Monday, June 10, 2013

I Stood a Mendicant of God

For those who know Steve Saint, (the son of Nate Saint, the missionary in Ecuador who, along with 4 other men - Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, & Roger Youderian, died for the sake of bringing the Gospel to lost souls in the farthest reaches of Ecuador), know that he recently had an accident that left him partially paralyzed from the neck down. In the wisdom of God's purpose for Steve Saint, He has been healing him and has miraculously given him the ability to walk again. To Him be all the glory. This story has touched the deepest part of my heart...

"I stood, a mendicant of God, before His royal throne and begged Him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own. I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart I cried, 'But Lord, this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart. This is a strange and hurtful gift which Thou hast given me.' He said, 'My child, I give good gifts. I gave My best to thee.' I took it home. And though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore, as long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more. I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace: He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face."
The Thorn by Martha Snell Nicholson

I don't pretend to think I understand suffering, because I know I've never truly suffered before. Why this is so, I'm not sure. More often than not, I have looked at my life and wondered why the Lord has been so good to me, of all people. Often times I've felt that, as with Job, the Lord has placed a hedge around me. This doesn't mean life hasn't been without trials and tribulations, because it has, but those are the very things that have drawn me in closer to the Lord, so I don't regret them at all. In terms of earthly possessions, my riches are not great at all, but in terms of heavenly possessions, my riches are overflowing in Christ! In terms of my earthly career being a success, I have nothing to speak of, but in terms of living this life for the Lord, it has been a long struggle to learn how to quietly deny my will and, instead, submit to the will of my gentle Master and loving Friend, the Lord Jesus Christ, and willingly follow His lead wherever He takes me. 

Suffering, however, has never been a part of that. I have not known suffering. Suffering is one of those mysteries to me. People speak of the Trinity, or the Church, or eternity as a mystery, and although there may be an element of the unknown with those things, I can fully embrace them in faith because of the One I KNOW, the Lord Jesus Christ, but why is it that most people, even some Christians, consider suffering that has fallen upon a person to be equal to a curse? Would the Lord really give a curse to one of His children?  To me, the mystery in suffering is when a follower of Christ considers the awful pain that has fallen upon them as ultimately being a good thing. It is a mystery to me when they have lost so much, and yet claim to have gained infinitely more. All of this goes against everything that comes naturally to a human. The mystery lies in the fact that the very things we deem as bad, God deems as good and necessary, because He USES those very things to not only bring His servants intimately closer to Himself, but to also accomplish His beautiful work through us. That is a place I long to be in, no matter what the cost.

I've only begun to truly grasp this by seeing a living example of it through a friend and brother in Christ, David Hanson, (read his story here), and his lovely wife, Rachel. David survived a 50+ ft fall accident, and against all odds, he has been progressing since. Shortly after his fall, Rachel found out that they would be having their first child, and now they have a beautiful little baby girl! I've never seen a person go through so much suffering as David has. You might think it would make him an angry and bitter person towards God, but he has been the most extreme opposite of that. One day Rachel noted about David, "He's seemed real happy the last few days, smiling a lot," and she asked him, "Would you be content if you were in this condition the rest of your life and God chose not to give you any more healing?" and he answered "Yes" without hesitation. 

I've often wondered how that is possible for a person who has gone through what he has gone through to say that? It is so out of this world, there is no other explanation than that God Himself is dwelling in David's heart, which I already know is true, but have been freshly in awe of lately. I have no doubt that David is knowing God right now in a beautiful, wonderful, intimate way that he has never known God before, and in a way that most of us have never known God. Something that was so horrible, God has used for so much good, that David is even willing to live like this for the rest of his life. Not only that, Rachel is not a person who is defined by sorrow for her injured husband, but joy is what defines her! Joy for the deep and ever-growing love she has for her husband, joy for the overwhelming love she has for her little baby girl, and joy for the love of Christ she is sweetly abiding in. In the midst of this tragic accident, both David and Rachel's joy is full, which has challenged and humbled me more than I know how to say. It is LOVE that they dwell on, because it is Christ's LOVE that they abide in; not doubt, not anger, not bitterness, not resentment, not questioning, but the very love of God. It is the "joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess 1:6) that fills them.

"As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love...These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." 
John 15:9, 11

This made me realize that the degree of my happiness shouldn't rest on whether or not things go my way or if I get to live out the "ideal life" or not, but whether or not Christ is my absolute center where all my affections, all my love, and all my sight is set on His lovely face. David has taught us that we should not live in fear of what suffering may come upon us, but instead, live life fearlessly for Christ, holding back nothing, and giving our absolute all to Him who first gave us life!!! The more I thought about it, the more I realized it really doesn't matter if the unknown of suffering is a mystery to me or not, because my faith is not in the unknown, but in the One whom I KNOW...and I trust Him. Should suffering come upon me, and I expect it will, I'm not sure how I'll deal with it, but I know this: I serve a loving Father who has showed nothing but kindness, goodness, and faithfulness to me for as long as I have lived, and if He should allow suffering to come upon me, I'm not afraid of it, but I'm open to it, because I know His loving character and I peacefully rest in His promise, "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Ro 8:28).

I guess, in the end, we're all beggars of God, aren't we? For those who don't know Christ, they beg for mercy and forgiveness, and for those who do know Christ, we beg for daily spiritual bread and fountains of living water. The ironic thing, though, is that I think many followers of Christ have forgotten who we really are in Christ and how much access to God has already been given to us through Christ - we don't need to beg, we've only to ask in the name of Christ, and, according to His Word, God has said He will give to us! Though we live in a sinful, dark, and evil world, I know that God will work all things together for good for His beloved children, because He loves us with a love that is so far beyond what even our furthest dreams could imagine is possible. Of all Christians who has suffered, no one stands out in my mind more than the Apostle Paul, and yet, he is the one who proclaimed: "To live is Christ, and to die is gain!" I think Paul told us to imitate him because he merely imitated Christ, and he wants us to experience even a little of what Christ experienced, lest we forget that Christ suffered more than the whole of us, just for the sake of all of us.

"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Romans 8:16-18