Imagine Beyond the Suffering
Here’s the truth …
“… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV).
I have been dealing with the flu this last week. It’s the sickest I have ever been in my entire life. There were times in the middle of coughing fits that I felt like God was far from me, like maybe he was busy helping people in Africa or something and didn’t have any time for me. I felt alone, abandoned, and too tired to fight any longer.
Does God ever seem like He is absent when you really need Him the most, like He just doesn’t care that you are dealing with something and could use a big sweeping rescue right about then?
I’m sure Martha and Mary were extremely disappointed that Jesus didn’t race to save Lazarus when He heard that His friend was dying but, instead, took His time: “So although Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, He stayed where He was two more days” (John 11:6 NLT). He even told His disciples in a seemingly unsympathetic way after two days passed: “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes I am glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him” (John 11:14-15 NLT). What I have learned is that just like Jesus was well aware of what was going on with Lazarus, so is God well aware of your plight. It just feels like He’s not there.
Jesus might not have been by the side of Mary and Martha physically until it was “too late,” but He wept as well as became deeply troubled when He saw just how upset everyone was that He had been absent. Several days prior to his arrival, however, He knew the outcome, which is something that the sisters would not come to know until later: “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this” (John 11: 4 NLT). When it seems like God is absent, there is always a reason behind it. Moreover, He is there in spirit and is filled with knowledge about the beginning and end of what you are going through. We simply have to trust that.
He knew what no one else even thought could be possible. He knew that unlike any other miracle He had before performed, He would bring glory to God through raising Lazarus from the dead. And the longer He waited, the bigger miracle it would be. Ever dump out dead flowers that were in a vase? The stench! Ever think it’s remotely possible that they could be brought back to life again? Neither did Martha when Jesus asked her to remove the stone from his grave: “Lord, He has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible” (John 11:39 NLT). Sometimes it can feel like your situation has to become very stinky before God gets involved, huh?
I don’t know Bart Millard, the lead singer for Mercy Me, personally. Never even been to a Mercy Me concert. But I can tell you than he certainly lived a young life of suffering. In the movie, I Can Only Imagine, we can see firsthand the difficulties he had to overcome due to some tough cards that were dealt to him. If I could sit down with him, I bet he would say that, yes, he didn’t have it easy whatsoever and that he certainly did not feel in those traumatic years that God was there all along. But if you saw the movie (and even if you didn’t—no spoilers), you could also see that the hand of God was on his life from a very young age. His parents, music teacher, and friend, Shannon, each made decisions that would affect Bart’s future, all leading up to his crafting of the song that gives the movie its plot as well as its title. God allowed some of his phone calls to go unanswered, while others were surprisingly received. He allowed Bart’s band members to find themselves without a singer and his motorcycle to sputter as he tried to make a grandiose exit. God allowed music album producers to echo the negative words his father always said to him. I bet when Bart came back from church camp to an awful discovery, he would say that his life was a nightmare. I bet he felt like Joseph did in prison—forgotten, abandoned, alone (Genesis 40-41). Bart clearly had stinky disappointment after stinky disappointment to overcome. I bet he could never imagine the life God had awaiting him. But it wasn’t until he finally forgave the people who hurt him and surrendered his life to Jesus that he would fully realize that dream.
What’s holding you back from realizing your dream? Unforgiveness? An unwillingness to suffer? A desire to create your own path, thinking it’s better than God’s plan?
Bart would probably agree that each Christian, if he/she wants to inherit the resurrection that awaited Christ, needs also to go through some faith building and suffering as Christ did: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:5 NIV). I strongly believe that we can’t just be takers of the promise without being willing to offer ourselves up as well. God only requires belief in Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection. But if we want to become as much like Jesus as we can while on the earth, we should welcome the brokenness, too: “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13 NIV).
Don’t try to avoid suffering. Embrace it! We need to “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV). Mary and Martha learned that full well. Bart learned that full well. My bout with the worst flu after an already full year of suffering shows me that God must also have big plans for me to bring glory to Him in ways I can only imagine. So, I will pick up my cross and truly follow Him.
… and that’s the truth as I know it!