Introduction - Boy, are we all different! The world is colored by a vast array of personalities, opinions, and interests. Aren't we glad we are not all the same--dull...
How Badly Do You Wanna Know Him?
"That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection..."
The Apostle Paul knew how to turn a phrase. He could capture the deepest thoughts in a simple fragment.
We like the idea of knowing Jesus in all His power and glory. As believers, we live for the day when "every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord." And to be honest, we often have a "take that!' attitude when we think about it.
But the idea does not stop there. It continues with "...and the fellowship of his sufferings."
Most of us skim right on past that one. We smile at the power part, but grimace at the idea of having to suffer with Christ in order to truly know Him.
I always assumed this referred to physical suffering, as in the cross. I thought of the martyrs or other Christians tortured for their faith. And the verse certainly encompasses them.
But this week God showed me a deeper insight about suffering, a kind that Christ must have endured every day he was on the earth and one we can only experience when we allow ourselves to be drawn completely into the heart of God.
The trivial nonsense we usually call suffering is embarrassing:
"Had to miss the OU-Texas game because I was at church!"
"Broke up with my party boyfriend because I thought God wanted me to."
"Gave up drinking and smoking when I got saved. Hope the Lord appreciates it."
The fellowship of His suffering has nothing to do with forsaking worldliness. Missing a football game would not have caused Jesus any hurt, so we cannot say we are sharing it with Him.
In order to experience the fellowship of suffering, we have to feel what He felt, understand what He understood, and yearn for what He desired. The closer we draw to God, the closer we want to be. You cannot get close enough. The more we hunger and thirst for righteousness, ache over the darkness stealing the souls of men, long for the moment we shall see Him face to face, the less attractive this world becomes. And we get to the point we can say with Paul, "For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain."
Death is no longer the enemy; it becomes the ticket home.
As I agonized over several of my clients' choices this week, grimaced at the headlines (New Mosque to be Built), sighed at the complacency of modern Christianity, I thought: I don't want to be here anymore. I don't fit. I wanna go home.
Then I wondered: Did Jesus ever feel this way?
And I knew the answer. He did.
He spent so much time alone with His Father because He was homesick. This world held no attraction for Him except the job He had come to finish. The baubles and trinkets meant nothing at all to him. The races, the competitions, the value-system was all a waste of time. He'd come for one purpose only--to do the will of the One who sent Him. Then he was outta here.
What suffering it must have been for the perfect Son of God to dirty his feet with our filth, to listen to our tawdry jokes, hear our whiny complaints, listen to our blaspheming, watch the men He'd created destroy each other. Even his own family didn't believe in Him, and the rag-tag bag of disciples rarely caught on either. How wearying it must have been.
Weariness is part of the suffering that comes with chasing the heart of God. To comprehend the horror of sin and what it cost God, to bear His burden for the lost world, to contend daily for the eternal souls of men and watch many slip through your fingers is to place yourself at odds with almost everyone. To totally clip all ties with this planet and live only for the world to come will earn you many raised eyebrows, but it is the only way we can truly fellowship with the One who taught us how to do that.
But there is suffering involved. Spiritual suffering. The kind that only Jesus and His followers understand. It's not hopeless depression, such as the world has. It's not the self-centered whining that is so common everywhere. It is grieving for what grieves the heart of God and knowing you can only be satisfied when you stand at last in His Presence.
But you can't yet. He has a job for you to do first. So like our Model, we turn away from what our hearts desire and say with Him, "Not my will but Thine be done."
And we stay, and we labor, and we trust and pray, aware with every breath that this is not our home. We inhabit a foreign planet and we don't know the language.
But we stay because He's asked us to. Just like Jesus did.
And that is the fellowship of His suffering. It is not for the fainthearted or the ones who find their delight in this world. Sadly, most professing Christians take another path.
But it's worth it because the fellowship of His suffering is the only way to truly know Him.