Day 9 – Thursday
The Way of Suffering
Today I am impressed by the reluctance the modern American church has to embrace suffering. We are so wrapped up in ourselves, in our own comfort, in our own pleasure! We prefer a feel-good religion in which we focus on the beauty of God’s presence. Megachurches across the country preach messages of self-fulfillment and living the good life. That’s what we want to hear.
Nobody wants to hear about suffering. When we come face to face with our own sin as Isaiah did (“Woe to me, I am undone!”) we realize that God’s presence isn’t always beautiful. Sometimes we cry, sometimes we weep, sometimes we want to flee from the agonizing presence of a Holy God. And we avoid prayer because it can be suffering.
In our Bible study on fasting last night, we had three in attendance, besides myself. Why? People don’t want to fast. That’s too much like suffering. People don’t want to give anything up for God. We’re too comfortable. In all fairness, I never announced to the whole church that we were going to be talking about fasting at the Wednesday prayer meeting. So truthfully, it wasn’t fasting that kept the people away. I wish it were fasting that kept the people away—that it were simply a matter of people shrinking from the suffering of a fast. Instead, I fear that the reason for an attendance of three is simply that God’s people are not hungry enough for His Word. They are not desperate enough for His presence to meet with His people for an hour or two in the middle of the week to pray.
I mean – really, preacher! You expect me to give up a couple of hours out of my schedule in the middle of the week? Isn’t Sunday enough? I can’t afford that much time. It’s too much like… Suffering!
Have we lost a sense of how much we owe God? It’s because of His suffering that we are saved! But when we pray, when we go to church, we only want the fun stuff.
Today in my devotion time, I read the story of Stephen’s testimony and his subsequent stoning. What impressed me was that we’d prefer to simply read the story like this: “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and spirit by which he spake…and all that at in the Council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel (Acts 6:10, 15).” Period. We’d like to end it there. We don’t like the idea of suffering, of martyrdom, of death. We prefer the warm fuzzies of our faith. We want people to hear our testimony and be so impressed with our wisdom that they are unable to resist. We want them to look at us and see the face of an angel. But we’re not willing to pay the price.
Lent is a season of introspection—a focus on the issues in our lives that God is working us through. It’s a time to ask God to convict us of sin. It’s a time of fasting, of giving up our comfort for the sake of our spirits. It’s a time of exquisite suffering. What I mean by this is that fasting, prayer, repentance, purging, giving up our time to God—these are all difficult things. But God’s blessing is ultimate reward! Today, ask yourself in what way you suffer for Christ. Are you really giving Him your all?
What I call the haven, as you know, is the Cross. If it cannot be given me to deserve one day to share the Cross of Christ, at least may I share that of the good thief. Of all the beings other than Christ of whom the Gospel tells us, the good thief is by far the one I most envy. To have been at the side of Christ and in the same state during the crucifixion seems to me a far more enviable privilege than to be at the right hand of his glory (From Waiting for God by Simone Weil)