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“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”--Phil. 1:29,30
Scripture teaches us that every man, woman or child who follows Jesus receives many gifts.These gifts are given freely.
We often talk of the gifts of God, such as salvation, freedom from sin, and the gifts given by the Holy Spirit to build up the Body of Christ.We think of these things as very positive.We think of the gifts of God as things like birthday parties, or summer outings at the beach, or a day skiing.The enjoyable things, the bright and happy things, the good day, the warm, cozy evening by the fire.
The gifts of God can be these things, if brought by Him to us, and if they bring us closer to Him and His Kingdom.
But there are other, deeper gifts that come to those who wish to sit with Jesus closely, and to love Him more intimately, and to become like Him.
Those who wish to know Christ in all His fullness, as a dear Brother, a close Friend, a heart-bonded Companion on the journey to Heaven will receive from Him gifts that will make that deeper journey possible.
One of these precious gifts is the gift of suffering.
This gift is granted freely, for all those who will accept it.
THE UGLY GIFT.
Most of us who claim Christ resist this huge gift, with its ugly wrapping, its strange and forbidding shape, and the long, uneasy shadow it casts upon our desires for brightness and easy living.We are like fair weather friends to Christ, and though He beckons us to travel further with Him on the quest to become like our Savior, we resist, standing unsure at the edge of the dark forest, with its hanging moss, its dank, smelly, unknown, murky depths.
We think this Jesus thing is fine as long as it means “our best life now”, teeming with parties and happy music, with sunlit days and comfortable nights of restful sleep.But when Christ rolls out this gift and plops it in front of us, smiling at us, freely giving to us as He always does, bidding us go further and deeper and higher with Him, we balk and stand shuffling our feet in the grass, diverting our eyes.
“Wait, Lord Jesus, I must go bury my dead father,” we say with some embarrassment.
“Follow Me and let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus replies kindly and cheerfully.
We try to fend Him off with assurances of our good intentions.
“Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever you go,” we say to Him, with a sincere, heartfelt look in our eyes.
Jesus looks at us with tender understanding, but firmly He says, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”
Glancing again toward the forest, where the path disappears into the undergrowth, we hear strange noises, and are afraid.
Thinking fast now, we bring up our accomplishments.
“Lord, you know how I have so much responsibility.I teach in the second graders in Sunday school, help clean the church, and give my tithe.I’ve believed in You since I was a teenager.I’ve been faithful in attendance, sincere in worship services, and I read my Bible every morning and pray.”
We look at Jesus now, hopefully, waiting for what we’re sure will be a commendation.
Jesus looks at us fondly, then smiles, takes hold of our shoulders, and looks us right in the eye.
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.Then come, follow Me.”
At this point, we turn and look back at all we have in life.We see our friends,family, job, comfortable lifestyle, toys, projects, goals and ambitions--the busy and successful path we’ve been on.
The good life beckons, and we stand glued to this scene, thinking that if we just try hard enough, we can do both.We can have all we want in the world, and we can still walk with Jesus.We think about the great sermons we’ve heard, and the good church life we’ve enjoyed, and all the good gifts of being with Christ we have, and we can’t understand why He insists on spoiling it with this new wrinkle.We begin to question whether we heard Him right, and turn to face Him, and this time we’ll really ask Him some harder questions, because we can’t just drop everything to follow Him.He’ll have to understand.We’ll make it plain to Him and He’ll be fine with everything once we’ve explained.
We turn reluctantly toward Jesus, still thinking of clever answers to His simple call.But what we see is His back, muscles rippling beneath His shirt, as He blends into the shadows of the forest’s fringe, His feet already treading the unknown, twisting, narrow path that cuts into the blackness.
“Wait, Jesus!” we call.He turns and lifts His hand to us, motioning us forward, and yells in return, “Anyone who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”
This is not what we wanted to hear.This is not good.We stand sweating in the sunshine, barely able to discern Jesus under the boughs of the great trees.
“But Lord, I wanted to talk with you about this.I’ve got a life, and it needs living!I’ve got plans and goals and dreams, and friends and family and a job and a good life now, and you can’t just mean that I’ve got to be willing to give it all up, and come into the unknown, and possibly suffer and die with You!This isn’t the Christianity I learned!What will everyone say?They’ll laugh at me, or be angry with me, and things will not go well for me!” we shout into the forest, shading our eyes, trying to see Jesus.
His voice is getting faint now, and we hear the sounds behind us of our life and our desires, and it seems they’re growing stronger and louder, and we can barely discern the voice of Christ.
