One of the greatest gifts I received in the desert was suffering. I know, thinking of suffering as a gift may seem a little strange. I’ll never forget the moment that I stepped into Dr. Reece’s office. When I showed up at Johnson University, I was broken and searching for answers. During my time at Johnson, I mainly kept to myself and tried to keep other people out because, at the time, I thought that would be the best way to heal and protect myself. My first class with Dr. Reece was Old Testament Prophets. From here on I am going to refer to him as “Doc” because that is what we call called him.
The first thing I noticed about Doc was his deep passion for God, but even more so I could see in this man a level of depth that I had not encountered in most people. He was a person who looked at you in the eyes and called you by name, almost as if he was able to see a slight glimpse of what was in your heart. My walls were not able to stay up around him. I was further intrigued as I listened to him speak in class about the sufferings of the prophets and how God used the trials experienced by His people as reminders that there is a land made for us far beyond the reach of these shadow lands. He referred to these reminders as “down payments.” I remember one story he was telling about a hike he went on and how his soul was so captured by the views that he could not help but dance. As his friend looked at him strangely, Doc explained to him that his excitement was from experiencing a down payment of what is to come. When the human soul encounters beauty, we are reminded that the world is more than mere matter and machinery, that we belong somewhere that was lost long ago. We are all trying to return to the peace and security of The Garden of Eden.
Eventually, I decided that I personally wanted to hear what this man had to say. I thought that perhaps, he could have some answers for the anguish I was experiencing in my heart. After telling him my story, his face lit up and with a huge smile and he said, “Enjoy your suffering brother.” At first, I did not know if I needed to be angry or confused. I thought, “Enjoy your suffering? WHAT?!” I realized I could not be angry because he said it with such kindness, and even though our stories weren’t the same, I knew that he knew where I was. That simple phrase shattered my world and sent me further into the desert on my quest to know the Father. A short time ago, Doc passed away. I deeply miss my mentor and friend and still wish I could glean from his wisdom. I wanted one of my first posts to be a tribute to this great man because without him, I do not know if I would be on this journey at all.
As the phrase “Enjoy your suffering” rolled around in my mind over and over again, it began to slowly seep deep into my heart. I started realizing that my pain was transforming my heart and my mind. My compassion for others increased as I began to feel for those who were experiencing some kind of suffering. Judgement towards other people or circumstances began to evaporate in the desert sun as I realized that pain visits everyone unannounced and uninvited. Forgiveness came more naturally, a topic that I am going to cover in a later post. Most of all, my heart was pulled closer to the Father than it ever had been.
Because of my brokenness, I began seeing a beauty in the world around me that I had not seen as much as I did before. Every sunset seemed to be more colorful. Every mountain range seemed to strike up a song in my soul. Even small things, like the blooming of flowers in the spring or the way the sun peers through the leaves in trees when you look up captured my attention. I was thankful for the taste of coffees and teas, as well as for the background music of crickets and frogs on summer nights. When I began studying the stars with my telescope, I found that I could not stop looking up at the sky. I started noticing that God was not just interested in the “big” parts of my life, but the small, seemingly insignificant parts of my life as well. He is not as interested in pomp and circumstance as we think He is.
All this to say, my suffering awakened eternity’s song in my heart, a song that reminds us of the Eden we lost and the Eden that Jesus is one day going to restore. Suffering reminds us that the world is not as it was meant to be and we long for the day when every injustice will be set right. Doc also used to say that the chaos of history is the meaning of history; meaning that every war, every government, every tyrant has been the result of man trying to get back to Eden without the only One who can take us there. We have lost the way back to Eden. Ecclesiastes 3:11 captures this sentiment well, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Every human being is searching for something greater than themselves, but we often settle for less than what we were made for. Instead, we choose to numb the pain with people, entertainment, or substances. We think perhaps that guy or girl can provide us the love we are searching for, yet forget that they are just as imperfect as we are. We think that maybe a substance can give us the dopamine rush we need to dull the pain and make us feel some sense of happiness, but we are left craving more as it steals from our lives, friends, and families. Or, we are satisfied to sit on the couch and watch the adventures of others through the television, feeling like we are in the adventure ourselves, when in the end, we wake up to realize we never went on the adventure our hearts longed for. In our hearts, we hope that the false promises these things have to offer will take us back to Eden, to a place where we belong and our souls are satisfied. After all is said and done, we are left empty and continually wanting more; as because of this, we fight, we steal, and we betray one another to get what we want. Consequentially, the circle of suffering continues.
