A Desire to be Comfortable and the Call to Suffering

This past week has been one of the best weeks I’ve had with the Lord in a long while. You know how sometimes you are so stuck in yourself and your situation that you can’t see clearly where the Lord is taking you? All too often that is the state of my heart. I allow my heart to get caught up in all of the “what ifs” and “I can’ts.” Maybe it’s just me that’s this hardhearted, forgetful, and stubborn, but I’m so thankful that the Lord is willing to continue to speak to my heart and reinforce His message everywhere I turn. After going through a season of confusion and doubt, I can often see proof that the Lord’s been working on my heart for a long while but I haven’t had ears to hear or eyes to see what the Lord has been working to reveal.

I often identify with Jesus’ apostle Peter. This is the guy who Jesus referred to as “a rock” in Matthew 16:18, but who though he was willing to get out of a boat and walk on water to Jesus, eventually faltered as he took his eyes off of Jesus to look at the situation surrounding him. The cool part of these stories to me is that Jesus didn’t call Peter a rock and say He would use him to build His Church BEFORE He saw all of Peter’s weaknesses in Matthew 14. No, Jesus’ statement about Peter came in Matthew 16, even after he faltered on the water. Jesus knows our weaknesses. He knows my heart’s tendency to wander. He knows my tendency to take my eyes off of Him. He knows of my desire to stay safe and dry in the boat. And He still wants to use me.

I had a startling revelation on Monday. I was watching C.J. Mahaney’s T4G2012 talk “The Sustaining Power of The Gospel,” and the Lord made so many different things click into place in my heart. I realized that all of the confusion I’ve been feeling lately is a direct result of unbelief that has taken up residence in my heart. Like the Israelites of old, I’ve made myself comfortable with where I am and I’ve become unwilling to venture out, even in response to God’s call. I’ve forgotten the perfection of God’s provision. I’ve convinced myself that suffering isn’t inevitable and that security lies exactly where I am right now. I’ve let fear of the future and the failures of the past convince me that God isn’t faithful. Me, the girl whose favorite attribute of God is His faithfulness. I took my eyes off of Him and didn’t even want to venture out. I desired comfort more than I desired Christ.

Mahaney’s talk was phenomenal. If you are in ministry, you MUST listen to it. If you’re close to giving up, you MUST listen to it. If you need to remember His faithfulness, you MUST listen to it. If you need an eternal perspective, you MUST listen to it. The entire sermon was phenomenal but his second point was the one that penetrated my heart – the Apostle Paul understood that the context and condition of Christian ministry is suffering. His text was 2 Corinthians 4:1-18, and he referenced verses 7-12 as he stated that “the proclamation of the gospel, by definition, involves persecution, suffering, trials, afflictions, bewilderment, being struck down, etc.”

And this sentence is the one that changed everything: “You need to have this theology of suffering in place, before you experience these things, or you will be blindsided.”

It’s not supposed to be easy. Life isn’t easy, just as marriage isn’t easy (see Marriage is Nothing Like a Hallmark Card). We’re not called to the American dream. And God made it this way on purpose. Despite my desire to be safe, secure, and comfortable, God is calling me to suffer. And what makes it all worthwhile is that “these realities have a divine design. They are purposeful. Each of these times of hardship is an opportunity to show His power… when [others] watch you in suffering, they want to see if the Gospel makes a difference.” He is developing our character, building our witness, and bringing Himself glory.

It is the grace of God that enables us to follow His call. His Spirit can penetrate even the hardest of hearts, strengthen the weakest of knees, and illuminate the darkest of paths. This week I’ve been encouraged by Paul’s theology of suffering, his expectations of ministry, and by his eternal perspective that is captured for us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Take heart today! Be willing to step out in faith to follow God’s calling on your life. Our current (or future) suffering, when compared with future glory, is completely worth whatever hardships may come our way. The Apostle Paul even goes so far as to say that there is no comparison with the eternal glory that will come as our reward!

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Fight the clock or focus on the finish line?

One of the things I like the most about MBC is that so much of what they do is first thrown up on a white board and talked about, debated, marked out, rewritten, and reframed. If you walk around through the upstairs office areas, almost every cubicle and conference room has one. There’s always vision being written down, pictures being drawn… notes being taken. I love that work culture!

The point? I’m really visual. I’m so much better at seeing than hearing (something I really need to work on). So last night, when a friend drew an illustration to drive a point home, it helped a lot with redirecting my perspective.

I wish I could recreate it for you – just so you could see it too. I should have taken a picture with my blackberry.

But since I didn’t, I’ll attempt to explain it.

So many times we’re somewhere between the starting line and the finish line. But instead of focusing on the finish line – where we’re headed – we’re instead looking at our stopwatch and timing our progress. Instead of a race to the finish, we race against time. It’s like there’s a huge clock just above us that weighs us down and we can never quite outrun it. When we do that it’s almost like time stands still and we seem to move in slow motion. That, according to my friend, is the best way to get impatient, take your eyes off of the goal, and lose focus.

And it’s true. It reminds me of the story of Peter walking across the water to Jesus in Matthew 14:22-34. He took his eyes off of Jesus, probably just for a second, and remembered where he was instead of who he was walking to and where he was going. In that second, he stepped from faith into fear and began to falter.

I’ve always loved Hebrews chapter 12. Verses 1-2 are favorites of mine, but today I read the whole chapter and really took some time to think about the context (Heb. 11-12) and the illustrations therein. Here’s chapter 12:1-14:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.’

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”

So what does this mean to us? We sin when we lose sight of the goal and live in fear. Jesus endured the cross because He focused on the joy that would come. Likewise, we’re to not grow “weary or fainthearted.” Fainthearted means “lacking courage,” and weary means “physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired.” Basically, we’re not to become exhausted and we’re to run hard with our eyes focused ahead.

It’ll take discipline. And discipline is good. It’s one of the ways God loves us and I think I’m getting a lot of it right now. I need to better discipline my heart, my mind, my will, and my emotions. I all too often find myself weary, lacking courage, and checking the time. The promise here is amazing – if I will be disciplined – if I’ll lift my hands and strengthen my knees – righteousness and holiness will be present in my life. Pretty cool. I’m going to work to focus on the goal instead of fighting the clock.