Suffering Before Glory
Aren't you failing to understand, and slow to believe...?
I sat there watching him gripping the podium; every second required great effort just to remain standing on his crippled, paralyzed legs. Doubtless he was experiencing much pain and discomfort that he never mentioned—and yet one of the first things he said was, "God is so good." Tears came to my eyes and I knew the scene was one I would not soon forget. This man is truly a hero of the faith.
Was it not inevitable that Christ should suffer like that
and so find His glory?
~Luke 24:25-26, Phillips
Being able to hear Chris Klicka speak at the Iowa homeschool convention in June was a direct answer to prayer for me. The message he shared—made far more meaningful because of his current daily struggle with physical suffering—was exactly what God knew I needed to hear; it confirmed many things which God has been teaching me over the past few months. Along with the importance of praising God for everything, this major truth shines the brightest: suffering must come before glory.
It is such a common theme throughout all of God's Word, nature, and history—but it is so easy to lose sight of because, quite simply, it makes no sense from the human standpoint. Yet seeds must be buried before they can grow and bear fruit, caterpillars and cocoons come before butterflies, discipline and exercise before strength, humility before honor, impossibilities before miracles, darkness before dawn, sickness before healing, struggle before victory, and physical death before heaven's beauty. Suffering must come before glory.
How easy it is to pray, "Lord, be glorified in my life!" But though we are sincere in such a request, we often vaguely think that the glory will simply come into our lives like sunshine: warm and cheery and bright. Jesus says to us, as He answered the mother of James and John, "Ye know not what ye ask" (Matt. 20:20-23). If we are to share Christ's glory, we must also be willing to share His sufferings (2 Tim. 2:11-12).
Just what are these sufferings? Missionary martyrs come to mind, as well as those who stand alone as a "peculiar people" against a cruel and mocking world. But there are so many other kinds of suffering in life. Mr. Klicka's agonizing 10-year battle with MS definitely qualifies as suffering, especially as he has so heroically and selflessly continued to invest in the lives of others, at great personal sacrifice.
My definition of "suffering for Christ" would include any kind of trial that God has allowed in our lives, aside from chastisement. Cannot God be glorified in a toothache, a broken-down vehicle, financial struggles, loneliness, or any other "ordinary suffering" of life? Indeed He can...but only when we stop kicking against what He has allowed and instead see it as a means for Him to "find His glory" in our lives. Thanking Him is the key, as 1 Peter 4:12-13 (Amplified) points out:
Beloved, do not be...bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange (unusual and alien to you and your position) were befalling you. But insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, rejoice, so that when His glory [full of radiance and splendor] is revealed, you may also rejoice with triumph [exultantly].
I find it comparatively easy to say along with Paul, "For my determined purpose is that I may know Him..." (Phil. 3:10a, Amplified), but to leave the verse unfinished. In reality, Paul's goal was three-fold, and mine must be as well: "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto his death..." (KJV). Can you honestly say, friends, that these are your deepest desires, your highest goals? Sometimes, as in my life, a time of suffering and refining is necessary before one can answer with a whole-hearted, "Yes, Lord! I want to know You and Your power; I want to share Your sufferings; I want You to be glorified in my life, now and forever, at any cost." That is a prayer God always answers, though rarely in ways we expect or would choose for ourselves.
Elisabeth Elliot brings out this truth so beautifully in a selection from her encouraging book, Keep a Quiet Heart:
...there is no situation so hopeless, no horizon so black, that God cannot there "find His glory." The truth is that without those ruined hopes, without that death, without the suffering that He called inevitable, the glory itself would be impossible...
Suffering is an inevitable part of life in this fallen, sinful world. But, that's only part of the picture, friends! I'm so glad we can know that every trial is a vital part of the perfect plan which God is working out in our lives. That faith gives us the ability to sing in the darkest night, to smile through the tears, and to truly rejoice in all things. We must, as Chris Klicka puts it, "give thanks not because we feel like it, but because it's true."
And when we find ourselves most hopeless, the road most taxing, we may also find that it is then that the Risen Christ catches up to us on the way, better than our dreams, beyond all our hopes. For it is He—not His gifts, not His power, not what He can do for us, but He Himself—who comes and makes Himself known to us. And this is the one pure joy for those who sorrow.
John Piper wrote in Don't Waste Your Life: "Whatever makes us more and more able to enjoy making much of God is a mercy. For there is no greater joy than joy in the greatness of God. And if we must suffer to see this and savor it most deeply, then suffering is a mercy. And Christ's call to take up our cross and join Him on the Calvary road is love."
Our Father is good, far more so than we can comprehend. He is faithful, and He is always, always trustworthy. Hallelujah! He has conquered sin and death, and we can walk in that victory today, praising Him for all He allows. It will be worth it all!!
...we must share His suffering if we are to share His glory. [But what of that?] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!
A fellow pilgrim,
~Rom. 8:17b-18, Amp.
This editorial was published in the July-Sept. 2006 issue of Hidden Wisdom Magazine, copyright 2006, Abigail Paul.