Voluntary & Involuntary Suffering

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…

Philippians 3:10

If we want to know the power of the resurrection of Christ then we must chose to participate in His sufferings. This means that to the extent that we are willing to voluntarily suffer, is the extent to which we’ll operate in power and authority in that area of our life. This is a Kingdom principle.

When we empathize with and serve people, we will often find ourselves suffering with them in different ways. This is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we fast and contend in prayer for a breakthrough, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we sacrifice for others, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we stand for truth in the face of people mocking and slandering us, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we participate in the sufferings of Christ in this way, we will find that our ministry and our prayers will carry more resurrection power with them.

It’s not that we are “paying the price” for greater power. It’s that Jesus already paid the price on the cross so that sons and daughters of the Kingdom would be able to operate in greater resurrection power. Romans 8:11 says, “…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” Jesus already paid the price, so our job is to identify with Him in His sufferings. The result is resurrection power.

Voluntary suffering is different than involuntary suffering. In this world full of sin and brokenness, we will automatically face involuntary suffering (accidents, illnesses, financial issues, relational issues, hardship, etc). Involuntary suffering is useful too but just in a different way. While voluntary suffering produces power, involuntary suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

James put the same idea this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

So one way to look at it is that while voluntary suffering empowers the gifts of the Spirit, involuntary suffering (handled well) empowers the fruit of the Spirit. Voluntary suffering God uses to make us more effective. Involuntary suffering God uses to make us more solid.

Eyes of the Heart

The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men…

…the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 

Matthew 28:4 & 8

An angel showed up at Jesus’s tomb to tell the women that Jesus has risen. Scripture tells us that this angel caused quite a commotion. First, the earth shook, then the stone that sealed the tomb rolled back, and the angel himself was white like lightening.

Both the women and the guards standing there were afraid of the appearance of this angel. They all had that in common. However, their heart conditions must have been different because we see two very different responses in the midst of that fear. The women were “afraid yet filled with joy.” But the fear experienced by the guards became shock-inducing terror as they fell down like dead men.

The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) reminds us that the condition of the soil of the heart makes all the difference in how an event, a message, or an encounter is received. These women had hearts that were filled with faith. So when they were given the message that Jesus was alive, the hope of that message sparked the kindling of faith and ignited joy in their hearts.

The guards did not experience this at all. Their hardened hearts had no faith. The encounter with the angel increased the fear that already lived in their hearts. So fear upon fear became terror. Faith gives us eyes to see, and these guards were blind to the hope that his angel represented.

We are responsible for tending to the condition of our heart. We cultivate good soil so that when we encounter something fearful in life, good fruit can come from it. We cultivate good soil–a heart full of faith–so that if we have an encounter with the Lord or with something powerful from His Kingdom, we don’t shrink away in doubt but instead step forward in faith.

Notice that the very next line of Scripture, as the women are leaving to tell the disciples about all of this, says, “Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him“(Matthew 28:9). If a person can’t handle the presence of an angel, they certainly won’t be able to handle Jesus showing up to them. Our hearts have to be able to handle it. Hearts full of faith and hope are the only kind of hearts that can handle an encounter with Jesus.

So many people say they wish Jesus would just show up to them, either to answer their questions or calm their doubts. But most people would drop down as if dead, just like the guards, if He showed up in their room. Their ill-prepared hearts couldn’t handle His Presence and glory.

Jesus said it this way, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God“(Matthew 5:8).

The apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians echoes something similar, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…“(Ephesians 1:18).

Salty

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Matthew 5:13

Jesus compares the people of God to the salt of the earth. We have sayings in our culture that involve salt that can confuse the meaning of this passage. When someone says that a person is a “salt of the earth” kind of person, they mean that the person is a good, simple, straightforward, and trustworthy person. This isn’t what Jesus was saying.

Likewise, sometimes people will describe someone as “salty.” By this they mean the person is colorful in their language and often tough, aggressive, and/or defensive. Again, this is not what Jesus is describing in this passage of scripture.

Salt in Jesus’s day was often expensive and was pulled from the Dead Sea region. Getting salt this way often caused it to be contaminated with other elements and impurities. If it was too full of impurities, it would lose its saltiness.

Salt was used for flavoring and preserving foods in ancient times. Yet, because of its value, one had to be careful how much was used. Salt was required as part of the grain offering for the Jewish people because of its value (Leviticus 2:13). It was seen as a sacrifice to use salt. It was even called “the salt of the covenant of your God.”

Salt was a major element of meals where a covenant was being made between individuals or families. When describing His relationship to the priests of Israel, God said:

“Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.”

Numbers 18:19

So, salt not only seasoned food and preserved food, but it was a sign of a covenant.

With all of this in mind, Jesus said that His followers are the salt of the earth. They are to season the earth. As they spread out, they flavor every area of culture that they are in. When they gather together, it is for the sake of preservation–preserving the faith, hope, and love that are in Christ. And just as the rainbow was a covenant sign to Noah that the Lord would never flood the earth again, followers of Jesus are meant to be a covenant sign to the earth of God’s love and faithfulness. We are to be a living, breathing sign of the covenant–a covenant of salt–between God and humanity.

Yet, if we have impurities that contaminate our life, we lose our saltiness. We lose our purpose for existing. Sin has a way of making us forget that the reason we are on the earth is to bring the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Impurities can make us lose our purpose in the midst of distractions and diversions. When we lose our saltiness, we lose our ability to do good in the world for the Kingdom.

