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                    Longsuffering Love

 

All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Be Still My Soul,” published in 2003.

 

Whether or not we appreciate it, suffering is part of our life in Christ. In us, we carry the life of One who suffered---the crucified One, the One who was misunderstood, mistreated, and pursued unto death. He Himself lives in us, and He still suffers, in us and through us, as we convey His longsuffering love to the world. Our faith holds His crude and bloodstained cross as its central symbol. Accepting our suffering is a good part of what He means when He says, "take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21).

Often I am asked why I put so much emphasis on such an uncomfortable subject as suffering. I can only reply, "Because it is required." You can't miss all the times suffering is mentioned in the Bible by Jesus and those who followed Him. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Philippians 1:29, NIV). "For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:1 1b-12a, KJV).

The suffering of Jesus includes not only physical pain, but also emotional and spiritual agony. From the moment He was born in a stable and the world for the first time heard the voice of God wailing as a newborn, He suffered. As Jesus' suffering included the full range of human experiences, so does ours. I fall back on a simple definition of suffering: "having what you don't want, or wanting what you don't have." That pretty much covers the matter---everything from the grossest injustices to the quarrel you had this morning with your spouse.

I don't need to tell you that this is an unpopular approach to life. Our society has become obsessed with comfort and fun and personal fulfillment. We are accustomed to fixing things or finding experts to solve every problem. We get impatient when traffic lights malfunction or we are sick for too long. We are not legendary heroes or heroines. We are not gluttons for punishment. We are only ordinary folks who get out of very comfortable beds in the morning, brush our teeth with running water, put on whatever we like to wear, and eat whatever we want for breakfast. Our lives generally don't seem to call for much courage. We are so accustomed to luxury it ruins our day if the air conditioner quits or the waiter says they're fresh out of cherry cheesecake. We expect to get things fixed---fast. When we can't, we are at a loss.

Who can compare sufferings? They are unique as each sufferer is unique. "The heart knows its own bitterness" (Proverbs 14:10, NEB). We respond according to our temperaments. Some cast about for solutions, stew, fret, rage, deny the facts. Some sink into an oblivion of self-recrimination or pity. Some chalk it all up to somebody else's fault. Some pray. But all of us may be tempted to conclude that because we are uncomfortable, God doesn't love us.

Our problems cannot always be fixed, but they can always be accepted as the very will of God for now, and that turns them into something beautiful. Perhaps it is like the field wherein lies the valuable treasure. We must buy the field. It is no sun-drenched meadow embroidered with wildflowers. It is a bleak and empty place, but once we know it contains a jewel the whole picture changes. The empty scrap of forgotten land suddenly teems with possibilities. Here is something we can not only accept, but something worth selling everything to buy.

 

Saved to Suffer

     Jesus laid it right on the line when He said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, NIV). Although He healed every imaginable sickness and is still capable of doing so, He didn't promise to fix everything in this world. Instead, He equipped us to persevere through trials and to bear our scars with dauntless faith. And He helps us understand why suffering is necessary.

Let's settle it once and for all---suffering happens to everyone and it happens daily. How often do we hear people say, "I just don't understand why God would make So-and-So suffer. She's such a good person." Or, "Why would God ever allow such a terrible thing to happen to such a wonderful family?"

The apostle Peter wrote, "My friends, do not be bewildered by the fiery ordeal that is upon you, as though it were something extraordinary. It gives you a share in Christ's sufferings, and that is cause for joy" (1 Peter 4:1213, NEB). When we remember that Peter was writing his letter to exiles, we can try to imagine all the various kinds of suffering that were involved for them. They had been banished from their homes, separated from their loved ones, and cut off from their livelihoods, all through no fault of their own. Their children had forgotten the homelands cherished in their parents' memories. Some had died.

Peter understood deeply how they were feeling and he was familiar with the quite natural human tendency to be bewildered when you're in the middle of trouble. He does not deny that it is "fiery." He calls it an ordeal, which it is, but he tells them it's nothing out of the ordinary. It is what any of us ought to expect in one form or another, as long as we're following Jesus. What else should we expect?

