Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grace and the Fellowship of His Sufferings

Adapted from "Sister Love" by mrinkk

Yesterday turned into a rough day.

Some of you already know that, because you saw my pleas for prayer on Facebook and Twitter.  (Thank you so much for your prayers and words of encouragement in response.  They meant so much!)

Most of the fault was my own.  Oh, it's true that my kids were acting up terribly (one in particular).  It's true that I had reached a certain tipping point of physical fatigue.  And it's true that I've reached a stage of life in which I can blame mid-life hormones for just about anything.  (That may come in handy for the next decade or so!)

In all seriousness, there were a lot of extenuating circumstances.  Nevertheless, yesterday proved the truth of the statement I quoted a few days ago:

The trial is usually never as bad as the unbelief during the trial.

Yesterday became a day of unbelief for me.  Not the kind of unbelief that denies God entirely, but the kind that denies Him practically.  Unbelief which relies on self rather than God, which frets and fumes instead of resting, which seeks strength in anger rather than in the joy of the Lord.  And my unbelief hurt me far worse than any of my circumstances did.

When will I ever learn?

I pled for prayer because my heart felt hard towards God, and I needed others to come alongside.  After all, we don't ever arrive, right?  We just learn to depend more, love more, obey more.  Well, my friends did pray, far better than I could at that time, and the softening began even as the chaos of life rolled on. 

And, showing the kind of grace that just boggles this poor undeserving mind, the Lord deigned to speak a word of truth to me.

You don't want the fellowship of My sufferings as much as you want relief from your own.

Oh, ouch.

I was in no frame of mind for even shallow thought, much less the kind of meditation that such an insight deserves.  So all I could do was throw a prayer back upwards.  What is the fellowship of Your sufferings?  Help me to understand it and want it.

The Apostle Paul stated that this unique fellowship was one of his life's highest aims (read this verse in its context if you want to catch just how fervently Paul desired this):

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death
(Php 3:10 NKJV)

Last night I crashed onto the pillow almost as soon as my kids did.  But one thought did come to me just before sleep overtook me:

The fellowship of His sufferings is the opposite of the aloofness of my own.

Are you like me?  Do you withdraw into a furiously stewing cauldron in the hidden depths of your soul when you're suffering?  I know I tend to.

What do I miss out on while I'm there?

A few days before, I had experienced a much more "victorious" time of suffering.  I described it to a friend as a day in which God's grace did not replace the pain, but came alongside it and made it bearable.  On that day, I tasted just a sip of the fellowship of His suffering.  Not because I deserved that fellowship (I could never do that), but because that's what His grace does.  He comes alongside and gives the kind of comfort the world cannot give.

"But is that really the fellowship of His sufferings?" you may ask.  "You weren't being persecuted for Jesus. You were just having a rough day with the kids, like lots of other moms.  How is that 'His sufferings?'"

Could it be that we don't have to suffer because of Jesus (such as being persecuted) in order to suffer for Him and with Him?  What makes any suffering a part of "His sufferings?"

Could it be that, just as Jesus' sufferings brought glory to God the Father, we too can bring glory to Him if we allow His Spirit to sustain us?  Do we share in His sufferings that way…the sufferings which declare His worth by refusing to abandon Him in favor of the relief that sin provides?

Could it be that His agony on the cross was not just bearing the eternal penalty of my sin, but even bearing the temporary earthly sufferings that all my sin brings?  Does He enter into my sufferings so deeply that they become His own, and I can share them with Him and call them His?

And could it be that the fellowship of His sufferings is something so inexpressibly sweet that we can begin to yearn for it as one of life's highest goals?

I don't think the Apostle Paul was a fool.  He had tasted something far richer than my spiritual palate has ever known.  I want to get better acquainted with this fellowship, even though it means giving up my treasured "stewing cauldron."

Faith says He will be infinitely worth the exchange.

More to come…

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