I was traveling last week. NOT the best time of the year, as we’ve all seen the East Coast get hammered with snow for the last six weeks. The day before I departed I closely watched the 5-day forecast for every departure, layover, and destination city I was to visit. Amazingly clear weather in Denver, Boston, Cape Cod, Chicago, Austin, Dallas, and Albuquerque. I was filled with confidence that my plans would go off without a hitch!
My first destination would be Boston with a jaunt to Cape Cod. I had my time planned to the minute so that I could visit with my people as much as possible during my stay and still make my flight up in Boston. Confident there would be no snow, I lingered a minute or two longer until I saw flakes dropping with force. Near blizzard conditions accompanied me all the way to the airport, which resulted in four flight delays, and the odds were not in my favor for making my connection in Chicago. Working with customer service I tried every other airline and alternate city out of Boston to no avail. So, I adjusted my expectations to an unintended overnight stay in Chicago. “This will be good. I love downtown Chicago, I’ll beg my dear friend Alicia to meet me, and I’ll eat some pizza,” I told myself. Food always works, right? I slumped in my seat on the plane and silently declared, “Lord, why can’t my flights ever work?? Why must it always be difficult?” (Insert as much whining as you like.) And He faithfully replied, “Why would you ever think things would be easy?” A knowing certainty of obstacles flooded my mind as I considered my future.
My God promises me many good things; in fact an abundance of good things, but an easy life, free of obstacles is not one of them. We will face opposition in one form or another.
WE WILL FACE OPPOSITION
“Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (II Tim 3:12)
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)
If there’s one theme that stands out in Acts, it’s opposition. We see Paul encounter opposition repeatedly from city to city, and chapter 19 is no different. Whether it’s cold rejection from his brothers or death threats, opposition is a constant. At this point in the book he had been working in Ephesus for more than two years with astounding results. His miracles brought a humbling awe across the city, and because Ephesus was positioned along all the major trade routes, the gospel spread effectively. Preaching the one, true God obviously had its effect. As we see in the laws of physics, for every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction.
With a selfish motive to improve his sales, Demetrius sought to start an opposing movement. I’m sure he realized he’d find a slow response if his personal gain were the only motive, so he set out to strike the chord of patriotism. His argument claimed an attack on Artemis, the goddess of fertility and representative of these people, and it was therefore an attack on the people themselves. An emotional plea no doubt, because it stirs the entire community into a riot. Most of them didn’t even know why they were rioting, but they were drawn in regardless, looking for blood.
For me, when I think of this story, it symbolizes why I have feared my purpose. Why I have feared a full life in Christ over the years. Why I found myself reluctant to even ask God how he wants to use me. I saw giants in the Promised Land and was more than willing to give up on his promises, however good they seemed, because I feared opposition. I can remember making a deliberate (although secret) decision during my college years to blend in, make no waves, and live as quiet a life as possible. I feared the cost of stepping across the Jordan River. (click here for the post on stepping into purpose) I believed the lie that there was no cost for staying this side of the river. Oh, but there is. It’s called opportunity cost. It’s the cost of never experiencing your potential in Christ, in addition to the cost of regret and the cost of staleness from “the same.” Did you know that our bodies are constantly regenerating and becoming new? Every cell in our skin is replaced every 7 days and the cells in our skeleton are completely replaced every 7 years. We are constantly becoming new physically and spiritually if we allow it. Our God is the God of new.
The other night my son started asking me for the escape plan if our house were to catch on fire. I always hesitate to entertain these conversations, but we talked about it. The more we talked about our plans, the meeting place, the exits, and the alternate exits, it didn’t assuage his fears, they only grew. As I tried to calm him with words that our house wasn’t going to catch on fire, he said, “but, Mom, God could allow our house to catch on fire.” You know what? He’s right. I could not promise that God wouldn’t allow it, because I know very well he could. I had a friend report a house fire of her friend just last week, asking for prayers and support. Life is filled with obstacles. I don’t know anyone, whether or not a follower of Christ, who hasn’t encountered tough times at some point. So I asked him, “If our house catches on fire, will you trust God anyway? Will you trust that God loves you deeply, without end?”