Jesus told us we would have to give up the right to ourselves, take up His cross, and follow. He said we would have to enter the kingdom of God "through much tribulation." We were told we should expect a steep and narrow road, so why should we be so bewildered to find it steep and narrow? The thrilling, heart-lifting truth that Peter speaks of is that in this very ordeal, whatever it is, we are being granted an unspeakably high privilege: a share in

Christ's sufferings, and that, Peter says, is cause for joy.

Sometimes people wonder how on earth their kind of trouble can possibly have anything to do with Christ's sufferings. Ours are certainly nothing in comparison with His. We are not being crucified. Our burden is certainly not the weight of the sins of the world. No, but in all our afflictions He is afflicted. If we receive them in faith---faith that they are permitted by a Father who loves us, faith that He has an eternal purpose in them---we can offer them back to Him so that He can transform them. If, like Paul, we want to know Him and the power of His resurrection, we must also know the fellowship of His sufferings. The only way to enter that fellowship is to suffer. Can we say, Yes, Lord---even to that?

 

Our Suffering Is a Cause for Thanksgiving

Paul tells us that if we endure suffering well, we can therefore exult in the hope of the divine splendor that is to be ours. "More than this, let us even exult in our present sufferings, because we know that suffering trains us to endure" (Romans 5:3, NEB). No normal person enjoys suffering. To "exult," however, is an action verb. It means to leap for joy, to be jubilant. It is said that when St. Francis of Assisi was persecuted, he literally danced in the street for joy. He was simply being obedient to Jesus' command to rejoice when men revile you and persecute you. You can rejoice only if you take the long view, however---the view that sees the great reward in heaven. You certainly can't rejoice if all you see is the present persecution. "Endurance brings proof that we have stood the test, and this proof is the ground of hope. Such a hope is no mockery, because God's love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us" (Romans 5:4-5, NEB).

What if we aren't able to endure very well? What if all we have is pain and emptiness? What if, like the destitute widow of Zarephath, we have used up our flour and oil, and we are starving and fearful? In response to the prophet Elijah's request, the widow offered him the remnants of her provisions and "there was food for him and her family for a long time" (1 Kings 17:15, NEB). We too can "offer up" our meager scraps, our widowhood, our destitution---even that which we have incurred through our own sinfulness or foolishness. All we can give Him is that which He has given us in the first place. Although our "assigned portion and cup" (Psalm 16:5) seems to be a strange mixture of good and bad, it is all He asks of us. We can look up and rejoice.

Longsuffering Job is always our prime example of one who could convert the worst news into worship. A messenger came to tell him that all of his sons and daughters had just been killed in the collapse of a building.

 

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

 

"Naked I came from my mother's womb,

and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

may the name of the Lord be praised. "

(JOB 1:20-21, NIV)

 

All our pain can be turned into praise.

 

Our Suffering Is Pruning

I happen to be notorious for my ability to kill any plant my husband brings into the house. He knows what to expect. He says, "Where shall I put it so you can kill it?" But even those of us with brown thumbs can appreciate the fact that vines and many other plants need to be pruned in order to bear a good crop. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2, NIV). Besides guaranteeing increased fruitfulness, John 15 gives us other reasons for suffering, such as purification, refinement, sanctification, maturity, and power. Such a harvest makes us fit for the kingdom of God.

Once we visited Spain just after the vineyards had been pruned. The vines were cut back practically to the ground, leaving nothing but little stumps. It was hard to imagine that from those stubby remains would grow healthy vines bearing heavy clusters of juicy grapes. The pruning process makes us look and feel like those vines.

Miss Lilias Trotter, an Englishwoman who was a missionary to Algeria at the turn of the twentieth century, had no impressive results of her missionary labors to exhibit. She had accepted poverty and considered herself to be "buried" with Christ, her grave sealed, as she said, that nothing but the risen life of the Lord Jesus should come forth.

A group of Sunday school leaders (of which my grandfather happened to be one, and my father, nine years old, was allowed to go along) visited her in 1907, asking to "see the work."

"Our first feeling was one of dismay," wrote Miss Trotter.

