame.