November 5, 2011

My sufferings = His sufferings

Corrie ten Boom
(1892 - 1983)
Dutch, Christian Holocaust survivor
Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian woman captured by the Germans for harboring Jews, experienced unimaginable treatment in a concentration camp before her release on a clerical error. She spoke of the power of Christ who, in the midst of great suffering, never left her. His loving presence made her “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37) in the suffering and later set her free to share the gospel with thousands of people.

Today’s devotional reminds me that England’s freedom to preach and practice the gospel of salvation by grace happened because God shielded His people. On this day in English history, a plot was uncovered that the Papists were going to destroy the Houses of Parliament. Later, on the same date, King William III quashing the hope of Popish ascendancy and securing religious liberty. According to Spurgeon, our Puritan forefathers made this a special time of thanksgiving, with singing: 

    While for our princes they prepare
    In caverns deep a burning snare,
    He shot from heaven a piercing ray,
    And the dark treachery brought to day.

Spurgeon rejoices that God takes care of His people, and that no one can defeat those who trust in Him.

Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:16–17)
Yet God does not always shield. Sometimes His people suffer greatly. Corrie Ten Boom’s sister died in Ravensbruck. Many others have died defending the gospel that we love, refusing to deny the Christ who died for our spiritual liberty. Yet while the world asks, “Why does God allow suffering?” Christians know that He not only controls, but has purpose in all that happens to us. Sometimes it is hidden at the time, but later revealed. And sometimes, as Ten Booms recounts, it is revealed even in the midst of great pain.

Corrie Ten Boom knew both the horror of torture and the wonder of God’s care in that concentration camp. She also knew that God calls His people to do something that only grace and His power can do in us. He asks us to have an attitude toward suffering that only makes sense to people like her, people who have experienced it and know that grace can make it a reality. 

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)
Oswald Chambers says that if I am going to be used by God, God will take me through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for me at all, but meant to make me useful in His hands, to give my life greater value. They will also enable me to understand what others experience so I’m not surprised or confused at what comes across my path. By suffering, He lets me see how Christ suffered and how I can be like Christ in suffering.

I may never have ongoing trauma like a long time in a concentration camp, but I might live next to a difficult neighbor, or struggling with poverty, or ill health, or wayward children. In whatever happens, God reminds me that the sufferings of Christ are not those of ordinary people. He suffered “according to the will of God,” and only as I am related to Him can I understand what God is after when He allows me to suffer.

Christians easily talk about seeking the will of God, but that talk tends to be suspended when it comes to suffering. Most of us pray quickly for deliverance. We want God to make it better, to restore the good times. Instead of trying to identify what is happening to us with the sufferings of Jesus Christ, we would rather partake in the glory. We miss the point, never mind the wonder of His grace in such suffering.

Sometimes it is a purging process. God wants to remove sin and selfishness that we might be more like Jesus. I’ve known resistance to this. Do I really want my personal ambitions put out of my life? And if I do accept that God is rebuking or purging me, I sometimes insist that He shows me exactly what He is doing so I can “help” Him. How foolish! God seldom shows His specific reasons for what He is putting me through. I cannot “help” Him for that would make me self-righteous and therefore useless. Instead, He asks me to walk by faith, not sight, and trust Him as I go through the fire.

Lord, in the worst things of my life, I most remember Your sustaining power and Your very real presence. You have used calamities large and small to draw poisonous selfishness out of me. I know that You are not finished. While my life has been marvelously blessed, I understand that to become all that You want for me, I must also be a partaker of Christ’s sufferings. Grant me faith to trust You no matter what lies ahead, so I will rejoice as You work out Your perfect plan.

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