Today's run was at the Tobacco Heritage Trail.
While running I committed to memory a verse that I had wanted to memorize in Greek for a very long time.
The ESV renders it, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." Eugene Peterson writes, "Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times." This is the only time in the book of Acts that we have a message/sermon given to a congregation of believers. All the other sermons in Acts are to the lost. That shouldn't surprise us. The "preaching" word group in the New Testament normally refers to the ministry of evangelism, while the "teaching" word group normally refers to the edification of believers. When I first read this verse it put a chill down my spine. I signed up for "trouble"? And Luke has the nerve to call this an "encouraging" message? What's going on here?
Then I remembered what someone in a Biola chapel service once said. "When God wants to do an impossible task he takes an impossible man and crushes him." That's an unpopular notion in our egocentric era. Life is all about me, mine, myself, my comfort, my desires, my plans, my will, when in fact the Christian life is none of the above. We are not called with "me" in mind. He is the reason for our calling. His plan is the plan to follow, and it's often both surprising and painful. Haven't you found that to be true? The Lord breaks us down -- crushes us -- to carry out his will through us.
During my 63 years of walking with the Lord, I've come to know something of that crushing, though not nearly as much as many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. But I know of no one greatly used of God who has not also been wounded, deeply hurt, bruised, broken, crushed. It's just an essential part of his plan for us. It's called a crucible -- from the Latin word crux, meaning "cross." That's what the Father puts us through. If you are wondering if that's going to happen in your life, I tell you, yes it will, though I can't tell you how or when. He will break you. He will shape you. He will conform you to the image of his Son, and the cross will often be very difficult to bear.
Is it interesting to see that a regular part of Paul's teaching to new converts was the inevitability of suffering. Jesus too had plainly taught it. The thing is, God wants our whole heart. Not just a part of it -- not even the biggest part. All of it. For Christians, life is a difficult journey that is homeward bound. And though on this side of heaven the sufferings don't become any easier, there is a bright side. Those who live in the Lord will never suffer in vain.