 

What could we show them in an hour? And again, what had we to show Americans with their big ideas and keen business minds---no hospitals, no schools, little organization, and no results to speak of for twenty years' fight in Algiers. Then came the clue in the old saying, "Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle." We brought the problem to God, and bit by bit, as we prayed, the outline of a programme evolved. We decided to show in all honesty, not what we had done, but what had not been done, and believe in God to use the very weakness of it all.

 

The day arrived, and the group long outstayed the time as she showed them the maps she had arranged around her courtyard, "with their woefully thin firing line of stations, and the still sadder record given by tiny red flags of places visited once, and left again to their darkness; and photographs of the pathetic Christless faces of inland tribes."

The outcome? Before the ship carrying the Americans reached Naples, they had raised enough money to support six missionaries for three years. The Algiers Mission Band was constituted and from that time forward, Miss Trotter's arduous work began to bear clusters of grapes.

 

We Suffer to Have a Share in Christ's Sufferings

We may have been under the impression that the only kinds of sufferings that "count" for Christians are the ones that come because of our testimony for Christ. We can't identify with the experience we read about in Acts 5:41: "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (NIV). We recognize that martyrs share in Christ's sufferings. Paul certainly suffered because of his testimony for Christ.

However, all of our sufferings were included when Peter wrote, "to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing" (1 Peter 4:13, NASB) or when Paul wrote, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29, NASB). Most of our sufferings for Him are very hidden, not at all public. Our heartbreaks, our disappointments, our hurts may seem relatively trivial. Yet that's where the "rubber meets the road."

In the daily mail, I sometimes get critical letters. Even one expression of disapproval, regardless of how carefully stated or how many positive missives have arrived the same day, affects me, and I can't seem to stop feeling hurt. However, I can respond to such slights in faith. "Lord, you read this letter before I did. You know how this makes me feel. I give it to you." In some small way, saying that makes me able to share in Christ's sufferings.

Colossians 1:24 is perhaps the most definitive, and at the same time the most mysterious of the passages about our sharing Christ's suffering. Paul says, "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (NRSV). Granted, none of us will ever attain the stature of the great apostle Paul, yet I believe we can claim some small share in completing what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.

We are permitted to help fill up some kind of a quota. Whatever sufferings we Christians endure and offer back to Christ somehow help to fill a small percentage of it. Whereas many of the other scriptural reasons for my suffering are for my sake, this one is for the sake of the body of Christ, for the sake of the completion of the preparation of the bride of Christ. We, like our Lord, become broken bread and poured-out wine for the sake of others. It is only while we are alive on this earth that we have a chance to help fill that quota of sufferings. We won't be able to do it any longer when we get to heaven.

 

We Suffer to Share the Glory

Although I can't claim to understand what it means, I know that one thing I will be able to do when I get to heaven is to "reign with Him"---if I have suffered. Romans 8:17 tells us, "We are God's heirs and all that Christ inherits will belong to all of us as well! Yes, if we share in his sufferings, we shall certainly share in his glory" (PHILLIPS). "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:11b-12a, KJV).

When he was a young man, Jim Elliot wrote in his diary, "I shall not reign; I have not suffered." It's true that his life was relatively short and pain-free---up until the last few hours of it. From tapes made for me by two of the men who actually did the spearing, I know that Jim's death was not fast and easy. Another eyewitness, a woman who watched from the jungle, gave me a blow-by-blow description and verified that there was great suffering on that river beach. He suffered after all.

There is a mysterious process that goes into operation when we suffer for Christ. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17, KJV). A "weight of glory"? Picture an old-fashioned scales with two pans suspended on an arm. I can put all the troubles I ever had in my whole life into one pan, and the weight of glory in the other pan will still outweigh it. Those troubles will go up in the balance like feathers. This is quite mysterious, but we can believe that it's true.

 

We Suffer to Show the Life of Jesus

Paul writes, "Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus, so that we may also show the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours. Yes, we who are living are always being exposed to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be plainly seen in our mortal lives" (2 Corinthians 4:10-11, PHILLIPS).

