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Self-Centered Sufferer

Self-Centered Sufferer

I am really self-centered.

No matter how much I claim I love my Lord, no matter how much I seek Him and pray and read His Word, no matter how much I endeavor to serve and minister and share His truths…

The truth is that I really love myself more.

You know how I know? Because when I suffer, whenever the pain comes – I don’t want to submit to it.

I don’t want to submit to Him, if it means more suffering.

The loss of this pregnancy is bringing the reality of my self-centeredness to the forefront. I thought I’d DONE my share. I’ve suffered my round. Done my duty.

Now, where’s my reward?

The brutal, honest truth is that, for all of my truth-sharing and faith-declaring, when it gets down and dirty – I really just want things my way. I want a baby, I want the desire of my heart, I want easy and painless and a good story that I can wrap up with a bow and tell over and over from the secure vantage-point of the comfort chair, feeling like I am doing my duty as a disciple.

Yeah, no…as much as my egocentric self wants it to be, that just ain’t what being a disciple is about.

I wrote, in Perspective, on how Job got it. After seeing the Lord, He saw his place in the universe, his insignificance and yet, somehow, unbelievable significance to the majestic, sovereign Creator – and he repented of his self-centeredness. He was overwhelmed by Yahweh, I Am, and his only response was to humbly submit to the omnipotence and glory of God’s plan. His suffering became eclipsed by God Himself.

Me? Each time suffering comes, I struggle anew. I say that I love Him, I claim that I trust Him, but as soon as the journey detours from where I think it should go, I cry and wail and fight and feel sorry for myself. It’s annoying, really. Sometimes I want to smack myself and say, “Suck it up, whiner. Put on your big girl panties and buck up, because when you signed up for this deal, you knew it wasn’t for wimps. Either go be a soldier for Christ or shut up.”

 

Cheap Grace

I look at my response to pain in my life, and I see CHEAP GRACE written all over it. You know, the idea that we can get eternal life and forever joy and be buddy-buddy with the God of the universe, but all it costs us is the embarrassment of walking up in front of the church to announce our “decision”. It is the “Jesus is LOVE!” slogan that pats us on the back and placates our desire to live however we want, because, you know, He loves us and that’s all that matters – He wants us to be happy!

This “God won’t ask us to suffer” theology came up recently in an online discussion I had over the issue of homosexuality. This particular individual wrote of her belief that homosexual practice couldn’t be a sin because so many who suffer from same-sex attraction pray to be rid of it, and, as she wrote, “I can’t imagine that God would not ‘heal’ this ‘sin’ in His child who truly wants to be ‘normal’ if it is not His intent for that person”. Although, on the surface, that opinion questions the rightness or wrongness of homosexual practice, underlying the statement is this problem of the role of suffering in the life of the Christian; whether God would intentionally permit an ongoing, difficult turmoil in our lives.

I responded that there are many times that God does not “heal” us of the suffering that plagues us. I wrote of how God does His best work through suffering – the price of grace – and that through it God accomplished the greatest grace for humanity of all time – salvation.

They were the proud words of one battling a theology of cheap grace that I hate… but then end up living in my own life. Words that, although true, get swallowed up in misery when the suffering actually hits me. I end up feeling like, for some reason, I deserve happiness and goodness and easy and He should make it that way for me and if He doesn’t, then He is unjust or unloving or something else really bad that makes me want to just curl into a ball.

OR…I can let this shape my self-centeredness a little more into discipleship.

 

The Cost of Discipleship

Jesus said, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27).

The Lord said, of Saul (who later became Paul), “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16).

Suffering is not just kind of a theme for the Christian – it is the heart of Christian discipleship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was martyred by the Nazis during World War II, said it this way:

“The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost…we poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard…Jesus shows the would-be disciple what life with him involves. We hear the words of One who is on his way to the cross, whose whole life is summed up in the Apostles’ Creed by the word ‘SUFFERED'”. Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

“Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the ‘must’ of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself. Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion. Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.”

“To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us….only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for his sake.. if in the end we know only him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto him.”

The true disciple is not one whom God rescues from suffering because he somehow doesn’t deserve to go through it. The true disciple is one who suffers willingly, as Christ did, because He only sees God, not His pain.

“For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God…But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:19-21)

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3)

These are hard words. They are words that expose my self-centeredness and words that make me cringe. Yet I also believe these are the words that define discipleship – that mark the line between mere religious belief and true obedient faith. The line between cheap grace and complete surrender. The line between “My good and faithful servant” and “I never knew you”. Our allegiance to Christ is not, ultimately, proven by our study of scripture, our time in prayer, or our declarations of faith. Our allegiance to Christ is proven by our ability to suffer for Him, to abandon ourselves to His plan in obedience, whatever that plan entails. To willingly open ourselves to be poured out as His vessel – fully embracing that pain will be its contents.

Scripture tells us that suffering, in God’s kingdom, is not something to be feared, but to be rejoiced over.

Got that? Rejoiced over.

That’s right, because in the opposite-land of Christ’s realm, suffering brings about good.

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs… if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” (Philippians 3:10)

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)

 

The Hard Truth of Following Christ – That’s Worth It

We cannot know Christ fully, cannot share in His glory completely, unless we suffer, like He did. Far from being something to avoid, for the disciple, suffering is not simply the cost of discipleship – it is a PRIVILEGE. It gains us something – glory – in God’s world, that is totally worth it. How do I know? Because Christ was willing to go through it to get it, and to give it to us.

Bonhoeffer expresses it this way:

“Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection. But each has a different share: some God deems worthy of the highest form of suffering, and gives them the grace of martyrdom, while others he does not allow to be tempted above that they are able to bear. But it is the one and the same cross in every case.

“The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Suffering, then is the badge of true discipleship…Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace. To bear the cross proves to be the only way of triumphing over suffering. This is true for all who follow Christ, because it was true for him…Suffering has to be endured in order that it may pass away…Just as Christ maintained his communion with the father by his endurance, so his followers are to maintain their communion with Christ by their endurance.”

If I am a disciple of Christ, suffering is in the cards. Well, actually, suffering is in the cards for everyone, disciple or not. The difference is that those who suffer in Christ are, with every bit of pain they experience, being joined further with the person of Christ, participating in God’s redemptive work of overcoming suffering for good, and gaining a reward of glory in heaven. I know we don’t really get what that “glory” thing is, exactly, but considering that it is closely associated with the essence and nature of God Himself, I’m gonna take that it’s pretty freaking good. [Note to self: a study on glory might be a good next effort.]

I’m hurt, I’m broken, I’m still a bit angry, and I’m incredibly sad to have lost another child. And I will continue to be honest with Him about that. But I also acknowledge my foundational self-centeredness. My desire to get what I want, to have life go the way I want, and to feel righteously angry and upset when it doesn’t. Repenting is the first step to God’s transformation – to His being able to do His work within us. I want Him to work. In this. In me. And that means accepting this suffering from His hand, just as I accept the blessings.

Lord, do your work in me. Fulfill your plan, suffering and all, and transform my self-centeredness into discipleship.

Help me, Father, to suffer well.

 

“Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. To that I call you, and in that you must be my disciple, If you do that, there is the accceptable time and there your master is come”.

– Martin Luther

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