The Reason For The Hope

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 

1 Peter 3:15-16

We are called to be ready to give the reason for the hope that we have. If someone asks about our good life, our good attitude, our good marriage or our good parenting, we are to use this as an opportunity to point people to the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus. And, using all the emotional intelligence we can muster, we are to do this with gentleness and respect.

The question for us is why would anyone ask? Are our lives marked with blessing, kindness, generosity, love and hope such that people would be curious about it?

Here are some practical ways to display the love of Christ:

  • pay for the groceries of the person in front of you in the “20 items or less” checkout line
  • leave a tip that is 50% or 100% of your bill
  • help someone pick up their stuff after they’ve dropped it and made an embarrassing scene in a store
  • encourage a parent who is struggling with the behavior of their child in public
  • be the person who is immune to the cries of the baby on the flight and offer to help
  • let someone else go first
  • let someone use your umbrella in the rain
  • tell someone that they are good at their job (especially in service industries)

If they ask why you are doing these things, be ready to give a reason for the hope that you have. Tell them that you’ve been changed by the love of Jesus and want others to know that they are loved by God. Keep it simple. Keep it personal. Don’t preach. Don’t sell the gospel. Simply live it and then speak it. Let God do the rest.

He Will Lift You Up

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10

I have found this to be true. When we draw near to God in private times of worship, prayer, and scripture reading, the Lord will draw near to us. We come to Him with honesty, confessing our sin and seeking His forgiveness. We come to Him grieving the latest experience of loss, and we cry out to Him.

There is something powerful that happens when we cry before the Lord. Maybe we’ve faced a loss, a disappointment, a failure, a struggle of some kind. Maybe we’re confused or just exhausted by it all. When we humble ourselves and cry out to Him, there is an exchange that happens in our hearts. Our tears become like little drops of prayer. And God answers each one with a provision of His comfort and grace.

Jesus steps in, puts His arm around us, and pours His love into our hearts as the tears pour out of our eyes. We begin to feel the heaviness dissipate. Light breaks through the clouds. We can feel the joy start to invade the darkness. Hope seeps in. We feel a lightness on our shoulders where there was only burden before. By getting low and lower still, God is able to lift us up.

We leave our time with the Lord different than when we entered. We’re ready once again to face the day and face the battle. Our hope and strength has been renewed.

He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

Draw Near

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:19-25

The writer of Hebrews lays out the proper response to the good news of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Most Holy Place was the inner most room of the Temple. The priests would sacrifice animals on the bronze altar in the courtyard. Then they would wash with water in the wash basin. After that they would enter the Holy Place where the lamps on the lamp stands needed to be trimmed, the bread of Presence had to be replaced, and the altar of incense had to be kept burning. This was their daily work as priests.

But once a year the high priest, and only the high priest, would go into the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant rested between two cherubim. He had to do an elaborate set of cleansing rituals before he went past the inner curtain and entered the Most Holy Place because the very Presence of God was there. If he entered in an unworthy or unholy way, he would drop dead in God’s Presence.

But when Jesus give up His body and spirit on the cross, that inner curtain separating God and humanity was torn from top to bottom. Jesus became the once and for all sacrifice that allows us to approach God confidently with a cleansed conscience. Faith in Jesus is what allows us to receive the cleansing that comes from the blood of Christ and the water that flowed from His side. Because of Him, we can approach God with confidence.

So our proper response to this great news is that we draw near to God. We live with an awareness of the reality that God is already near to us. The Kingdom of God is “at hand.” It’s within reach. We only have to draw near to God with our hearts and minds to experience His Presence.

And we respond to this great news by holding unswervingly to the hope that we profess. Our hope is this: that we’ve been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus and not by our own works. Our hope is that even though we make mistakes, God calls us a new creation and sees us as clothed in Christ, unblemished and washed clean. Our hope is that Christ now dwells in us through His Spirit, and that we will eternally dwell with Him when this life is over.

Our response to this great news is to spur one another on toward love and good deeds as we continue to meet together as the church. We respond to this great grace by meeting together as the Body of Christ, the church, and encouraging each other to continue in the faith. We lay down our pride and admit that we can’t live this life of faith in isolation. We admit our need for one another. We admit that we not only need Christ in me but we need Christ in you to help strengthen me on this journey of faith.

All of these things–the drawing near to God, the living in hope, the love and good deeds, the encouraging each other, the meeting together as the church–are the proper response to the good news of the gospel. This is what gratitude for our rescue looks like.

Not Like The Rest

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Saturday.

Jesus is why we don’t grieve like everyone else. The apostle Paul admits that we will grieve. We should grieve. Grieving is a healthy process of dealing with loss. Not to grieve would simple push the pain down and cause problems deep in our heart that would leak out in the future.

Jesus died. He experienced death. He’s been there. That Saturday after His crucifixion was the Sabbath. It was the Jewish day of rest. And for the disciples a day of deep grieving (Luke 24:17).

We have to grieve, but we don’t have to grieve like the rest of humanity. Our grief is infused with hope. It’s infused with life. Because Jesus died and rose again, death has transitioned from a dead end to a blinking yellow light. Death used to be a “The End” slide at the end of a movie, but now it’s simply the Netflix countdown between episodes as we move from this life into the next.

This hope we have is because of Jesus and only because of Jesus. Death doesn’t have the final word over us because death didn’t have the final word over Him. And if we find ourselves in Him, we live the same victory He lived.

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57