This passage became very real to me when I was living with the Aucas in a little wall-less house. I couldn't speak to these people and they had no idea why I was there. My physical surroundings were, to say the least, something less than comfortable. I had to die all kinds of little deaths. I had absolutely no privacy; everybody knew everything that was going on. Two boys next door watched everything I did and commented on it, accompanied with sound effects, announcing it to the general public. I got tired of people coming in and taking down the one little Indian carrying net in which I kept my one change of clothing. The Indians, who wore no clothing at all, marveled that I possessed not only the one skirt and blouse I had on, but an extra set, which they felt I should give them. I lived there and tried to learn their language from scratch and endured the bugs and the bats and the threat of snakes and the food that was rather limited. It would have been easy to give up. But this passage reminded me that I was there to die daily---thousands of little deaths---so that I would be an empty vessel into which the life of Christ could be poured.

The photographer for LIFE magazine who came to Ecuador after Jim was killed was not a Christian. He could not understand why we were there in the first place. "What is a missionary?" he asked us.

I said to him, "I know the answer that I am going to give you is a true one, but it is not going to make any sense to you." He'd had missionaries coming at him from all sides, shoving tracts and books at him, and the life of Christ was not in those efforts.

He said, "Those people with their tracts will never make me a Christian, but you might make me a Christian with the diaries of Jim Elliot." Through the privations and death of a dedicated Christ-bearer, he saw the life of Jesus.

 

Thou Hast Enlarged Me

With Paul we can "boast all the more gladly" about our weaknesses, "so that Christ's power may rest on [us]." We delight "in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties," having learned that we are strongest when we are weakest (2 Corinthians 12:8b-10, NIV). "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:3-5,NIV).

There is a marvelous line in the first verse of Psalm 4: "Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress." The psalmist is not rejoicing that God has set him free from his suffering. Instead, he is appreciating the fact that his distress has "enlarged" him, as it did for Joseph in Pharaoh's prison, where "iron entered into his soul" (Psalm 105:18).

We suffer. We share in Christ's sufferings. We are purified. And our souls are enlarged. [125-139]

                        Longsuffering Love

 

All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Be Still My Soul,” published in 2003.

 

Whether or not we appreciate it, suffering is part of our life in Christ. In us, we carry the life of One who suffered---the crucified One, the One who was misunderstood, mistreated, and pursued unto death. He Himself lives in us, and He still suffers, in us and through us, as we convey His longsuffering love to the world. Our faith holds His crude and bloodstained cross as its central symbol. Accepting our suffering is a good part of what He means when He says, "take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21).

Often I am asked why I put so much emphasis on such an uncomfortable subject as suffering. I can only reply, "Because it is required." You can't miss all the times suffering is mentioned in the Bible by Jesus and those who followed Him. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Philippians 1:29, NIV). "For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:1 1b-12a, KJV).

The suffering of Jesus includes not only physical pain, but also emotional and spiritual agony. From the moment He was born in a stable and the world for the first time heard the voice of God wailing as a newborn, He suffered. As Jesus' suffering included the full range of human experiences, so does ours. I fall back on a simple definition of suffering: "having what you don't want, or wanting what you don't have." That pretty much covers the matter---everything from the grossest injustices to the quarrel you had this morning with your spouse.

I don't need to tell you that this is an unpopular approach to life. Our society has become obsessed with comfort and fun and personal fulfillment. We are accustomed to fixing things or finding experts to solve every problem. We get impatient when traffic lights malfunction or we are sick for too long. We are not legendary heroes or heroines. We are not gluttons for punishment. We are only ordinary folks who get out of very comfortable beds in the morning, brush our teeth with running water, put on whatever we like to wear, and eat whatever we want for breakfast. Our lives generally don't seem to call for much courage. We are so accustomed to luxury it ruins our day if the air conditioner quits or the waiter says they're fresh out of cherry cheesecake. We expect to get things fixed---fast. When we can't, we are at a loss.

