By Whitt Madden
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)
Over the last few weeks, I've shared with our Sunday school class that it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the words rejoice and suffering being in the same sentence. In fact, I feel like I fumbled through the whole class trying to unpack the weighty truth behind this passage in Colossians.
Websters 1828 Dictionary defines rejoice this way:
To experience joy and gladness in a high degree, to be exhilarated with lively and pleasurable sensations.
Seems to be the complete opposite of suffering doesn't it? Yet Paul said that he was able to rejoice in his sufferings for the sake of the church. Rejoicing is a physical expression of joy and something that radiates to people around you. You can't fake joy. It's either there or it isn't. Rejoicing is an expression of that joy.
To think that he could rejoice in suffering is a clear indication of the fruit of the Spirit (joy), which is independent of his circumstances. Only a Spirit-controlled life can rejoice in suffering.
Over the past week I was reminded of the life of missionary Helen Roseveare and her testimony of rejoicing in suffering.
Helen was British medical doctor serving in the 1960s in Zaire, Africa. She was the only doctor in the area and her team was ministering to almost half a million people. One day while driving to a meeting, her supervisor spoke to her about the possibilities of success as a missionary and he told her the following:
"If you think you have come to the mission field because you are a little better than others, or as the cream of your church, or because of your medical degree, or for the service you can render the African church, or even for the souls you may see saved, you will fail. Remember, the Lord has only one purpose ultimately for each one of us, to make us more like Jesus. He is interested in your relationships with Himself. Let Him take you and mold you as He will; all the rest will take its rightful place."
In 1964, revolution overwhelmed the country and Helen and the medical team were thrown in prison and for five and for a half months they endured unbelievable torture.
On the night she was to be executed, one of her students came to her defense and was severely beaten. His body was kicked about like a football and he was left for dead. Helen was sick, frightened, and alone.
Speaking about this in her Urbana 1976 address, she recalled, "I wasn't praying. I was beyond praying. Someone back home was praying earnestly for me. If I'd prayed any prayer it would have been, 'My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?' And suddenly, there was God. I didn't see a vision, I didn't hear a voice, I just knew with every ounce of my being that God was actually, vitally there. God in all His majesty and power. He stretched out His arms to me. He surrounded me with His love and He seemed to whisper to me, 'Twenty years ago, you asked Me for the privilege of being a missionary. This is it. Don't you want it?'
"Fantastic, the privilege of being identified with our Savior. As I was driven down the short corridor of my home, it was as though He clearly said to me, 'These are not your sufferings. They're not beating you. These are My sufferings. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.' And an enormous relief swept through me.
"One word became unbelievably clear, and that word was privilege. He didn't take away pain or cruelty or humiliation. No! It was all there, but now it was altogether different. It was with Him, for Him, in Him. He was actually offering me the inestimable privileged of sharing in some little way the edge of the fellowship of His suffering."
Helen said at that moment she understood her identification and union with Christ, and that they were altogether elevated by her suffering. She was able to in that moment rejoice. She recalled the words of her Bible teacher during her last night at Cambridge University before she graduated as he quoted Philippians 3:10.
"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death."
He said to her, "Tonight you've entered into the first part of the verse, 'That I may know Him.' This is only the beginning, and there's a long journey ahead. My prayer for you is that you will go on through the verse to know 'the power of His resurrection' and also, God willing, one day perhaps, 'the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death'.
She had no idea on that night of joy how literally these words would be lived out in her life in the years ahead.
He walked into the recruiter's office with determination and purpose.
"Airborne Infantry," he said. "That's what I want to do."
The recruiter had no qualms. They filled out paperwork and within a few minutes, 18-year-old Richard Davis walked out of the office, thus beginning the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to be in the US Army Special Forces.
As a member of the infantry he was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., where he met and married his wife, Tina, in 1989.
Consumed with the military and becoming the best, Richard had little time or care for the things of God.
"I was living my own life," Richard, now 45, said. "There was nothing Christian about me whatsoever. On our dog tags they would put your religious affiliation and sometimes I would put nothing on there, 'None.' I would have no religious preference whatsoever."
However, he used the word Christian to describe himself.
"I said 'yes' to Jesus, I was baptized, now I'm good," he would say to people referring to a church experience as a 9 year old. "Now that I look back, I see that I used it as a profession, 'Yes, I'm a Christian,' but my life did not look like it whatsoever. I wasn't interested in God's Word, in His Son, or in anything that anything remotely to do with Christ, His church, His bride. I completely rejected all of it."