Whether it’s your house burning down, being ridiculed by your community, losing a family member, or whatever presses on your thoughts at night, will you trust God anyway? Will you trust that God loves you deeply, without end? Will you trust that there’s more of HIM in every part of suffering?
PAUL FACES HIS OPPOSITION
In his second letter to Corinth, Paul details his sufferings because his credibility comes under attack.
“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold without enough clothing to keep me warm.” (II Cor 11:23-27)
I wonder if Paul ever said in my kind of whiney voice, “Lord, why can’t I ever get on a boat that doesn’t get smashed to pieces? Am I destined to never make my connecting ship ride?” Possibly. But before you think this is not applicable to you, that his sufferings were so fantastical to ever be on the scale of your life, I want you to see the phrase at the beginning, “worked harder.” When I saw this it made me think. This man trudged within the mundane too. Do you remember how he made tents with Priscilla and Aquila there in Corinth to earn his living? He most definitely encountered the repetitive, mundane type of suffering in addition to the highlight reel we tend to remember.
So how does Paul do it? His words,
“We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.” (II Cor 6:7-10)
He realizes that our enemy, Satan, wanted nothing more than to keep Paul on this side of the river. We are fighting a spiritual battle, often clothed in the skin of people, but must be fought with spiritual weaponry. He uses righteousness and he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. He does not stop.
IT DOTH STINKETH!
I have been called to write. So I have started writing. I was on my way to a writer’s conference last week when I faced the possibility of missing a connecting flight in Chicago. I have to admit, I seriously considered booking a flight home instead. “Should I even risk it? I’ll just go home,” I thought. As much as I wanted to halt my frustration and uncertainty, the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. So when I heard God pose the question, “Why would you ever think things would be easy,” I considered that my enemy might not want me at this conference. That it might be easier for him to discourage me from my purpose if I stayed home. Right then I determined, missed flight or not, stranded in Chicago or not, I would trust God anyway. I would trust that he loves me deeply to provide me with the best. In case your wringing your hands over the outcome, I made it, and was greatly encouraged to continue writing.
But I have also been called to be a mom. I struggle here, because I find many aspects of parenting and housekeeping to be mundane and not nearly as exciting as blizzards, cancelled flights, and my new venture in writing. I am guilty of allowing boredom to overwhelm my thoughts when I’m constantly making the meals, begging that the meals be eaten, and cleaning the meals, only to repeat in three hours. This is a type of suffering that I had never considered until recently. There will be times when our purpose brings about feelings of exhilaration, even during persecution where you feel like your slaying Satan, and there will be times when it goes unnoticed and you feel underwhelmed. But listen to what God says about that.
In the first few chapters of Leviticus, God is providing the instructions for the burnt offerings. I want you to try and imagine the smell of burning blood and flesh, the burnt to a crisp kind of burnt, from the animal offerings. Then try to imagine the smell of burnt toast from the grain offerings. It stinks. God says, “It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” And by the way, he says this over and over and over. So sometimes my offering of cooking, and cleaning, and wiping bottoms quite literally stinks, but it is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
ARE YOU EXCITED YET?
PLEASE DON’T STOP READING HERE! Before you think me Debbie Downer, I have heard so many times (insert defeated nasal whine), “(Sigh….)The Christian life is hard. I guess it’s always gonna be this way. I’ll just pray I die soon so I can reach my glory in heaven.” Seriously! Why in the world would anyone ever sign up for this? So I go back to Paul. It’s his life we’re evaluating here, it’s his words that describe his suffering, and it’s with his words that we understand why.
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed everyday. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Cor 4:16-18)
Our stories are but a part of this giant masterpiece that God is unfolding. When he calls us into it, he equips us for it, and the rewards are breathtaking. When we are intimately connected with Jesus through the empowerment of his Spirit, we get a taste of those rewards now. We don’t have to wait until we die! That’s what Paul is saying above. When we KNOW Him and are WITH Him, we are connected to heaven and can get a taste. It is breathtaking! I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. Will you? My suffering, however it may look from day to day, will be a sacrifice, a pleasing aroma to my Lord.