"Beloved, do not be surprised at the ordeal that has come to test you. . .you are sharing what Christ suffered; so rejoice in it." I Peter 4:l2
Jesus calls us to carry a piece of timber, that crossbeam which, to this day, is still an embarrassment to most. He asks us to bear up under the embarrassment that comes by being His friend.
Jesus knows that when a disciple first takes up the daily cross, he has no idea what he is doing. However, the cross must be met; Jesus knows that. It is woven into the fabric of servantship and cannot be escaped.
Therefore, in love Jesus watches over His grace child as he hoists that timber into the air for the first time. Jesus knows that the testings here on out will have to be bolstered by sheer grace, or the child will never make it home.
That is why there is such emphasis in the Word concerning suffering. From Adam to John on the Isle, we are surrounded by the brave souls in agony. The martyrs under the heavenly altar visited in the Book of Revelation are exclaiming to God how long such torment must go on. God reminds them that a few more will be added to their number, then the end will come.
We today are caught in the in-between-times of suffering. Therefore, the Word comforts by telling us not to be surprised when persecutions come to us personally. They are there to remind us of what Jesus has gone through for our salvation. If we did not have that reminder, we would become spoiled children of the kingdom. That can never be tolerated.
When the suffering comes to you, regard it as your ministry of suffering. That is one of the prized ministries in the work of the gospel. It is given to those who can be trusted with such a high calling to holiness.
The ministry of suffering gives God praise for His enduring grace each day. It also teaches one how to offer the poured out offering of selfgiving. Further, others are blessed when we are bearing up under the ministry of suffering, for we are able to tell them that we have walked where they are presently walking.
Take the ministry of suffering as a gift to be prized. Jesus is with you in the anguish. He will teach you what you need to know.
You also will be gladdened to know that the air becomes freer as you let go of all that would hinder your ministry. There are many foolish toys you grasp, even in the name of religion. They must be tossed far away. Nothing will be left but the cross and its ministry of suffering. In this you will come upon your freedom in Christ. You will define that freedom in your own individuality according to the divine will.
Right now, permit the ministry of suffering to be ordained upon your humble life. Take it and know the mercy of the Father anew. Take it and ask Father to show you how to console another.
Further, in this suffering ministry, we learn that we are not to see ahead of us. "Faith is. . .the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews ll:l) That is why Jesus instructed His cross bearers not to move into morrow. It is not there yet. Morrow is where only God is now. Therefore, we are not touch that which does not belong to us. "Thou shalt not steal."
Further, faith walks in suffering with Jesus without doubting Him. Therefore, we do not need to see anything that is future tense. If we did, we would not have to have Jesus as Yoke-fellow. We would be content in our own vision. However, that is not to be.
We are to be born into the grace family by faith. We are to live each moment by faith. We are to move into future tense by faith. We are to leave this sphere by faith. It is faith from start to finish. There is nothing but faith on our part. There is nothing but grace on His part. But faith and grace are sufficient in all things. We have known that in the past; we trust that for this moment; we will testify to its workability in the future.
Right now, be thankful that you are saved by divine grace. Next, be thankful that your life is not your own. Third, be thankful that you do not have to worry about future, death nor eternity. All that is under His care, not yours.
Therefore, you are at liberty to do nothing more but love Jesus this very speck of time. That is what you are called to do-love God with all that you are. He is a jealous deity who does not want to share even His gift of time. Therefore, follow life according to His rules, not the world's nor those that you previously bowed down to when carnal.
Right now you have the evidence of faith's future reward. The evidence is Jesus' presence. It is a personal evidence, not a thing nor event but the person of Jesus. That is the supreme gift of God to you-His very own person. He cannot give more than Himself. That is why He asks of you in return for your very own self-all of you, just as He has sacrificed all of Himself on the tree.
Therefore, consider yourself rich while suffering. You have faith. You own grace and mercy through His sheer love. You fellowship with Jesus the risen Lord. You will one day leave this world to see Him face to face. You have the company of the elegant saints who went before you. You are also privy to the forever promises spread across His Word. You are indeed wealthy!
Do not then look at the sight-tangibles of this life for your reward. They are passing. They are rusting and wearing out. They do not finally satisfy. They have no durability.
Pray for those persons who clutch them to their hearts. Pity them. Testify to those individuals of their illusions as the Spirit leads.
As one enters more seriously into the ministry of suffering, he realizes that God indeed must keep His Word. His covenant is without blame. "God that cannot lie promised." (Titus l:2)
Research Scripture to read over and over that God maintains His own holy integrity. Even when years pass, His promises remain.
God is not confined to time. Therefore, time does not frighten God as time scares human beings. We are uptight about the calendar, its passing, its press upon our finances and health. God is not bothered by any of that. Time is amenable to God, not vice versa.
We move out of time's imprisonment the more we understand the ministry of suffering. We pain with Christ. We know agonies somewhat akin to Christ's yet, of course, never at all reaching the intensity He underwent.