Who can compare sufferings? They are unique as each sufferer is unique. "The heart knows its own bitterness" (Proverbs 14:10, NEB). We respond according to our temperaments. Some cast about for solutions, stew, fret, rage, deny the facts. Some sink into an oblivion of self-recrimination or pity. Some chalk it all up to somebody else's fault. Some pray. But all of us may be tempted to conclude that because we are uncomfortable, God doesn't love us.

Our problems cannot always be fixed, but they can always be accepted as the very will of God for now, and that turns them into something beautiful. Perhaps it is like the field wherein lies the valuable treasure. We must buy the field. It is no sun-drenched meadow embroidered with wildflowers. It is a bleak and empty place, but once we know it contains a jewel the whole picture changes. The empty scrap of forgotten land suddenly teems with possibilities. Here is something we can not only accept, but something worth selling everything to buy.

 

Saved to Suffer

     Jesus laid it right on the line when He said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, NIV). Although He healed every imaginable sickness and is still capable of doing so, He didn't promise to fix everything in this world. Instead, He equipped us to persevere through trials and to bear our scars with dauntless faith. And He helps us understand why suffering is necessary.

Let's settle it once and for all---suffering happens to everyone and it happens daily. How often do we hear people say, "I just don't understand why God would make So-and-So suffer. She's such a good person." Or, "Why would God ever allow such a terrible thing to happen to such a wonderful family?"

The apostle Peter wrote, "My friends, do not be bewildered by the fiery ordeal that is upon you, as though it were something extraordinary. It gives you a share in Christ's sufferings, and that is cause for joy" (1 Peter 4:1213, NEB). When we remember that Peter was writing his letter to exiles, we can try to imagine all the various kinds of suffering that were involved for them. They had been banished from their homes, separated from their loved ones, and cut off from their livelihoods, all through no fault of their own. Their children had forgotten the homelands cherished in their parents' memories. Some had died.

Peter understood deeply how they were feeling and he was familiar with the quite natural human tendency to be bewildered when you're in the middle of trouble. He does not deny that it is "fiery." He calls it an ordeal, which it is, but he tells them it's nothing out of the ordinary. It is what any of us ought to expect in one form or another, as long as we're following Jesus. What else should we expect?

Jesus told us we would have to give up the right to ourselves, take up His cross, and follow. He said we would have to enter the kingdom of God "through much tribulation." We were told we should expect a steep and narrow road, so why should we be so bewildered to find it steep and narrow? The thrilling, heart-lifting truth that Peter speaks of is that in this very ordeal, whatever it is, we are being granted an unspeakably high privilege: a share in

Christ's sufferings, and that, Peter says, is cause for joy.

Sometimes people wonder how on earth their kind of trouble can possibly have anything to do with Christ's sufferings. Ours are certainly nothing in comparison with His. We are not being crucified. Our burden is certainly not the weight of the sins of the world. No, but in all our afflictions He is afflicted. If we receive them in faith---faith that they are permitted by a Father who loves us, faith that He has an eternal purpose in them---we can offer them back to Him so that He can transform them. If, like Paul, we want to know Him and the power of His resurrection, we must also know the fellowship of His sufferings. The only way to enter that fellowship is to suffer. Can we say, Yes, Lord---even to that?

 

Our Suffering Is a Cause for Thanksgiving

Paul tells us that if we endure suffering well, we can therefore exult in the hope of the divine splendor that is to be ours. "More than this, let us even exult in our present sufferings, because we know that suffering trains us to endure" (Romans 5:3, NEB). No normal person enjoys suffering. To "exult," however, is an action verb. It means to leap for joy, to be jubilant. It is said that when St. Francis of Assisi was persecuted, he literally danced in the street for joy. He was simply being obedient to Jesus' command to rejoice when men revile you and persecute you. You can rejoice only if you take the long view, however---the view that sees the great reward in heaven. You certainly can't rejoice if all you see is the present persecution. "Endurance brings proof that we have stood the test, and this proof is the ground of hope. Such a hope is no mockery, because God's love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us" (Romans 5:4-5, NEB).

