When we built the new sanctuary at our church in Nashville, our pastor used large wooden letters to write Philippians 3:10 across the front: “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings. . .”
As I would sit in church and read that verse, I could welcome the knowing God part, and celebrate the power of His resurrection. . .but the fellowship of His sufferings? Well I wasn’t sure I was willing to go there. What did that mean? Why would Paul desire this part of a relationship with God? Is there such a thing as too deep a relationship? Doesn’t God want me to have an abundant life? Suffering? Really?
Sunday after Sunday, year after year, that word burned in my soul. It was if God was calling me to a deeper level of intimacy with Him and I frankly did not want to go. You see, I’d lost my firstborn child. How much more suffering would be required? Certainly that experience opened my understanding to the heart of a God who would give His Son for me in ways you can never understand unless you’ve walked this very difficult road, but that was a high price to pay for an intimate look at His heart/His suffering. But as I sat there I knew He was speaking to me with the only word that seemed to be flashing on the wall in front of me. Suffering!
As I look around, there is so much suffering. Some of it is physical–cancer, rare diseases, injuries, etc. If you are ever at the Veteran’s hospital, you’ll see the suffering of those who have given so much for our freedoms and your heart will be moved and your eyes will fill with tears as these brave ones continue their suffering. But much of the suffering of man is never seen by the naked eye. When I worked at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, parking was a rare commodity during the Faberge exhibit. A group of young people burst into my office to complain about a young female executive who parked in the handicap parking. They couldn’t see anything wrong with her and wanted me to confront her about abusing this privilege. She was a friend and I just happened to know she was born with a rare heart issue. From all appearances she was normal, but every day was a gift because her heart didn’t pump like it should. How many times do we pass someone who is carrying a heavy burden and we are blind to their suffering? How many times do we judge people’s actions and attitudes when we have no idea what goes on behind the mask.
While I have typically defined suffering as physical, God has opened my eyes to those suffering from addiction, anxieties and depression, mental illness, etc. Many times they suffer in silence and an addiction becomes their method of coping. Homelessness and isolation. SUFFERING! Oh, I’d heard about these things but those people were for others to deal with. Oh how He has changed my blind and judgmental heart into one that empathizes with my fellow man.
Recently I’ve been teaching my book to small groups. This has opened up a whole new chapter of ministry as many of these women begin to reach out to me, unveiling the pain and suffering in their hearts that they have been hiding–rejection, betrayal, hopelessness. It seems everywhere I turn I see SUFFERING–and those wooden letters on that wall flash in my mind.
Last summer we went home and visited our home church. The letters were gone, but the absent word still pierced my heart. I knew God had been opening my eyes over the years to those near and far who are suffering. Our suffering moves the heart of God and He wants my heart to be finely tuned to the hurting hearts of my fellow man–His children.
I don’t know where this awareness of suffering will lead. I do know I recognize His working in my heart and life and am excited to see what opportunities He may provide for me to touch those who are suffering. I’m just one person but if I can touch two and they can each touch two more. . .there is a multiplying impact on lives and eternity. Make it your goal each day to reach out and touch someone. Hug someone. Lift someone’s burden–walk beside them for awhile. It’s Paul’s admonition to us in Galatians 6:2 “Bear ye one another’s burden–and so fulfill the law of Christ.” You see, Moses’ law was given that man might understand ways in which they might not defraud their fellow man. But Christ’s law–it was all about moving our hearts to the point that we lift our brothers and sisters up–we bear their burdens for them–it’s His new law. It’s what He modeled for us when He bore our sins on that old rugged cross.
I wonder how I’ll react when I come face to face with His nail pierced hands and scarred side and head–scars He bore for me. Suffering I caused. I pray God will keep me from causing pain to others and use me as an instrument to minister to those who are suffering.
SUFFERING! May God touch your heart in new ways this week because of this word. Jude 1:22 “And of some have compassion, making a difference.”