No posts in over three weeks? Six posts in the past eight weeks? That’s pretty terrible. I could claim that I’m busy or something, and that would be somewhat true. But it wouldn’t be a very accurate reason for me not blogging. My current narcissistic tendencies would be a more complete explanation. I’ve become way too self-focused these days.
True: I didn’t have reliable internet access here at the apartment the first month or so after moving in. I pirated a signal off a neighbor when I could until I got my own DSL service. So, that made it hard to blog from home. Blogging from work became hard as Web project pressure mounted high… and has remained so since launch. But again, those aren’t complete explanations.
No, what really explains it all is that the Lord’s doing some work in me that’s hard for me to explain and understand… and my flesh doesn’t like it very much. So, Mr. Flesh fights against it pretty violently. The becoming-more-so-but-not-very-disciplined me finds this fight a bit difficult and taxing. I repeatedly find myself in Romans 7 cycles, which drive me further into introversion, self-analysis and frustration.
I’m just now realizing this new season I’m entering is asking great discipline of me, relatively speaking (because great discipline for me is probably nothing compared with, say, Mike Bickle’s version of discipline). That’s the only way I’ll make it through. But it’s not discipline for discipline’s sake; it’s discipline of getting with God, realizing He’s the only way I’ll make it through and answer my call. It’s understanding the importance of and committing to connecting with Life on a regular basis.
Paul was so amazing. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours. Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things. They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither, but we [do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness] that cannot wither. Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary. But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit].
There are so many layers of things in those verses that I could spout off on…
The athlete comparison is so easy for me to relate to, especially after having successfully conditioned myself for the 1/2 marathon that went so well. I know what it means to follow a program and get the results the program promises to deliver. So why do I find it so hard to follow a spiritual discipleship program? Sure, there’s an enemy involved; we are at war, no doubt. But still… I know I’m capable of more.
And then there’s the focus part… Focus, purpose, mission, calling… all are so critical to living victoriously. Without vision, people perish (Prov. 29:18). We can’t walk around aimlessly… beating the air… fighting the things we stumble upon. If that’s our plan, we’ll likely never stumble upon anything. We’ll never engage the enemy. It would be like Robert E. Lee sending a regiment of Confederates out into the wilderness with no mission, no direction, no destination and hoping it would run into the Union and then be able to defeat it. That’s “striking without an adversary” and that’s what we often do.
Lastly, the part that’s most convicting: buffeting my body; handling it roughly, discipling it by hardships, subduing it. I don’t exactly do well with this. In the NKJV, Paul says: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection;” the NIV says: “I beat my body and make it my slave.”
It seems the Christ-follower has to have a little masochistic bent to him or her. Webster’s second definition of “masochist” is: a taste for suffering. The Christian life truly is about suffering—in a physical and emotional sense—more than we’d like to concede. It takes grueling dedication and commitment to get our flesh in a place of surrender to our Spirit. Take Jesus for example: the 40 day fast; the repeated all-night prayer sessions with the father; the full days of ministry, walking wherever he needed to be; the cross.
Paul was tuned into this in his letter to the Philippians (3:10):
[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death.
The sufferings bring the transformation. Jesus himself taught us this, by learning “obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8b). If Christ was called to suffering, we, as His body, are called to suffering.
Now, lest you think I’m taking an ultra-R E L I G I O U S approach here, know that I am not. I’m just coming to the mental understanding (we’ll see how deeply it’s sinking into my heart) that the things Christ calls us to are for our good. He doesn’t ask us to suffer because he’s cruel or because it proves our dedication to him (though He certainly will test our commitment now and then).
Suffering for Christ actually brings joy when we’re conditioned properly (Acts 5:41). We’re “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him…” (Romans 8:17). If we want to experience true love, we must experience suffering (1 Cor. 13:4). We have actually been given the privilege of suffering with Christ (Phil. 1:29). We’re counted worthy of the Kingdom of God when we suffer for it (2 Thes. 1:5). Perfect leaders are made through suffering (Hebrews 2:10, also Amplified).
And then there is the Bible’s crowning dissertation on suffering: 1 Peter 4, where we learn that “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” among a slew of other things. And we read that Peter would come to know a thing or two about suffering.
Poised to undertake a 40-day fast myself (probably a Daniel-ish fast, but most certainly a snack/junk food and idle Internet surfing fast), I’m grateful the Lord led me down this road of study to help me understand the benefits of discipline and suffering and has helped cast a vision for my next 40 days.
4 replies on “Telling”
nothing like a post on suffering to silence the commenters. jk. don’t forget that sweet graham cooke quote: “[God speaking] Yes, Graham, I do want you to die and I am committed to killing you…but sometimes, you can die laughing…”
Absolutely. I think that’s where the “taste for suffering” slant comes in. Kinda like Lance Armstrong; supposedly, he could do so well in the Tour de France because he grew to thrive off the pain required from training and the race itself.
I think we can get to the place where we do count it joy to face trials (James 1:2) and laugh when we’re going through refining because our spirit man tastes its eternal worth.
As Maximus quotes Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator: “Death smiles upon us all. All a man can do is smile back.”
Hey Joel, I saw this a couple of days ago but our internet has been down since then. Two sundays ago I preached on suffering and Treasuring Christ. Title: Jesus is calling, come and DIE! A call to hope (and joy). It is very interesting to me that you have been dealing with this a lot lately.
It is absolutely Paramount that we die, and I am very certain that when we do that is when we feel the greatest joy. it might be dead children-weeping-joy, and it probably won’t be “chipper” joy, but that only truly comes when Christ is our treasure more than our life is our treasure.
This is one of the best compilations/articles i have read on suffering, and I have read a ton of them lately. Check it out, the perspective is killer! In the best way possible. i was so challenged and encouraged by the end……ahhhh i don’t even now how to define a feeling like that.
Read it buddy, read it! read it! read it!
Dear Joel, I greet you in the precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I did a google search on 1Corinthians 9:24-27 and came across your blog. After reading it I had to write to you as my spirit witnesses with the revelation that God has shared with you. I too am in a discipline training session with God and I am constantly reminded of Heb 12 : 4-12 especially verses 11&12. There is absolutely no better way to grow strong in the Lord than through knowing the Word and then doing it. Simple but not easy! However if your faith costs you nothing it is dead. Remember that God is far more interested in you reaching the full stature of Christ than any of us ever can be. He vested His Son’s life for it and He will enable you all the way He only needs willingness & obedience from us. What a wonderful God! It is so awesome, this journey of the heart.
God richest blessings rest upon you.