Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Suffering for Christ and His Church

If you haven’t suffered, then these words may disturb you. But, if you have suffered or are suffering, I trust they will bring you some measure of consolation; that you are suffering for the church, that you are bearing your “cross”, which you have gladly taken up in response to Christ’s love for you. There is a beautiful mystery in the cross, and when we suffer for Him, we participate in that mystery. The Apostles knew this, and Paul wrote often about it. The following excerpts are from The Inward Journey, by Gene Edwards. It has been said of this book, “You must read it, you’ll hate it!” For encouragement though, I have included chapter 59 from Book III of The Imitation of Christ. May God cajole and console as only He can in your reading and meditation of these words.

“There are many great success stories around, but those works very rarely reflect the bride of Jesus Christ. Sometimes she seems to be as elusive as her Lord. Rarely do you see her beautiful and whole, gathering somewhere in the city. Rarely will you ever gather in a place where you will sense the deep work of Christ in the corporate body of people. Being with a people who have been made one ... and whose oneness - tested by the long trek of time - is found in nothing, absolutely nothing, but Christ. Such a people is rare, exotically rare. Rare because that glorious work which the Father did in the Son was so rare.
Another way to know that the Lord has gained some ground in your life: when you can accept criticism, even if viciously served, without a sense of resentment and with no need to retaliate. Joseph said about his brothers, if you remember, that 'they meant it to me for evil but God meant it to me for good.'

Christian workers especially have a tendency to talk of anything that opposes their little world and their little work as being from the devil. (My, how much of that attitude I have witnessed in these last 30 years.) Such an accusation on the part of a worker, they tell you, this whole thing is of the devil,' surely makes it rough on the poor brother who is really causing the problem. He wakes up to find all his friends now thinking he's the devil ... or a reasonable facsimile. It's an uncomfortable feeling, is it not, to be sitting out there in a meeting and hear that what you are doing is 'the devil's work'. I hope you survive; but frankly the chances are very slim that you will. Sure, I wish Christian workers wouldn't talk that way. Such talk has clubbered my blood for a generation. But they do. For centuries past they have and for whatever centuries lie ahead they will continue to. If the day comes that someone says of you, 'This is of the devil', I admonish you, check your heart, check your mouth, check your motives. Get clean, get your motives pure, surrender your will, opinions, desires and hopes to the Lord. Then lift up your head to the hills and know that all things are permitted from the hand of the Lord. Sorrow, joy, hope and fear. Refuse to accept even this as from the hand of the Lord and chances are you will get bitter. A bitter Christian is a devastated Christian.

One brother wisely said, 'The cross is usually exactly the opposite of what we thought it was.' When suffering comes your way, there is one thing that you certainly will do: you will ask the Lord, 'Why has this happened?' There is something else almost as certain. You will receive no answer. If the 'why' could be removed, dear brother, most of the transforming power of the cross would disappear. The 'why' factor of the cross is perhaps its sharpest, most effective, most deadly aspect. Remove the 'why' factor of the cross and there really isn't much suffering involved in it.

Then what of those who are delivered, and delivered instantly from their sufferings? And what about this matter of exercising faith and therefore being delivered? Sitting over there near you are two Christians. One is doing great, the other is in great pain; yet, the second seems to be just as worthy as the first. Why do his afflictions persist? Is it a lack of faith? What a quandary. What are we to believe? Of the two, who is closer to God? Has the afflicted brother failed in faith? Will the proper exercise of faith always triumph over affliction? He who has been delivered by his faith has triumphed. He who is not delivered, yet faithfully (though weakly) yields - this one has also triumphed! And if the truth is known, there is yet a third brother, the one who suffers and yet cannot find the strength to yield gloriously. He is only willing not to become bitter under the strong hand of God. He has no glorious story of healing or yielding, but it may just be that the pain he is going through is great enough and the work of God strong enough to pen¬etrate past all his grumblings and groanings and change the inner man. Maybe, just maybe, even this one has triumphed!

I have observed through the years that most Christians have little understanding of the word 'season'. Our Lord is a sea¬sonal God; He comes, He departs. His faithfulness never changes, but His seasons do! There are seasons when the tree is green, there are seasons when it is dry, and seasons when, for the life of us, the thing looks dead. Now, does this mean you are serving some capricious God who comes and goes by whim? Or, could it be, that it is only through seasons that true growth may come? Paul said, 'Does not nature teach us?' Fruit from a tree comes to us as a result of three or four seasons. The Christian and the Lord's body both need rain and sunshine, cold and hot, wind and doldrums. Seasons of joy, seasons of sorrow, times when the Lord is so real it seems any activity you undertake is a spiritual experience. Seasons of dryness, when things are so bleak that even a plateful of Sinai sand would be considered a feast! And are not these seasons from the hand of God? If so, what is His goal in the matter? He is taking you to that place where you can be a man for all seasons. Where seasons don't faze you ... no, not even the glorious ones. An old apostle said it so well to a young man. 'Be ready in season, be ready out of season.' We are all very subject to seasons; yet these seasons are there to make us eventually seasonless. There is only one way you are ever going to learn to triumph over all seasons, and that is to go through each and every season ... many times. When you can reckon the sound of abundant rain and the hot blowing of a dry spell exactly the same, then you will be nearing the land of maturity.

