Friday, 13 June 2008

The Call to Joy and Pain

I've thought a lot recently about the call to suffer. Pondering treasuring Christ in the call to suffer. Chewing over the fact that it is in sharing in Christ's sufferings that Paul expects to know God's resurrection power at work in him - not in his times of exciting ministry (though they're not mutually exclusive).

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [Philippians 3.8-11]
Ajith Fernando teaches very helpfully on the call to joy and pain in the book of that title by IVP. It confirmed for me much of what I've been chewing over, especially in combining those calls: it seems paradoxical! A while ago Mo raised a query with Piper's "Christian hedonism", with which I sympathised:

"Experientially there is sometimes joy in obeying God. But sometimes not. Jesus
expressed loud groans to God when facing death. Particularly, I don’t know how
the command often expressed by Christian Hedonists to pursue one’s own joy as
hard as you can fits in with the command to deny yourself, which is key to
repentance. Denying yourself is sometimes not joyful, and surely actually means
that the heart of Christian discipleship is NOT doing what will bring you most
joy but denying yourself that."
And Fernando speaks of dying - how often graduates look for ministry in which to be successful, as they're not prepared to die. Not that we're not prepared to be martyred: but are we prepared to die to self, to comfort, to security, to affirmation, to appreciation, to fruit in service, to... take up our cross and follow Christ? This reminded me of a biography of Amy Carmichael, by Elizabeth Elliot: A Chance to Die (very much worth reading). Ajith helpfully speaks of this call to pain together with the call to joy, in a way which reminded me not of Piper's books so much as his sermons on Hebrews, to which I listened while in Belgium, which kept reminding me to keep with Christ and die to self. I'm not entirely sure that we should pursue joy any more than we should pursue pain, yet in pursuing Christ both are inevitable gifts and not to be resented, as we treasure Christ.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. [Heb. 10.32-39]

I recommend both books.

1 comment:

John said...

Those sound like good books.

I can understand the trouble with 'Christian hedonism.' I don't like the term. But Piper will be the first to call us to be willing to suffer. It is one of his most common themes. Concerning joy, he would say that we are to find joy in Christ even in the midst of suffering.

The martyrs that burned at the stake sang hymns. They were suffering, yet there was an inner joy that came from knowing Christ. That's what Piper means.

I heard him recently say this: "You crash into a wall going __ miles an hour, and your little three year old baby is laying dead on the street. And in your grief you say, 'God is enough. God is enough.'" That's Christian hedonism. It's not exclusive of suffering.

And you're right. It's easier to be willing to die than to die to self while living. May God grant us the grace to do both.