Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When God Becomes Real

While in Bible college, I would go to the Prayer Room and beg God to become real to me. I wanted more awareness of Him, a better sense of His presence. On my knees, I pleaded with the Lord: “Let me know You and the power of Your resurrection” (Philippians 3:10a). At the time it seemed like nothing happened. Did He answer No? Looking back, I think He answered Wait. A few decades later, I propose why God didn’t seem real at age twenty – I hadn’t suffered much. Knowledge of Christ grows from “the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10b).
In the years since Bible school, I have experienced many deaths (losses). Loved ones have died. Goals and expectations have failed. Cancer has impaired my body. Every loss causes grief. But God is real. He is King of my life, my ministry Partner, and ever-present Friend. For me, learning to trust Him completely was a struggle – a series of deaths to self. I like having a reason for everything, but God doesn’t want me to dwell on why when I know Who is in charge. He needs my heart not my head. At every new hardship I must lay down my arms and accept whatever He does.
The reality of His companionship is a coveted by-product of fellowshipping with Him during times of suffering. That would be compensation enough, and yet He promises more. Sharing in Christ’s sufferings gives us the privilege of sharing in His glory. Grief here equals glory there. I don’t know what “glory” will involve, but I suspect that when we finally get the view from eternity, it will be worth it all.
If we have been broken-hearted or humiliated, betrayed or falsely accused, mocked or rejected, we fellowship with His sufferings. If our body has been violated or experienced great pain, we suffer with Him. I have friends who were molested as children. Innocently, they suffered like Christ and will share in His glory. Another friend has been widowed twice. She also buried both of her children – one from suicide and the other from an overdose. Her favorite Psalm is 69, a psalm of deep lament. Yet she has a radiant smile and evident godliness. She shares what Christ suffered, and she will also share His glory. Could this be one reason why James 1: 2 tells us to rejoice in “various trials,” and verse 12 promises the crown of life to everyone who loves the Lord and “perseveres under trial”?
From my observation it seems like the people who know God best are those who have suffered most. Compared to them, I’m a spiritual babe. But I “press on, so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ” (Philippians 3:12). Perhaps the best way Christ lays hold of us is through our fellowship with His sufferings. It makes Him real to us. Someday, partaking in His glory will be real also.

For further study on the relationship of Suffering to Glory, see:

Romans 5:1–5
Romans 8:17–18
2 Corinthians 4:16--18
Ephesians 3:13
Colossians 3:1-4
Hebrews 2:9–10
1 Peter 1:6-8, 11
1 Peter 4:12–16
1 Peter 5:1, 10-11

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