I have been battling discouragement on differing levels for a while now. It has come in different ways, at different times and with differing intensities. I know I am not alone. Many people I know are facing tough times in several areas of life.
Earlier this week I watched a video of Matt Chandler preaching at the Together For the Gospel conference. He is a young pastor of a church in Texas that has exploded in growth in the past few years; he is solid in theology; and he collapsed last Thanksgiving with a major brain tumor. In the sermon I watched, he is preaching to pastors on the need to prepare your church for suffering (you can watch it here - he tells his story).
He says that we sometimes fall into a sort of 'karma' mindset, in which we subconsicously think that if we do everything we are supposed to do (pray, read the bible, give, love our wives, etc), God will make things go well for us (aka - give us the easy road). While God certainly blesses obedience, suffering is a part of life in this fallen world. And when we adopt the thinking that I shouldn't suffer if I am holding up "my end of the deal" with God, we are really saying that God OWES me an easy road because I am obeying him. Isn't this true? When we bring that thought into the light it is obviously heresy - working for God's favor! God owes me nothing but wrath! And he has graciously poured that wrath on his Son in my place at the cross and has rescued me from myself and my sin and given me eternal life and joy in God forever! And he brings suffering sometimes... for our good and for his glory. We are called to suffer well and not waste those times in our lives by being a giant, enormous whiny-baby.
Which brings me to my confession. As I watched this message from Matt Chandler God graciously let me see that I had been acting like a baby this week instead of "suffering" well (Can I even use that word about my discouragement - when Chandler is fighting a brain tumor...and Jesus died on the cross?! And yet, our times of difficulty are real tests for us, whether big or small). I repented before God for my sin, and I confessed it to my wife. God has called me not only to serve him, but to "serve the LORD with gladness" (Psalm 100:2). That is God's will for me. And for you!
So today I was thinking that I should share this experience, both to humble myself and ask for prayer, and to hopefully encourage anyone who also needs to hear this. Self-pity is a form of pride, and it has to die. Jesus and what he did for us at the cross is ENOUGH reason to be joyful, if we believe. We are called to "man-up," as it were, and be both faithful AND joyful in the Lord - no matter what! In times of blessing and times of suffering (which are really times of blessing in disguise for God's people) we must be faithful and joyful.
I set out to write these things down, but decided to first check a few blogs that I read pretty often. And there it was in black and white on The Resurgence (http://www.theresurgence.com/), today's entry: How We Can Image God Through Suffering. Wow. I have included that very short article below. Perhaps this is timely for all of us. Regardless, it is timely for me. Jesus died for my pity-party, pansy-cry-baby, I-want-to-give-up, wimpy woe is me, I-deserve-better, prideful, complaining, not-suffering-well, not-rejoicing-in-the-Lord, SIN! And he rose from the grave with victory for me so that I can, by grace through faith, be both faithful and joyful. Hallelujah! I needed that!
So let's repent of being babies and come to the cross in faith! May God make us strong - faithful and joyful! Let's pray for one another in this regard.
Rejoicing in Christ,
How We Can Image God Through Suffering (Mark Driscoll)
We image God by suffering well. When the clouds of trial, pain, loss, hardship, hurt, and tears roll in, we must never forget that our Lord Jesus Christ imaged God well even when suffering. When Jesus was hurting the most, as he hung on the cross for our sins, he reflected the mercy and justice of God perfectly.
Jesus invites us to not waste the worst moments and seasons of our life but rather consider them treasures to be invested purposefully in glorifying God by imaging the character of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is Jesus' point when he says, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'
Thankfully, unlike so many half-true theologies that speak only of the victories of Christian life and how to image God when we are winning, Jesus shows us that if our aim is to image God, then when we win and lose and as we live and die, every moment is a sacred opportunity to be captured for his glory, our joy, and others' good.