Well, merry Christmas to everyone and a happy new year. I have one final encouragement coming your way to wrap this little series up and then it’s time to get this New Year started with a new series that I’m excited about!
I haven’t suffered much. Some of you reading this have walked through places and times that my heart and flesh shudder to imagine. I know that. I know that in the big scheme of things the details of my day seem trivial. I also know that when you’re caught inside fear or insecurity or rejection or abandonment or pain it can sometimes feel like it is the only thing that is real. The people and world around you can become a blurry backdrop to your story rather than individuals with real stories of their own.
One of the most deadly things about suffering is that it can be used to blind us to others around us and even God and herd us into a spiral of self. I believe there is a need for grieving. I believe in acknowledging where you are and what you’re walking through. I believe in experiencing the here and now and not trying to pull yourself up off the floor when you’re falling apart.
But the scandalous call from the bible is to engage suffering as a gift and let it shape and shift your focus to see God and this world more clearly than ever before.
Important distinction: I do not believe ‘God helps those who help themselves’. My experience of the gospel is the opposite. I do not think the Bible teaches that when we are in deep pain we should snap out of it and get over ourselves. When we find ourselves in the bottom of a pit I do not think the call is to begin to look for a way out while we wait for God. God loves the broken. He needs no assistance to deliver His people. And He helps those who CANNOT help themselves. That’s always been His way.
However, I do believe the Bible speaks of something you and I can do (by the grace of God alone) that will result in peace and joy and renewed strength. There’s something that we can do that will encourage us in the face of suffering: live out the mission of God.
This isn’t about taking your mind off your own suffering. It isn’t about looking at those less fortunate so that your suffering seems more trivial.
I think the command of God to care for the least and lost is a balm for the suffering soul because it’s a call to live in our truest identity and in that find an unshakable kingdom. It’s a call to take eyes off of self, and remember who we are and what defines us.
It doesn’t make sense to me, but logic isn’t my authority – the Word of God is. Logically, I do not understand how living on mission will heal me, but He says so. And I trust Him. I trust Him with my eternity, why wouldn’t I trust Him with this?
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? ”
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:6-11 ESV)
Are you tired? Pour out and you’ll be refreshed. Do you feel like the Lord isn’t hearing you? Care for the least of these and ready yourself for the response of God. Are you lost? Alone? Desires unsatisfied? Bones weak? Spend yourself on those who are hungry and afflicted and find peace.
Illogical. But gospel. The great gospel reversal. Want to live? Die. Want to find rest? Take His burden upon you.
Maybe the reason some of us are so tired and lonely and lost is because we’ve stopped living in our identity as ambassadors of Christ in this fractured world. Maybe the reason some of us are so consumed by the details of all that is breaking in our lives is because we have forgotten the call to restore and rebuild.
Here’s the thing: whatever you are walking through is more significant than you know. I am not trying to lessen the very real pain some of you are enduring. Hear me say that an eternal God cares. An infinite and omnipotent being is collecting your tears.
But the person in the car next to you is experiencing suffering too. The person in line behind you in the grocery store is falling apart. And it’s really possible that for them, the suffering they experience in this life is just the tip of the iceberg. The kind of despair that might drive them to death itself is only the beginning. I know you’re tired, but lift your weary head and look around. There are dead people on every side of you and in your mouth you have the words that He speaks to resurrect hearts.
Suffering can be used to distract us. It can keep us from the one thing that might breathe new life into us: living in our true identity. It can be used to keep us from finding our lives in pursuit of losing them in His great mission. If you are a new creation, your greatest peace and joy will be found in living as your creator has intended. If you are in Christ you have been entrusted with this great ministry of reconciliation, not because God needs your help in this mission, but because you need this mission.
Living on mission will not make all the broken circumstances in your life come right. It is not some work we do to earn rewards from God. The promise in Isaiah isn’t a promise that God will remove suffering when you live on mission, instead it’s a promise that you will find more God when you live on mission, and where there is more God there is always more joy, more peace, more hope and more life.
A couple of months ago one of my coworkers was teaching a staff meeting on this topic and he challenged me in a new way. He asked how many of us pray ‘maranatha’. ‘Maranatha’ is the cry ‘Come Lord Jesus’! It’s the plea for the return of Christ. He asked: how many of us beg – maybe even with tears – for Jesus to return?
I think the cry of ‘Maranatha’ is more frequently on our lips in suffering. I think we cry out day and night for Jesus to return.
But here’s the thing. We say ‘Maranatha’, but do we live ‘Maranatha’?
Matthew 24 says:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Jesus tells us the ordained actions that will usher in His return. He tells us what it will look like to live maranatha: proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world as a testimony to all nations. We say we long for His return. We say we understand that we’re strangers and sojourners here. How many of us say maranatha with our mouths but don’t live it?
The mission of God is your peace and happiness and joy. It’s your creator’s design for you. I believe suffering is real and painful and I believe God cares about the details of what you’re walking through – no matter how big or small it seems. I also think that there are eternal things happening all around you. I believe that on the other side of this earth people are being born and living and having birthday parties and getting puppies and having children and dying without ever hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe that in the cubicle next to you is a person who does not know what it is to be reconciled to God.
My suffering isn’t trivial. But it would be tragic if my suffering keeps me distracted from living out maranatha.
I don’t believe you’re obligated to this mission. That’s not what grace is. It’s not a debt to be repaid. it’s a free gift. I do not believe this mission will fall apart without you. That’s not our God. His hand is not too short to save.
I believe you are called to this mission because He is gracious. I believe He has called us out as a chosen people and a royal priesthood and ambassadors because He loves us.
Let your suffering drive you to cry out ‘Come Lord Jesus!’ not just with your lips, but with your life.
Leave family and friends and comfort and power and approval and children and spouses. Leave these things and find yourself in Him. Find pleasures forevermore and His right hand. Child of God – find rest for your weary soul. Find comfort that doesn’t fail. Find a love that never forsakes. Find Him. Find Him.