In the weeks leading up to several events that are the among the highlights of the year for me, the IF:Gathering and a missions emphasis weekend known as Unto the Least of These Conference, it felt like even in the midst of a world gone crazy, my own little world was mostly peaceful. The planning and execution of our Local Gathering went relatively smoothly and all seemed to have gone quite well. I was reading where other IF:Local leaders found themselves under what looked to be severe spiritual attack in the weeks before and directly following the event, and I recognized I was not really identifying. I wondered if I was just slipping through unscathed, or was our event not significant enough to merit an attack or what? (Not that I was wishing for one – quite the contrary – I was feeling quite relieved.) But of course you know what’s coming – my turn has come.
This is the thing – I’ve also been teaching Sunday School and the last two months our study has been taken from the book of Job. And just this past Sunday our discussion ended on the note of how being misunderstood is so hard for some of us (I would be one of those) and I reminded my class and myself that Jesus was also misunderstood – in fact, I contend, He was misunderstood to death. And so when I’m misunderstood, I try to remember the reality of a Jesus who knows what I’m going through and how He knows what it feels like to be grossly misunderstood. And now I’m back to “this is the thing” that I started saying at the beginning of this paragraph – my contention has long been, that whatever we’re teaching, whatever we’re talking about at any given time, that is exactly where we’re going to be tested.
I’ve done it so many times – I say something like “Well, if that was me in that situation, I would do so and so and so!” And wouldn’t you know, before I know it, I find myself in a similar place, and now how will I handle it? And so on Sunday I validated the conversation about being understood and the pain of being misunderstood, and boom, no later than Monday night there’s an all-out war for my soul. What a fight it’s been – a fight to remember who I am, what I’ve been created to do and who I’m doing it for.
Couple that with a message at the missions conference about laying down our lives for the cause of Christ and His message, and it’s been a death struggle this week. The enemy fighting to take me down, me fighting to lay down my life, and Christ asking for total surrender, at the expense of everything. I’ve found again (to my horrible chagrin), that I have loved this life too much! I want to be comfortable, to have it easy, to be understood and validated, to be affirmed, to be patted on the back, when Jesus is really inviting us to take up our cross. There is nothing comfortable, easy, or feel-good about the cross, there is so much about our cross we don’t and can’t understand, and yet, that is what followers of Jesus are invited into. And somehow, s o m e h o w, the passion (the suffering) becomes the Joy! Somehow, someway, I want to be able to say with the apostles, who after being beaten and told not to speak in the name of Jesus, went from there “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Do I count it a privilege when I am in pain for the cause of Christ and His Gospel and for truth? I want to, I really do! Oh to be free of this body of death that would destroy me, and to be transfigured into a sacrifice of praise and daily dying, counting it all joy.
I know none of this is possible without the grace and mercy of Jesus and I’m so incredibly grateful today for His provision, but not only for His grace and mercy, but for His gift of Himself. As I am molded more and more into His image, that means I must give not only what I have back to Him, I must give myself back to Him.
I recognize with all clarity how my experience pales in comparison with believers who are literally losing their lives around the world for their faith, and my intention is not to diminish what is going on in the world. This is only my experience, and while it doesn’t compare, this is where I find myself right now.