Joseph Herrin (04-14-2011)
It seems rather paradoxical that the disciples of Christ are called to walk an afflicted path, while at the same time they are exhorted to maintain an attitude of joy.
Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations. Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience. But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing.
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ…
To the natural mind it seems that joy and suffering should be antithetical to one another. Yet, in the kingdom of God they are not. We are to ever keep in mind that as we endure suffering for our obedience to follow Christ, that there is a specific goal in sight. This goal will be attained by all who faithfully follow where Christ leads. The end to which we aspire, and look forward with much hope, is to receive our adoption as a son of God. We are to share in an inheritance imperishable, and receive glory and honor as sons of God.
“Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world.”
In the experiences I have passed through in the past twelve years as I have followed the path Christ has led me down, there have been many painful experiences. It has been an afflicted path. It is perhaps not possible, or even desirable, to deny our grief. When a wife, or son departs out of an unwillingness to walk an afflicted path, it is very difficult in that moment to put on a happy face, or to go about rejoicing. When we are being castigated as evildoers, and our obedience interpreted to be self-seeking, or the product of a deluded mind, when we are called to embrace poverty, loneliness, and peril, it is sometimes difficult to wear a smile, or break into songs of joy. Yet, at those moments, there is a deep well of peace from which we can draw. This peace, arising from the assurance that we are walking the afflicted path appointed to us by God, tempers the sorrow, and makes the experiences bearable. We can know that the sorrows will one day give way to rejoicing.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
When we suffer for obedience to Christ, it is an altogether different experience from when we suffer for our transgressions. There is little reason to find comfort when we are experiencing pain, sorrow, and loss because of some disobedience in our lives. I have found at such times that the best response is to confess freely and openly to God that He is righteous and just to discipline me. I should be quick to agree with Him, and to acknowledge the justice of the discipline I am subjected to. However, when some sorrow comes upon us for having followed Christ faithfully, there is truly reason for rejoicing.
I Peter 2:20-21
For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…
Can you imagine this message being proclaimed in the prosperity churches today? Suppose a minister were to ask his congregation, “Do you know your calling?” Many would reply, “I am called to be a child of the King. I am called to a victorious, overcoming life. I am called to health, and wealth, and material blessing.” In contrast, the apostle Peter says we are called to follow in the steps of Christ who left us an example of suffering.
We must consider the manner in which Christ suffered, for it is possible to follow Christ, and to suffer with Him, but to do it in a manner altogether unacceptable to Him. Consider the example of Moses, who is set forth as a type and shadow of Christ. Moses experienced hunger and thirst in the wilderness the same as the rest of the Israelites. He had to daily be confronted with a view of barrenness, and eat the same food day after day, year after year. Moses bore these things patiently. There is never a hint that Moses ever complained that Yahweh chose these experiences for him. In contrast, consider the response of the children of Israel.
Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of Yahweh; and when Yahweh heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of Yahweh burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp… The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”
That we are called to suffer many things, and to walk an afflicted path is true. Yet, not all who do so can boast. Surely, the entire generation who followed Moses could say in truth that they experienced the same tests, the same heat, barrenness, hunger, and thirst. Yet with most of them God was not pleased. The manner in which we endure the experiences is very important.
I Corinthians 10:1-13
I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted… nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
Do you think you are doing well because you have suffered things due to following Christ? If you think you stand, take heed. Consider what your attitude has been in these experiences. Have you grumbled and murmured and complained? Have you voiced your discontent with God, or whined about why He has not made your way easier?
I do not mean to suggest that it is wrong to think our way is hard, or to cry out to God for His help lest we be overcome. David, in the Psalms, frequently cried out to the Father to help him. He spoke of the enemies gathered around him, seeking to devour his soul. He entreated God to stand with him, and to deliver him. David pleaded with the Father to send help quickly. I have done the same in a time of pressing need.
What we don’t see in David’s words are any criticism of the path God has led him down. David does not suggest that God is unfair, or acting in an unloving manner, because He has subjected him to great distress and trials. David accepted the path God chose for him, and clung to the hope that the day would come when God would fulfill His promises and exalt him.
There is a great difference between crying out to God to help us, and complaining about the way He treats us. The Israelites complained. They suggested that God did not love them, that He had brought them out to the wilderness to slay them because there were not enough graves in Egypt.
I had a remarkable phone conversation with a brother and sister in Christ a few days ago. This couple have been following Christ through wilderness places. They had encountered some lean times. The property taxes on their forty acres in the desert were past due, and there was a possibility they could lose the property due to unpaid taxes. The brother had also been experiencing toothaches, but could not afford to go to the dentist.
