Tag Archives: joy

When Suffering, Focus Your Faith (Part 3)

This is part 3 in a 3 part series on suffering and keeping out eyes focused on Christ.  You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

We have the witnesses, those who have gone before us as an example that this race can be won.  We have our focus, our eyes fixed, focused on Jesus not to be taken off for anything this world offers.  But we also have a joy awaiting us.  We could say that Jesus plays the role of both Witness and Focus.  Jesus is the ultimate example to us as to how to deal with adversity in life.  The writer of Hebrews tells us to be “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame,” (Heb 12.2, HCSB).  Here is the obstacle of all obstacles:  the cross of Calvary–the burden of man’s sin and the wrath of God’s judgment upon Him.  But Jesus was willing to endure.  “But not as I will, but as You will,” (Matt 26.39, HCSB).  Jesus endured a cross.  The word used here in Greek is actually two words put together.  It means to remain under.  It comes with the idea that a great burden, a great weight is being put upon someone and they stay no matter what.  No matter how heavy the weight becomes they remain under.  As the Getty’s said in their great hymn, “Power of the Cross,” Jesus was “bearing the awesome weight of sin.”  He chose to remain.

But what is even more striking is the very next phrase: “and despised the shame.”  You won’t read this often, but I think the New Living Translation got this translation better than the others.  When we hear the word despise we tend to think of a hatred toward something.  But in reality it is not a simple hatred that Jesus had toward the shame, but as the NLT puts it Jesus was “disregarding the shame,” (Heb 12.2e, NLT).  There would be a burden to bear and there would be shame brought onto him for bearing the burden.  Not only was He a man stripped naked before every person walking by, hanging on the cross as a horrendous criminal.  He was the Man claiming to be God incarnate, the author of life, killed by sinful man.  The God of the universe reduced to this.  The criminals mocking, “Aren’t You the Messiah?  Save Yourself and us,” (Luke 23.39, HCSB)!  The Jewish leaders laughing, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One,” (Luke 23.35, HCSB)!  The soldiers gambling for his clothes as He hangs just above them, scoffing, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself,” (Luke 23.37, HCSB).  The Father forsaking Him!  What shame he had to put up with.  Yet, it didn’t keep Him from going to the cross.  He disregarded the shame.  He took no account of it.  He endured the cross and disregarded the shame it would bring to Him.

He is our example.  But why did He endure a cross and disregard the shame that came with it?  “For the joy that lay before Him.”  He was given something greater than the cross.  He was given something stronger than crucifixion.  What joy?  The joy of God’s presence and reign.  He “has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne,” (Heb 12.2f, HCSB).  He knew the joy.  Paul wrote something similar to the Philippians:

He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross—For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, (Phil 2.8-11, HCSB).

Jesus died, and was given the name above every name: Lord!  Yahweh!  And every person and every thing bows the knee to Him.  He reigns!

And that same joy is ours: to be in the presence of God and to reign with Christ on high!  Jesus suffered and arose the victorious ruler.  It is no difference for all who put the focus of their faith on Him.  Jesus said to the church of Laodecia: “The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne,” (Rev 3.21, HCSB).  John reiterates that; He tells us that we will reign with Him.  Paul tells us in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians that we reign with Him.  Let us see the joy.  We must.  We must.

We must see with Paul who said to the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us,” (Romans 8.18, HCSB).  He wrote to the Corinthians: “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal,” (2 Cor 4.17-18, HCSB).

Sin will pull our eyes from Jesus.  It will bring us to feelings of guilt and shame and depression.  Difficulties with family and friends will pull our eyes from Jesus and will bring feelings of anger and bitterness, hurt and lostness.  Job woes will pull our eyes from Jesus and bring feelings of despair, helplessness, and anxiety.  Sickness and disease will pull our eyes from Jesus and bring with it a sense of worthlessness, powerlessness, and fret.  The witnesses that we saw before were not immune to any of these examples.  Yet they endured.  They persevered.  It can be done.  Is it hard?  Yes.  Is it tiring? Yes.  Are there times we want to give up? Without a doubt.  But the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.  Our momentary light affliction (and he calls it light in spite of how heavy it is, because the glory that is being produced by it is so much greater than it) is absolutely incomparable.