What can you do, in your hour of hurting that might please your Lord? My guarded answer is: very little. You can rejoice. That's one possibility. You can yield to Him. With joy you can offer up to Him the situation and say, 'Lord, I know this is from Your hand.' But the chances are you are not going to get anywhere near that. So what can you do in the midst of adversity? You can kneel; you can weep, and weep, and weep. This you can do. There is one thing you must not do. Complain if you must, groan if you must, and get angry if you must. But oh, dear brother, stay far distant from bitterness, and from blaming others. Do that and you are dangerously close to forfeiting all future spiritual growth. On some future occasion when things are really getting rough you might remember those words. Keep reminding yourself of this, 'For this I was made a minister.'

Is it possible to know if there is true brokenness in a man? I think so. Such a man is not in rebellion toward anything:
1) nothing in his circumstances,
2) nothing that has to do with what other people inflict upon him,
3) and certainly not anything that God chooses to lay
within his life. He is at peace in all three circumstances.

“A broken and contrite heart the Lord does not despise.”

The Lord did not complete His suffering, (though He did complete His work.) It has been given to the church to complete the sufferings of Christ. Suffering not yet filled up waits out there for you. You see, the body is also Christ. The body, which is the church, is part of that Christ. There is suffering out there yet to be endured, yet to be known, yet to be embraced by that part of Christ which is called the body. We all thank God that no one member of that body will ever have to know and endure all the sufferings that Jesus Christ experienced while living on earth. But each one of us - because we are in some mysterious way one with Him - will taste some part of His experience of suffering. One within your fellowship may know ridicule. Another will partake of physical pain, another will know rejection, perhaps someone else may taste what it means to be vilified and verbally, socially crucified. And perhaps, just perhaps, there will be one within your fellowship who will touch that awful thing which Christ touched in that last moment on the cross: the dark night of the spirit. There is one aspect of the cross that none of us will ever know - praise God! We will never know what it means to be the sin-bearer. That is one thing which I will never experience, nor will you. He and He alone has experienced that. He experienced the one thing that none of us should have escaped, and the one thing which He need never have known. He became the sin-bearer and thereby took suffering that was truly mine. Now you must step into your place in the body of Christ, and you must receive and you must bear some segment of the suffering which is Christ's - that is, that part of Christ which is the church.

If you ever see a great work of God,
something joyous,
alive and real,
something of Christ,
something that is Christ,
something enduring,
then you may be certain of one thing:
some lonely saint
silent, alone
went to the cross,
suffered, died
and fell into the earth.
And for what did that someone die?
for that lovely harvest,
that work of God
which now you see
and declare to be so beautiful.
There must be another day,
and another body of believers.
A day when someone else
must fall into the earth
and die.
And that someone may be you.

If you cannot cherish what it is the Lord is doing in your life, at least do not waste what He is doing in your life. Lay down the self-pity, and with all the strength and grace that He allows you, yield to His work. If you cannot make it up within you to yield totally to your Gethsemane (most of us can't) then at least yield up to the light the dark feelings of resentment and bitterness that are trying to hatch inside you. One day you are going to come to the conclusion that serving the Lord is mostly crying ... and suffering ... and agonizing. What can you do in that sad hour? Nothing really, except bend over double and absorb into your being those sufferings, sufferings which really belong to the church. In that hour, bear her sufferings for her. And if you happen to look up, you will see her going on her way, gloriously rejoicing. She will be oblivious to the fact that she is, at that moment, so very glorious because you have suffered.”

The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Chapter 59:

Lord, what can I rely on in this life? Or, of all the things under heaven's vault, which object is my greatest comfort? Is it not You, my Lord God, whose mercies are without number?
When You were absent from me, Lord, when did things go well? And how could they ever go amiss when You are with me? I would rather be poor for Your sake than be rich without You. I would rather be a pilgrim traveling the earth with You than be in heaven without You. Where You are there is heaven, and where You are not there is death and hell.
You are my sole desire and therefore I long for You, cry out to You and beseech You. There is no one in whom I can fully con¬fide; there is no one whom I can trust to help me when in need, except You, my God. You are my hope and my trust; You console me and You are faithful in everything.
2. Everybody looks after their own interests but You look after my happiness and my salvation, and You see that all things work unto my good. Even though You send me various trials and temptations, You, who are accustomed to try Your beloved ser¬vants in a thousand different ways, design all this for my benefit, and I am to love and praise You no less during times of trial than I am when You fill me with consolation from heaven.
3. Therefore, it is in You, Lord God, that I put all my hope and trust; on You I lay all my anxieties and worries. Everything that is not You I find terribly unsteady and insecure.
My many friends are of no help to me, nor can influential asso¬ciates aid me. Wise counselors can't offer me the correct answer, nor can the books of the learned give me any comfort. No precious stone can buy me my freedom, nor can any secret and tran¬quil place give me safety. None of these are any good to me unless You Yourself, Lord, assist and help me, comfort and console me,
teach and defend me.
4. Whatever may seem good for our peace and happiness is really nothing if You are absent from us; of themselves all these things can do nothing for us.
You are the end of everything good, the highest point of life and the depth of wisdom. Your servant's greatest comfort is to place his trust in You above all else. To You I raise my eyes. In You I trust, my God, the Father of mercies.
Bless and sanctify my soul with Your heavenly blessing and let it become Your holy dwelling and the throne of Your eternal glory. Let nothing be found in Your respected “temple” that may offend the eyes of Your majesty.
According to the greatness of Your goodness and the multitude of Your mercies, look upon me and hear my request, the prayer of Your poor servant, who sojourns here in distant exile in a region of shadows and death.
Guard and defend my soul living amid the many dangers of this corruptible life and by Your grace direct me along the paths of peace to my fatherland, the place of everlasting brightness. Amen.

Only by Grace,


No comments:

Post a Comment