The more we suffer with Jesus, the more we realize this Jesus is not bowing down to time. Therefore, He carries us with Him into the peace above time. We learn from our Master Yoke-fellow. He whispers to us each step of the way that He is in that step. Therefore, the time element does not control us; He controls us and the time we are in.
Watch others deliberate about their time plans-what they are going to do next year, when they retire, when they get enough money. It all sounds pagan for it is pagan. Disciples sometimes get caught in that dialogue trap.
The cross carrier is consumed with Jesus. Jesus means everything to that one, including his attitude regarding time. Jesus instructs the cross bearer concerning time's place in planetary existence; that is, as time is to be judged by the earnest Christian.
Therefore, say to time as you say to wealth: Do not control me. Do not even try. You cannot hem me in. I am not bowing down in allegiance to you. You are a gift from God to me; I am not a servant to you. I will not be a slave to you.
As you talk that way to time and wealth, you will find that Jesus applauds you. He blesses you with peace grace. In that, you turn to heaven to thank the holy throne for His divine smile.
Continue in that manner. Wake up with that approach to the next twenty-four hours. Go to rest at night with time given over to God, money given over to God, your entire existence submitted to God-alone.
God has promised to see you through suffering to victory--spiritual winnings in particular. God cannot lie.
As you walk with Jesus in the ministry of suffering, you lay gifts in His hands. "Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven. . ." (Matthew 6:20)
He has gifted you with His blood. He has presented you with eternal life. How can you then love Him supremely if you do not return gifts to His nail-pierced palms?
You carry the cross with Jesus. He assists you in the journey. In this, you bond with one another constantly. When two sensitive persons maintain that close union, they learn how precious is the gift sharing.
Therefore, the disciple gives to Jesus praise. He blesses His royal presence with admiration and worship. There is a special need in making heaven glad by our gratitude for the gift of saving grace.
The cross bearer also presents to Jesus the gift of dialogue. So few earthlings talk with Jesus that when a disciple does converse with Him, Jesus is gratified by such fellowship. Talk with Jesus more immediately in order for your own heart to be happy and for your own soul to be enriched by His holiness.
In the ministry of suffering, we are to lay up treasure in heaven. Treasures are only put into eternity's coffers if the treasure giving is begun here on earth. That is why it is imperative that the Christian gives to Jesus now that which will be there in the hereafter.
Actually, when one bestows presents upon the Savior, one is placing into heaven's account the treasures yet to be for the disciple. God is thrilled to give; that is why God lives by His own maxim: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Note nature. It is ladened with the givings of Creator God.
Therefore, when one, reflecting the giving nature of deity, gives to Jesus in this life, Jesus simply takes all those gifts and puts them into the inheritance eternal of the gift giver here.
Make certain that your treasures in heaven are sincerely placed in the Father's throne room. Your genuineness here will guarantee the beatitude there. One does not give to Jesus here in order to amass rewards there; one gives now because one loves Jesus supremely.
Treasure here and treasure there. How overwhelming is the cross journey for the completely surrendered pilgrim! Learn how to give Jesus those sanctified treasures every day. He awaits your full heart.
In presenting your full heart, be certain that the heart carries with it the head. "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" (Mathew 6:27) This statement from Jesus has to be one of the most powerful that ever came out of His righteous mouth.
Jesus was speaking, not to worldlings, but to disciples. He was instructing them in practical Christian living while seeing through the ministry of suffering.
Jesus had just set forth the fact that no mortal can move into God's territory--tomorrow. Therefore, hands off. God takes care of sparrows and wheat strands; therefore, He will take care of his grace children.
It is then that Jesus knows that the thinking mortal will attempt to play deity. He will think things through in his own human planning for the morrow rather than relying on God alone.
Jesus then nips that in the bud by stating that ". . .by taking thought. . ." one cannot add one cubit to his height. Not one cubit. Not even a smidgen of a cubit. Thought in a mortal's brain cannot bring this about. No conjuring in the thought processes can bring to reality what only tomorrow's Owner can want for His disciple's ministering future.
However, we work against this divine instruction time and again. Our thought processes, we conclude, know better than the high divine thought. We are smarter than He. We can figure this and that out so that the life plan will come together nicely for us.
But it is not going to be.
Consequently, the ministry of suffering continues--first with us. We are ministering to ourselves. That is imperative in order then to minister to others. Our own brains must be brought in line with God's thinking. In other words, we brain-wise must submit humbly, yield, lay prostrate before him with our intelligences.
Yet God is late. We must then do something. It is time to up and doing for sensibility's sake. After all, are not going to be dullards. We are going to be the efficient persons everyone knows us to be.
In that we have broken God's heart. With that stroke of hubris we have set forth on our stallions to undo ourselves. We will have to retreat eventually. The awful pain of that retreat! When will we ever learn not to self-inflict suffering?
We will only learn when we realize that we cannot--by thought--add one cubit to our height. Not one. Only God determines how tall we grow.
Then only God determines the growth of our morrows.
Let Him do it.
J. Grant Swank Jr.