What if we aren't able to endure very well? What if all we have is pain and emptiness? What if, like the destitute widow of Zarephath, we have used up our flour and oil, and we are starving and fearful? In response to the prophet Elijah's request, the widow offered him the remnants of her provisions and "there was food for him and her family for a long time" (1 Kings 17:15, NEB). We too can "offer up" our meager scraps, our widowhood, our destitution---even that which we have incurred through our own sinfulness or foolishness. All we can give Him is that which He has given us in the first place. Although our "assigned portion and cup" (Psalm 16:5) seems to be a strange mixture of good and bad, it is all He asks of us. We can look up and rejoice.

Longsuffering Job is always our prime example of one who could convert the worst news into worship. A messenger came to tell him that all of his sons and daughters had just been killed in the collapse of a building.

 

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

 

"Naked I came from my mother's womb,

and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

may the name of the Lord be praised. "

(JOB 1:20-21, NIV)

 

All our pain can be turned into praise.

 

Our Suffering Is Pruning

I happen to be notorious for my ability to kill any plant my husband brings into the house. He knows what to expect. He says, "Where shall I put it so you can kill it?" But even those of us with brown thumbs can appreciate the fact that vines and many other plants need to be pruned in order to bear a good crop. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2, NIV). Besides guaranteeing increased fruitfulness, John 15 gives us other reasons for suffering, such as purification, refinement, sanctification, maturity, and power. Such a harvest makes us fit for the kingdom of God.

Once we visited Spain just after the vineyards had been pruned. The vines were cut back practically to the ground, leaving nothing but little stumps. It was hard to imagine that from those stubby remains would grow healthy vines bearing heavy clusters of juicy grapes. The pruning process makes us look and feel like those vines.

Miss Lilias Trotter, an Englishwoman who was a missionary to Algeria at the turn of the twentieth century, had no impressive results of her missionary labors to exhibit. She had accepted poverty and considered herself to be "buried" with Christ, her grave sealed, as she said, that nothing but the risen life of the Lord Jesus should come forth.

A group of Sunday school leaders (of which my grandfather happened to be one, and my father, nine years old, was allowed to go along) visited her in 1907, asking to "see the work."

"Our first feeling was one of dismay," wrote Miss Trotter.

 

What could we show them in an hour? And again, what had we to show Americans with their big ideas and keen business minds---no hospitals, no schools, little organization, and no results to speak of for twenty years' fight in Algiers. Then came the clue in the old saying, "Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle." We brought the problem to God, and bit by bit, as we prayed, the outline of a programme evolved. We decided to show in all honesty, not what we had done, but what had not been done, and believe in God to use the very weakness of it all.

 

The day arrived, and the group long outstayed the time as she showed them the maps she had arranged around her courtyard, "with their woefully thin firing line of stations, and the still sadder record given by tiny red flags of places visited once, and left again to their darkness; and photographs of the pathetic Christless faces of inland tribes."

The outcome? Before the ship carrying the Americans reached Naples, they had raised enough money to support six missionaries for three years. The Algiers Mission Band was constituted and from that time forward, Miss Trotter's arduous work began to bear clusters of grapes.

 

We Suffer to Have a Share in Christ's Sufferings

We may have been under the impression that the only kinds of sufferings that "count" for Christians are the ones that come because of our testimony for Christ. We can't identify with the experience we read about in Acts 5:41: "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (NIV). We recognize that martyrs share in Christ's sufferings. Paul certainly suffered because of his testimony for Christ.

However, all of our sufferings were included when Peter wrote, "to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing" (1 Peter 4:13, NASB) or when Paul wrote, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29, NASB). Most of our sufferings for Him are very hidden, not at all public. Our heartbreaks, our disappointments, our hurts may seem relatively trivial. Yet that's where the "rubber meets the road."

In the daily mail, I sometimes get critical letters. Even one expression of disapproval, regardless of how carefully stated or how many positive missives have arrived the same day, affects me, and I can't seem to stop feeling hurt. However, I can respond to such slights in faith. "Lord, you read this letter before I did. You know how this makes me feel. I give it to you." In some small way, saying that makes me able to share in Christ's sufferings.

Colossians 1:24 is perhaps the most definitive, and at the same time the most mysterious of the passages about our sharing Christ's suffering. Paul says, "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (NRSV). Granted, none of us will ever attain the stature of the great apostle Paul, yet I believe we can claim some small share in completing what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.

