The Religion Chronicles—Part 5: Fruit from the Land of Suffering

My second year in Seattle was awesome. I considered Seattle like Ephraim, Joseph’s second son. His name means ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’

After nearly three years of hearing almost nothing from God, feeling almost nothing for Him besides disappointment, and crying or going numb when I tried to worship, it felt so good to sing words I believed were true, to read the Bible and have it penetrate and change my heart, and to know intimately the presence of God. Death may have ousted life but life reigned again.

More good came from those years in a deep, dark, painful pit than I could have imagined. I recall the words of Jesus as he arrived to raise Lazarus, his friend, from the dead four days “late”: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Now, I’m not saying you can’t be a Christian without having gone through a desert, but I certainly wouldn’t be the Christian I am today without it. The beauty of Christ was lost on me until this protracted, unshakeable season of brokenness, a brokenness I pray all Christians come to know. God became the unchallenged hero of my story the more I realized I needed saving, a truth never clearer to me than at the end of those three years. Before that, the roles of hero and villain in my story were often muddled.

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Perhaps it’s because I met God in my brokenness that my heart breaks to see so much of the church looking for Him through strength. I see a rejection of Kingdom order as we try to be the wise, as we angle to be the first, as we cannot bother to be the servant to any. When we mistake a butt in a seat on Sundays with living a life worthy of His call, when we use our freedom as a weapon rather than a salve, as we strain out gnats while swallowing camels—is it any wonder the world cannot see Jesus in this?

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Were it not for those three years, I would have likely been shocked to hear Jesus say to me at the end of my days, “Away from me. I never knew you,” though my shock would not have made it any less appropriate. I would have pulled out my credentials and argued, “Lord, Lord, did I not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Why wouldn’t I throw my service in His face on judgment day, when I’d had a history of doing it on earth?

Those years changed me to say instead that whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. Nothing— none of it, none of the prestige, power, pomp and circumstance of that life—means anything anymore compared with the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. Take it all and give me Him. I consider it all garbage—all I once took pride in apart from Christ—that I may gain and be found in him. Better a nameless fool with Christ than a wise-in-his-own-eyes and celebrated man without.

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I bring nothing into this relationship but a couple spare coins of faith and pocket lint even on my best of days and on my worst, just empty calloused hands with dirt under my nails. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Loss, gain, suffering all rearranged in God’s strange design for his Kingdom of ragamuffins and misfits.

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I confess I’m a part of a generation that wants all of the glory of Christ with none of the suffering. I’m a part of a generation that sterilizes his death and reduces it to merely a thing to be consumed for our advantage but not entered into for His advantage. I’m a part of a generation that cannot become a kernel of wheat that dies to produce fruit. I’m a part of a generation that has forgotten the call to take up our cross and abandon our selfish ways to follow him. This is me. This is me when it’s more important to defend myself. This is me when I want to be served. This is me when I can’t bear to part with what is rightfully mine for another’s benefit. This is me when I can’t be misunderstood. This is me when I rationalize why I can’t help others pretending I don’t have so much more I could give. This is me when I cling to my comfort. This is me when I let others carry their burdens alone. This is me when I weaponize my freedom. But this is not Christ and the world will never see him in this.

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If our weakness clears the way for His strength, then the world will see Him most clearly when we are broken.

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