James wrote to the churches, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing,” (James 1.2-4, HCSB).  There are those words again: joy and endurance—the exact same words put together as in Hebrews 12:1-2.  We need to reconsider what we are going through.  We need to dive deeper than the surface.  The surface is all about the here and now.  It is all about the pain.  It’s all about the difficulty.  Reconsider what the real issue is.  The real issue is maturity.  The real issue is completing the work or as the writer of Hebrews would say: completing the race.  James went on to say: “A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised for those who love Him,” (James 1.12, HCSB).  Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.  He set aside present joy for present pain.  But received on the other side, a joy unspeakable.  We are called to refocus our eyes on Jesus, following Him, and so reconsider our circumstance as one that brings great joy.

So let us shed off the sin that tangles up our legs causing us to fall and let us shed the weights of the worldly cares that slow us down.  Let us endure the hardships and the pain and the suffering.  Let us remember the witnesses that have done it before us.  Let us refocus on Jesus, and disregard any shame that comes due to living for Him and not for this world, because that shame cannot compare with the glory that awaits. And let us reconsider that what we see is not what we get.  We get something so much greater than what we can see.

Paul’s Perspective on Suffering

If anyone has suffered for his faith and faithfulness, it was Paul.  Who can forget the list that he gave to the Corinthians?  “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger of rivers, danger form robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure,” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27, ESV).  Most of us will never experience these moments in ministry (and those are just the ones we know of for sure as legend tells us how he died at the hands of Nero).

In one of the letters he wrote from prison, Paul made it clear that he was thankful to God for what he was doing in the Colossians lives.  Paul thanks God for the eternal things in life, not the temporal: “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel.” (Colossians 1:5, ESV).  How is it that man who has gone through what we read in 2 Corinthians, and a man who is currently in prison for his faith, able to stay so thankful and positive?  It is simply due to his perspective.  Perspective comes from Latin (per = through, spectrum = glass, lens, view).  Thus, Paul simply looked through a different lens than we so often do.

For most of us, we tend to look through the lens of the temporary.  Usually suffering comes from a lack of temporal objects, whether animate or inanimate.  Paul looked through the lens of eternity.  While the temporal things were wonderful tools to be used, they were no more dear to him than a broken set of pliers or a bucket with a hole at the bottom.  Paul could rejoice in his suffering because his suffering was temporary just as all other earthly tools. Yes, suffering was a tool. Paul rejoiced in his suffering because it was useful as a tool for the sake of the body—the church.  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church, (Colossians 1:24, ESV; italics mine).

Our suffering is the tool for the body.  As part of the body, it may be used toward our growth and good, as is made abundantly clear in other parts of Scripture (cf. James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7).  But it also has to do with those in your local body or those in the local church down the street or across the globe.  When our focus of suffering turns away from us, when our perspective (the lens we look through) turns away from us and toward others (God, Christ, the church, the lost, etc.) then we not only endure the suffering, but we can actually rejoice in the midst of it.

If you take a look at Colossians, you will find that Paul explains his outlook on life throughout the whole letter.  Its zenith comes in chapter 3 when he wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory,” (vv. 1-4, ESV).

Christian: look to Christ.  See Him.  Don’t lose focus on who He is and what His mission is.  Christians don’t get to go rogue.  Keep your eye, your perspective Christ-centered.

Christian: set your mind on heavenly things.  Everything else is transient.  It is here today and gone tomorrow.  All of life is a vapor.  In The Sound of Music, there is a cloud about solving a problem like Maria.  The question is asked in the song: “How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?”  That’s what so many of us try to do. We seek to try and hold on to clouds as if they could ever be held in the first place.  It’s all a vapor, a cloud.  Set the mind to that which is eternal: God’s Kingdom (souls, disciples, the Word, etc.).

Christian: Christ is your life.  The home, car, spouse, 2.5 kids: that’s not your life.  That’s the American dream.  We were not called to the American dream; we were called to Christ.  It is fine if we have those things, but we cannot confuse those things for that which we actually live.  Christ is our life.  We live for him.  As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (2:20, ESV).  Paul’s life was about Jesus.  He lived with Him in view, and so the suffering was but a tool that Jesus—the one who loved and gave himself for Paul (and us)—chose to use.

May God open our eyes to see suffering from the same perspective.