For the rest of Richard's story, download the free July/August edition of RTM Magazine.
I don't know the origin of this story. I cannot say if it's truth or tale. But it definitely is biblical. Today, many are confused on the nature of true conversion. This story sums up quite well what happens when a person is converted by the grace of God.
A young girl accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. "Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?" inquired an old deacon.
"Yes, sir," she replied.
"Well, are you still a sinner?" asked her inquisitor.
She answered, "To tell you the truth, I feel I'm a greater sinner than ever."
The wise man probed further, "Then what real change have you experienced?"
"I don't quite know how to explain it," she said, "except I used to be a sinner running AFTER sin, but now that I am saved I'm a sinner running FROM sin!"
Regeneration is the work of God in the heart of the sinner. The sinner is passive but not for long because the immediate effect of regeneration is a new heart evidenced by faith and repentance. Faith and repentance is the response of the sinner who is fueled by grace. It is the sinner turning. He or she is no longer running after sin but from it.
One final thought. Conversion is not negative, in that we are only running away from sin. It is also a running to something - holiness, the holiness that is found in Christ. The saint is not just about being free from sin and its condemnation, but also about being holy. Conversion is a positive change. This is not the result of the legalistic work of the flesh. Oh no, it is the product of the saving grace of God who supplants the insatiable desire for sin with a ferocious appetite for holiness. So, I ask - which way are you running?
Where is the fire?
Where is the power?
Where have all the prophets gone?
Perhaps my questions border the melodramatic since there are still men of God of preaching today, but not as many as in times past, and not as many as needed.
I?m writing this article in O'Hare Airport in Chicago. As we flew over Chicago making our approach to land, I thought about A. W. Tozer, who gave 30 years of his life and ministry to this city on Lake Michigan. It was Tozer who said:
If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation, it must be by other means than any now being used. If the Church in the second half of this century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the ﬁrst half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting. Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will be not one but many), he will stand in ﬂat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom. Such a man is likely to be lean, rugged, blunt-spoken and a little bit angry with the world. He will love Christ and the souls of men to the point of willingness to die for the glory of the One and the salvation of the other. But he will fear nothing that breathes with mortal breath. This is only to say that we need to have the gifts of the Spirit restored again to the Church. And it is my belief that the one gift we need most now is the gift of prophecy.
An aged preacher, dilapidated by time and travel, by persecution and preaching, and sensing he was near the end of his life, wrote to his prized protégé:
Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . . endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ . . . Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Yes, the old preacher was the Apostle Paul and the young preacher to whom he was writing was Timothy. And if ever these words needed to be heeded by men in the pulpit, it is today. The crisis today in churches require lion-hearted reformers whose courage does not outdo their meekness. Men who know God better than they know their closest friends are the kind needed in our pulpits. Brethren who have been tested in the furnace of God's choosing, men who have had their share of time in the wilderness shut in with their Lord are the only ones needed. These men have the aroma of God about them, and they will always be a people whose hearts burn with the same fuel as these needed prophets. They will gravitate to men of the flaming heart. Oh, may God set hearts on fire with love for God and a burden for fallen man!
If there is to be any hope of a revival of truth coupled with a passion for the manifestation of God's presence among the people, then men must arise with the courage to go against the tide of godless decay. Frankly, there can be no genuine move of God without both, the revival of truth and the experience of God. We have had enough of teachers who can lecture on the finer points of theology and split the proverbial frog hair. All light and no heat makes Jack a dull boy. It hardens the heart and makes hollow the soul. Heavy heads and empty hearts will not bring the revival of Christianity the world needs.
This is the hour courage is needed. But what is courage? Is it the absence of all fear? Is it a sure confidence of being right, and that being right makes might? In most cases no, courage can exist in the full throat of fear. It can be exhibited in spite of being afraid. In fact, courage is not the absence of fear, but the decision to act in spite of it. It is the ability to act contrary to what you fear and obey God. Most of the time, the man of God acts courageously because of fear, he fears God more than the frightful consequences of disobedience to God.
Don't you love it when you find a song that perfectly articulates your heart? This is mine and it has been my prayer for the last several months.
Oh the timeless beauty of Christocentric hymns.
Oh the timeless beauty of Jesus.
Take My Life, And Let it Be
Words by Francis R. Havergal, 1874
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.