Everyone suffers. We do not suffer the same. I was having a rough day today. The trash men refused to pick up my trash and it was overflowing. I had to leave work to stuff some trash into the trunk of my car and bring it to the dumpster in the church just so that I would have some room to put more trash until the trash man comes again next week. As I was leaving, I ran out of gas. Now, before you start thinking that this was all my fault, let me splain. Recently, our car was reported to have a recall on it. After taking it to the dealership, they put a brand-spanking-new engine in it. It was crazy. The car already had over 100,000 miles on it, but they fixed me up with a new engine. It’s like I have a new car. The one thing though is that something is amiss with the gas tank. My gas gauge today showed me to have just barely under a quarter of a tank of gas. The pointer was still touching the quarter-full line, but I ran out of gas. This is the second time I have run out of gas without the gas light even coming on and this time it was worse. I had to wait in traffic giving hand signals to oncoming traffic to get them to move around me as I waited for my son to bring me the gas can from the garage. He called, “The gas can is empty Dad.” Are you serious???!!! We left my car right in the middle of the street while we went to get gas. Finally, I get it going and I am finally heading to work. The phone rings. “Dad, I locked myself out of the house.” I have to turn around and go back to the house. And this was just the beginning. If I had any hair, I would have pulled it out this morning.
When I got to the office, I asked, “Is anyone else having a bad day?” I wanted to co-miserate. Somehow, it makes us feel better when we know that we are not alone in our suffering. My wife though pointing out a man walking outside in the cold said, “At least you aren’t having to walk everywhere in this freezing cold.” Well, that’s true.
The Scripture says to endure hardship as discipline. When we go through difficult times of suffering, we have a choice of how we will process the suffering. We have a choice of how to assign meaning to that suffering. We can use suffering to justify anger, sin, hatred. We can use suffering to garner attention with a big ole’ pity party. We can use suffering to convince us that God doesn’t care, doesn’t love, or doesn’t like us. Suffering can mean to us that we are cursed and hated by God and people.
Processing suffering may be one of the most significant things in the life of a Christian. God calls us to process suffering as disciplines from our Heavenly Father. He is using the suffering to reveal to us that which is in us that is not right with Him. “How does the Lord want to use this to purify my heart, cleanse my unrighteousness, mature me to the next level?” This should be our first question when things go wrong. My first question was, “Am I alone in this suffering?” I obviously have never thought that I alone suffer while others don’t and I certainly have never thought that my suffering was worse than others. I got a pretty good life going. Nevertheless, a simple thing like running out of gas should be received as a means of revealing something in me that is not right. A lack of patience, an abundance of pride, these were brought into the light. I acted as if I had to get all of these things done and if I didn’t get them done, the sky was going to fall. How foolish I know, yet this was in my reaction. Will the church not continue on if I don’t get to the office on time? Will the whole of Christianity be utterly destroyed if I don’t send out a devotion? Silly, I know. But I must be honest about myself even if I am petty. (Hope you still love me 😊)
Not only must I process it as discipline, I must endure it. I must stand up under it. Suffering produces opportunities for me to choose God instead of my flesh. Isn’t this the match and rematch of all suffering, the righteousness of God and the sinfulness of my flesh? As believers, we must crucify our flesh. We must kill it with choosing faithfulness to God and rejecting the passions and desires of the flesh. My flesh may want to lash out at someone in an attempt to relieve the pain they have caused, but I kill the flesh when I choose to forgive, to overlook an offense. My flesh craves a night of drunkenness to help me forget, if just for a little while, the pain of this life. I kill the flesh when I choose to seek the Lord in my pain and praise Him through it. This is endurance.
Resisting the discipline manifests in the indulgence of the flesh in whatever form that takes in the moment. My Heavenly Father is attempting to direct me in the right direction. Call it a time-out, a whoopin, a spankin, a grounding, a restriction, a lecture. Call it whatever you want, if I reject it, in that moment, I am also rejecting the Lord as my Father. Like a rebellious teenager, “You can’t tell me what to do! I am going to do what I want!” The prodigal son stomps out again to play in the mud with pigs.
I remember once when I was about to spank my son. He was squirming all around trying to escape the long arm of the law if you know what I mean. I was holding on to his arm so he wasn’t getting away, but his butt was dancing around from right to left like he was going to be on Dancing with the Stars. In my wisdom, I simply said, “If you don’t let this happen and keep trying to avoid it, I am going to miss.” Haha! You know what I am talking about. The Lord has created us with a special place for whoopings. That wonderfully padded place cushioning the blow of Dad’s hand. The pain increases significantly if Dad misses.
The same is true with our spiritual discipline that comes through suffering. Process it as anything but an opportunity to grow, it’s like Dad missing your rump. Pain will intensify and last longer if we squirm.
What suffering are you experiencing right now? For some of you, the loss of a loved one, or a terminal diagnosis. Others are just hangry. All suffering can be useful in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit helping us to kill the flesh and live by the Spirit. How are you responding? Are you angry, impatient, throwing a pity party with hats and a cake? Or are you letting the Lord form you with integrity, character, love, and holiness. My advice: Stop squirming!
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