However, it does not have to be this way. Suffering can be a wake up call, and a situation that seems like death can be an open door to new life. You probably already know this, but many seeds must die before they grow into a tree or plant. Sometimes, the pain can be so great that we realize there is no remedy on this side of life to repair the wounds in our hearts. I remember watching Lord of the Rings one time and being struck by Frodo’s words after he had returned from his long, treacherous journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring:
“How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep.”The Return of the King
Also, just a heads up, you will find in this blog that I will frequently quote Lord of the Rings. The books and the movies have deeply impacted my faith journey, as well as the faith journey of many others. If you have seen or read it, great! If not, go check it out because it’s definitely worth it. Ok, refocusing. . . Frodo left his peaceful home in the lush, green hills of the Shire to serve a purpose greater than himself. On his journey, he had been so scarred by the hardships he endured, he realized that even though he had physically returned home, his heart never did and never would because the journey had transformed him. He realized he had saved the Shire for others, but it had not been saved for himself. Because of his pain, he was offered passage on the last boat that would sail to the “undying lands,” the only place he could be healed. The journey had changed Frodo, and his soul longed for more.
Likewise, in Hebrews 11 we read about the “heroes” of the faith and the trials they endured while they were on this earth. They left their homes, their families, and their comforts behind to pursue the calling that God had on their lives. Hebrews 11:13-16 tells us:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
The writer of Hebrews continues to tell of the great exploits of these heroes and the deaths they faced, but because they were awakened to their true purpose by the pains of this life they often wandered as exiles and felt like strangers in these shadowlands, “They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated-of whom the world was not worthy-wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:37-38). I was struck by the phrase “of whom the world was not worthy” the first time I read this verse. Over time, the enemy’s taunts of “You’re alone. You’re rejected and will never find anywhere to belong. . .” began to lose their grip as I started saying to myself, “You’re right. I don’t belong here and this world is not worthy to be my home. I belong to Him.” Besides, no one ever changed this world by “fitting in” anyways.
As Doc mentioned, I began seeing the down payments and I started understanding what he meant when he told me to enjoy my suffering. I realized there was no “going back,” that the only way was forward into what the Father had for me. Through my suffering, I died and was reborn. I lost myself and found myself when I found Him, and I am still finding Him as He continually puts to death the old me. I entered the fire as a boy, and came out as a man.
In Chattanooga, there is a pretty large walking bridge that crosses over the Tennessee River. I have taken many late night walks on that bridge praying and processing. As I was walking, I remember hearing in my heart the phrase, “Your brokenness is the bridge to your destiny.” God reminded me that He is right there in the pain with us and never lets anything we experience in this life go to waste. NOTHING is in vain in His hands. After all, Jesus Himself suffered by losing His life, experiencing rejection, betrayal, and abandonment. In other words, He is a God who knows your suffering. He knows the anguish in your heart that keeps you tossing and turning each night. If you will let Him, He wants to peel back the layers of your heart and do a deep work through your suffering. He wants to awaken your spirit to the “down payments.” Ultimately, He wants to give you Himself, your greatest need. And let me clarify, this is not meant to be another post that says, “Well glory, God just allows bad stuff to happen so we can all be better.” When we are pain, well-meaning people do not realize how irritating those words can be. The truth is, we are never going to understand why so much evil happens, but what we are promised is that nothing is pointless in God’s hands.
Whatever suffering you may be experiencing right now, know that my heart is burdened for you and as soon as I finish typing this post, I will be praying for you. Know that He is near, even if all seems dark. This darkness shall pass, and in the end, our hearts will be awakened to eternity’s song. Enjoy your suffering my friend. May the Lord bless and keep you.
Thank you Doc. I love you and am excited to see you again.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.Romans 5:3-5
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.Psalm 34:18
3 thoughts on “Enjoy Your Suffering”
I’ve gotten so much out of your first 2 posts and wanted to thank you. This has been a God wink I never saw coming and am grateful. I’m sure this blog will help so many people as I’m sure it is helping you. God Bless Brother
You’re so welcome! I am praying for you as of right now.
Your words resonate deeply with so many. So good. “…a situation that seems like death can be an open door to new life.”
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