We are permitted to help fill up some kind of a quota. Whatever sufferings we Christians endure and offer back to Christ somehow help to fill a small percentage of it. Whereas many of the other scriptural reasons for my suffering are for my sake, this one is for the sake of the body of Christ, for the sake of the completion of the preparation of the bride of Christ. We, like our Lord, become broken bread and poured-out wine for the sake of others. It is only while we are alive on this earth that we have a chance to help fill that quota of sufferings. We won't be able to do it any longer when we get to heaven.

 

We Suffer to Share the Glory

Although I can't claim to understand what it means, I know that one thing I will be able to do when I get to heaven is to "reign with Him"---if I have suffered. Romans 8:17 tells us, "We are God's heirs and all that Christ inherits will belong to all of us as well! Yes, if we share in his sufferings, we shall certainly share in his glory" (PHILLIPS). "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:11b-12a, KJV).

When he was a young man, Jim Elliot wrote in his diary, "I shall not reign; I have not suffered." It's true that his life was relatively short and pain-free---up until the last few hours of it. From tapes made for me by two of the men who actually did the spearing, I know that Jim's death was not fast and easy. Another eyewitness, a woman who watched from the jungle, gave me a blow-by-blow description and verified that there was great suffering on that river beach. He suffered after all.

There is a mysterious process that goes into operation when we suffer for Christ. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17, KJV). A "weight of glory"? Picture an old-fashioned scales with two pans suspended on an arm. I can put all the troubles I ever had in my whole life into one pan, and the weight of glory in the other pan will still outweigh it. Those troubles will go up in the balance like feathers. This is quite mysterious, but we can believe that it's true.

 

We Suffer to Show the Life of Jesus

Paul writes, "Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus, so that we may also show the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours. Yes, we who are living are always being exposed to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be plainly seen in our mortal lives" (2 Corinthians 4:10-11, PHILLIPS).

This passage became very real to me when I was living with the Aucas in a little wall-less house. I couldn't speak to these people and they had no idea why I was there. My physical surroundings were, to say the least, something less than comfortable. I had to die all kinds of little deaths. I had absolutely no privacy; everybody knew everything that was going on. Two boys next door watched everything I did and commented on it, accompanied with sound effects, announcing it to the general public. I got tired of people coming in and taking down the one little Indian carrying net in which I kept my one change of clothing. The Indians, who wore no clothing at all, marveled that I possessed not only the one skirt and blouse I had on, but an extra set, which they felt I should give them. I lived there and tried to learn their language from scratch and endured the bugs and the bats and the threat of snakes and the food that was rather limited. It would have been easy to give up. But this passage reminded me that I was there to die daily---thousands of little deaths---so that I would be an empty vessel into which the life of Christ could be poured.

The photographer for LIFE magazine who came to Ecuador after Jim was killed was not a Christian. He could not understand why we were there in the first place. "What is a missionary?" he asked us.

I said to him, "I know the answer that I am going to give you is a true one, but it is not going to make any sense to you." He'd had missionaries coming at him from all sides, shoving tracts and books at him, and the life of Christ was not in those efforts.

He said, "Those people with their tracts will never make me a Christian, but you might make me a Christian with the diaries of Jim Elliot." Through the privations and death of a dedicated Christ-bearer, he saw the life of Jesus.

 

Thou Hast Enlarged Me

With Paul we can "boast all the more gladly" about our weaknesses, "so that Christ's power may rest on [us]." We delight "in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties," having learned that we are strongest when we are weakest (2 Corinthians 12:8b-10, NIV). "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:3-5,NIV).

There is a marvelous line in the first verse of Psalm 4: "Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress." The psalmist is not rejoicing that God has set him free from his suffering. Instead, he is appreciating the fact that his distress has "enlarged" him, as it did for Joseph in Pharaoh's prison, where "iron entered into his soul" (Psalm 105:18).

We suffer. We share in Christ's sufferings. We are purified. And our souls are enlarged. [125-139]

 

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