Take this cup

The gift that God gave to His only begotten Son was to crush Him. The gift that God may be offering to you in His loving hands may be a thorn--something about which you cannot imagine why God is doing this. Yet He is saying, "Will you love Me? Will you trust Me? Will you praise Me?" The Bible tells us in Romans 8:17 that we are heirs with Him if we suffer with Him. We become co-heirs. He wants us to be with Him in our sufferings. He wants us to understand the sufferings that He went through for us. Of course, we can never understand it. Of course, it is beyond any of our wildest imaginings. But we know that because of that shameful cross you and I receive redemption. I don't know what the gift may be that God is handing to you today, but there may be bitterness in the cup. There may be a thorn. Now when you and I begin to feel sorrow for ourselves and we think, "Poor little me. Why does God do this to me? I don't understand why God is allowing this to happen to me," go back to Isaiah 53:10. It was the Lord's will to crush Jesus Christ, His Son, and to cause Him to suffer. Why? "Though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days; and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand because He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors." ~Elisabeth Elliot
I found some of the most succinct and truth-filled words on suffering today at the blog of a fellow Christian who just died of cancer yesterday. He states that Christians going through great suffering must first "focus on being still and developing our relationship with God. Second, we can focus on ministering to others through the pain." (from Zac Smith's blog of his last days - well worth the read) Finally, he focuses on how to survive suffering well - concluding that we can
  1. Focus on our eternal destiny in heaven & the relief it will bring
  2. Focus on the surprises God has planned out along the way, and let your frustration go
  3. Be obedient and live in the moment God has you in: do not lose sight of today because you are focusing exclusively on the future
I would say that these three ideas are great ideas, but they are also extremely difficult to live out in real life! Focusing on eternity and the relief it brings almost always make the bittersweet grow ever more bitter, at least for me. I get distracted thinking about all that I will lose touch with once I die. I start thinking about the ensuing pain that will have to occur before I die (cancer isn't an easy way to go, especially if you are young and your body has a lot of "fight" left in it). Zac's second point, to focus on the surprises, can be a great distraction from frustration and pain. But sometimes the surprises are not what you'd hoped, and you wallow on in ever worsening disappointment as there is sometimes little or nothing to rejoice in the situation, and your rejoicing must simply be because of God. Because He is and was and ever will be, and you can rejoice because you know Him. Which brings me to Zac's third and final point. This, I think, is the heart of how to suffer for Christ rather than just because of Christ. By bowing to His plan, and finding out how to serve Him in the moment, we can be the hosts of His glory, as His sovereignty, grace and extravagance shines out from our pain.

Aaron and I were recently counseled that God must be trying to get our attention through all of the suffering and health issues we've had as a family in the past two years. We believe, wholeheartedly, that this is true: the initial cancer diagnosis definitely served as a wake-up call to both of us. Zac Smith talks about the same process for him and his wife: get cancer, be woken up, realign yourself with God, get cured, get busy planning for the future. BUT sometimes you do all that, and cancer comes back. Other trials crop up. Then you are faced with a situation like Acts 28: Paul, the thorn still in his side even after fervent prayer for healing, is busy healing others. Rather than focusing inward as a family, trying to determine what God is trying to do in our lives, Aaron and I both feel this is the time to focus outward - to minister to others through our suffering.