It impressed me that when I spoke to them there was no bitterness, and no complaint. In fact, they were very cheerful. Their hope and trust was in God, and He soon thereafter met their needs. As we talked on the phone, I was mindful that here was an attitude that glorified the Father. Some days earlier my daughter and I had a conversation about this same subject. Kristin shared with me how God had impressed upon her that attitude is so important when we bear the cross. We should not go along with a “woe is me, I am suffering for Christ” appearance. The next day after speaking to my daughter I opened my Streams in the Desert devotional book, and found the following entry.
Someday we will see that “the plunder taken in battle” from our trials was simply preparing us to become like Great-heart in Pilgrim’s Progress, so we could lead our fellow pilgrims triumphantly through trials to the city of the king. But may we never forget that the source of learning to help others must be the experience of VICTORIOUS SUFFERING. Whining and complaining about our pain never does anyone any good.
Paul never carried the gloom of a cemetery around with him, but a chorus of victorious praise. The more difficult his trial, the more he trusted and rejoiced, shouting from the very altar of sacrifice, “Even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Phil. 2:17)…
He placed me in a little cage,
Away from gardens fair;
But I must sing the sweetest songs
Because He placed me there.
Not beat my wings against the cage
If it’s my Maker’s will,
But raise my voice to heaven’s gate
And sing the louder still!
I have found a good measure of how we are handling the afflicted path is the presence, or absence of gratitude and thanksgiving in our lives. It is hard to complain when your mouth is full of thanksgiving. The couple I mentioned previously who were experiencing trials, have grateful hearts.
This couple has a small home on a piece of desert land. They built the home themselves, stick by stick. It is small, and until recently has not even had a kitchen. This sister told me about some friends donating building materials to them and how her husband has been adding a kitchen at the back of the house. She has a temporary sink set up there, with buckets under the drains to catch the water. She was so excited as she told me about this addition.
I thought later, “How many women in America today would find reason to complain because they had to put a bucket under their sink to catch the water? Yet, this sister was expressing joy because she now had a sink to use in this manner.” This couple has learned the secret of contentment.
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Perhaps, you find the description of this couple’s experience to be undesirable. You may question whether it is right that they live as they do. Consider, however, how might God perfect His sons and daughters, bringing them to a heart of thanksgiving in all things, unless they experience both abundance and lack, both being filled and going hungry? Our Father experiences great glory when He finds His sons and daughters to be thanking Him in the midst of circumstances others would consider deplorable.
I have been looking back on my experiences of the past 12 years. I have marveled to observe what a work of grace the Father has been performing in the heart of this man who was born in total selfishness. I have shared much in recent months of my joy and delight that the Father has given me a 1972 school bus to renovate into a motorhome. He has truly blessed me in many ways. When I think of the couple who gave me all the parts I could use, taken off of a three year old Coachmen motorhome, outfitting my bus with practically brand new appliances and furnishings, my heart is filled with gratitude both to God and His people. When I consider the sister in Christ who volunteered to make all my curtains, and my seat covers, and I look at how attractive they make the interior of the bus every day, I want to burst out in gratitude to the Father (I frequently do – it is no good holding it in.) Another brother sent money to paint the bus, and continuously the Father lays it upon the heart of some brother or sister to send a financial contribution for my needs. I never get tired of thanking the Father for His goodness in these things.
As I look a bit further back, I am reminded of my joy in the camper/van I had prior to the bus. I made long trips across the country in it, living in it for months on end. Although it was over 20 years old, it met my needs admirably. The Father has heard me express to Him my gratitude many, many times for the van.
Before that, the Father led me to live at a Rescue Mission for a lengthy season, and before that I spent five months living out of my small car and spent eighty days camping in the woods in a small tent. Yet, even then I saw the Father’s grace daily, and was expressing my thankfulness to Him. He was truly with me through thick and thin. Nothing has been able to separate me from the love of God.
Brothers and sisters, all who would be Christ’s disciples must walk an afflicted path. It is for our perfecting as sons. It is not enough to boast that you have suffered for Christ. It is important to know HOW you suffered. Did you keep clinging to God? Did you walk in the knowledge that His ways are perfect; that He will only subject you to experiences intended to fit you for future promotion? Or did you murmur, complain, and find fault with the path He has appointed?
If you have not been perfect in this area, don’t get under condemnation. There is more path ahead to be walked. Quicken your pace and lighten your step. There can be joy in the journey for those who put on an attitude of gratitude. I invite you to ponder well the wisdom of Solomon:
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
There is a difficulty to this walk. It will often result in sorrow and tears. Yet, there can be an undergirding strength as we look to that joy at the end of the journey, and as we perceive the satisfaction of our Father moment by moment.
May you be blessed with peace and understanding in these days.