Yet His clear, calm, loving answer cuts through the din, and as we’re surrounded suddenly by the church activities, and our career objectives, and the bills and the business, and the vacation plans, and the things we want and have worked toward, and the house and the cars and the busy days, and the comfortable Christian walk we’ve led so far, we can barely hear Jesus as He disappears.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it!”
The echoes fade away into the leafy wall, and we turn a little sadly back to the life we choose, looking forward to dinner and a movie, and getting back to work in the morning--anything to take our mind off the ugly, poorly wrapped present still sitting
in the tall grass at the edge of the known world—anything to ease the pain and sorrow that we felt so keenly for those last few insane moments.
Within a short time the memory of the encounter has mercifully faded, and becomes something we dismiss as the result of an overzealous imagination, or dangerous fanaticism.Or maybe just bad eggs for breakfast.
Once in a while, as we’re reading our quick daily devotional and praying for God to bless us, we hear the soft voice of Jesus as He faded into the forest, calling us, beckoning us with a dim hand, and we feel that deep tug of desire for the narrow path that disappears into the unknown.But mercifully, our cell rings, or the clock reminds us we’re going to be late if we don’t get going, or one of the children interrupts us, and we’re off for the day.
After all, what does Jesus expect?We’ve got a life to live!
Brethren, it has been granted to us to suffer for Christ.It is a gift that appears frightening, but in fact, is the Way of Jesus.We receive this gift with fear, yet it becomes to us the fountain of life.If we persevere with Jesus, and go through the darkness with Him, and the pain, and the difficulties, we receive greater and greater gifts of love, peace, joy, and all the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The narrow Way, the path into the forest, is one Jesus offers to each of His disciples, and promises to keep them to the end of the journey.He becomes light in darkness to us then, and songs in the night.When we are afraid, He gives us His courage.When we stumble and fall, and are hurt or wounded, His is the touch that heals us.When we stray from the path, tempted by the world, and idols, and sins of various kinds, He forgives and delivers us from the power of that sin, because like Jesus did while in his earthly body, we learn obedience from the things that we suffer.When we are near to death in ourselves, because of the intensity of our trials, and the depths of our despair, Jesus holds us, and, like He did for Lazarus, calls us out of the tomb of our anguish, and raises us with Him by His resurrection power.
In suffering, we become like our suffering Savior, and so begin to resemble Him in this life.We take on His heart of love and compassion.We become sincere, and free from the entanglements of the world.We find peace, God’s peace, and receive His gifts which are not as the world gives.We leave our own weakness behind, becoming strong in Christ Jesus.We become warriors in the Spirit, able to do anything with Christ, and nothing apart from Him.We learn to wear the armor of God comfortably, and wield the weapons of warfare with His strength in our arms and hands.We take on Christ, and put off the old man, with his sinful, selfish, worldly ways.We put on the new man, who is like Christ in every way, and triumph over the forces of darkness that would bind us and hold us captive.
If we take up Jesus’ call to follow Him, He is with us, empowering us, never leaving us, always helping us.He prays for us, and stands with us in our darkest hour.There is nothing that can separate us from His love, on earth or in the realms of spiritual power.Christ can become all to us, as His Father is all to Him.
As we learn obedience from the things we suffer, so we become one with the Father, the Son, the Spirit, and one in heart and mind with others who’ve chosen this dangerous, narrow road.We can know true fellowship with God, and with one another.
Even if you’ve rejected this path in the past, the Lord Jesus always stands waiting for you to obey.The call is always there.He will gladly embrace you the moment you decide to follow Him in true discipleship.The moment you decide you are willing to give up all to follow Jesus, then He is there, enabling you to do it, because He went there ahead of us.He knows the path that we take.
Like Job, in suffering our dross and worthless things are burned away, and we are changed.
“But He knows the Way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”--Job 23:10
Like Jesus, we will become obedient servants, willing and able to do our Lord’s bidding, through the toughest circumstances.
“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him..”--Heb. 5:8,9
If you would be perfect today, kneel to Jesus, and obey Him.Say yes to the road into the dark forest.Into the unknown.Let Jesus be your Guide and companion, and let the dead bury their own dead.Let the world go its way, while you go Jesus’ Way.
Hold out your hand and accept the gift offered you.When you open it, you will find unexplainable joys, and feast from the best of God’s table.
The gift is held out to all who come to Jesus.Will you go with Christ, or stay?