The Call to Joy and Pain

You know those times when it feels like God really wants you to learn something, so He keeps bringing it up over and over? My sister-in-law calls this layering and I think that’s a perfect term for it. Maybe I should add it to wikipedia on her behalf? This has definitely happened to me multiple times before in my life and it is happening now. It’s kind of scary, but also reassuring. Since the Spring of 2013, when our friends lost their one year-old, only baby girl to a brain tumor during the first couple of months of their first term as medical missionaries to Kenya, God has been teaching me about suffering. Here’s how the layers, at least the ones I can recall, have appeared for me.

Layer 1: The Kelleys, as mentioned above. Aaron and Stephanie both have a way with words, a heart for Jesus and are as transparent about their walk with the Lord as any could be. Through their lives and heartfelt blog posts, they have been such an encouragement for this soon-to-be missionary family. You can read his or her blog for yourself, if you like.

Layer 2: Lessons on suffering were all throughout my study of Matthew last year in BSF. Here are a few quotes and/or scriptures that added to my layers from Sept to May.

  • Matt. 5:10-12, The beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Our Teaching Leader followed this up with 5 reasons to rejoice in persecution.
  • Matt. 8:18-22, The cost of following Jesus. Being a disciple of Christ is not easy and requires sacrifice.
  • Matt. 19:16-22, The story of the rich young ruler. Stripping us of what we “need” most gets us closer to Christ.
  • Matt. 20:17-28, Jesus tells of his Coming Death. Christians are called to live a life of costly service.
  • Matt. 26:36-50, Jesus prays prior to his arrest. Daily prayer sees us through the inevitable crises to come.
  • Matt. 27:57-66, Jesus burial. God’s plan will always be fulfilled no matter how complete the defeat seems to be.

Layer 3: I found Nate’s Bible open to Job. He’d been feeling like God was leading him to study Job for some time, so he was giving it a go. If you are at all familiar with the story of Job, you can appreciate how Nate’s layers were overlapping with my own, only making it more real.

Layer 4: My mom had a brain bleed/stroke. On the night she was discharged to home, we had about an hour to ourselves. I began to read to her from the place where she’d left off in her Beth Moore Bible study before the stroke happened. Because, of course, she couldn’t read it herself, or walk alone, or do anything independently…yet. She was, as we all were, still amazed to be alive and so very grateful to God, yet still suffering. The title of the day she was on was this: The Solidarity of Suffering.

Layer 5: We studied James in our short, but effective accountability group this summer. The more I read and tried to memorize and dwell on the words of James, the more fearful I became that maybe God really was preparing me to “consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Here I go again, fearful, yet encouraged. James continues, “and let endurance have its perfect effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Who doesn’t want to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing?! I know I do, but getting there isn’t easy.

Layer 6: Our new summer sunday school quarterly came out. What would it be about, but suffering in the life of a Christian?! The gist of what we studied for 4 weeks: Suffering WILL come. Don’t think it’s strange. Don’t be ashamed. if you are insulted, you are blessed. “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (I Peter 4:19).

Layer 7: We go on vacation. Natalie comes out of the class she attended with a friend at their church and shows me her work. I Peter 4:19. She proceeded to explain to me what that verse means. Nothing like using my 6 year-old as a layer that’s hard to miss.

Layer 8: On vacation, I begin to read one of the books required for us by our missions sending agency called The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry by Ajith Fernando. Honestly, because of the previous 6 layers I’ve already discussed, I wasn’t too excited to read this particular book. I mean, how many ways can God tell me to expect to suffer?! And it was obvious from the title of this book, that not only was I to expect it, but He wants me to LIKE it! And not just like it, but really embrace it. So, I began the book and I can honestly say, I loved every single chapter. It wasn’t easy to read, but it was jam-packed with scripture and encouragement. Maybe the most important thing I got from it was this: Suffering should be expected. Those who have suffered, for the cause of Christ, have had such depth of knowing Him and have been given the blessing of having walked hand-in-hand with Jesus through it all. It basically summed up everything I’d been learning through layers 1-6. Icing on the cake, I guess you could say.

Layer 9: I was so overcome with the many ways God was teaching me about suffering and joy that I sat down on July 22nd, to be exact, and began to write this very post. Before I did though, I checked my friend Stephanie’s (remember, where my suffering thoughts began?) blog. What should I find, but a post entitled Joy and Sorrow. Apparently I’m not the only one learning this lesson, albeit a much easier lesson for me at present than for her. She wrote, “As I continue to walk out of the valley, I’ll keep choosing joy.” I pray that when my own suffering comes, I will in some small way be prepared through all these layers to also choose joy once and keep on choosing it.

Layer 10: Ebola and ISIS. Many people are asking, “Is this Ebola thing gonna affect you guys at all? Are you still gonna go?” We’ve asked ourselves the same questions, only we’ve added the issue of extreme islamic terrorists to our list as well. They aren’t in Kijabe, but let’s face it, the world is a bit more dangerous when you’re that close to the middle east. Nate and I have had many a heart-to-heart about what this means for our family. Watching the story of Kent Brantley, the missionary doc who survived Ebola has been hitting really close to home for us. Do you choose the road that’s “easier”, less “dangerous,” but neglect the call you feel from the Lord? Do you leave it up to someone else? We say no. We plan to go where we feel the Lord is calling us until HE tells us otherwise. And as far as my lessons in suffering go, these current events are giving me lots of real life to think about.

Layer 11: This is my top layer, the most recent layer. Bible Study Fellowship is back in full swing as of this past wednesday. My heart is full as I flip through the pages of my new BSF lesson/notes on the life of Moses. Studying God’s Word is SO much more effective for me when I have BSF, or any study really, as my guide. I sat down to day 3, the study of Exodus 1:22. Just one verse. It’s Pharaoh commanding his people to throw every Hebrew baby boy they can find into the Nile. It’s the Old Testament. You know, that part of the Bible that has no relevance for people today (please hear the thickest sarcasm you can hear through the written word in that statement). My continued study led me to Genesis 15:13-16, where God told Abram years before that this very persecution would occur to his people, but that they would also see justice and come out as a greater nation in the end. My questions to answer: a. How would knowledge of God’s promise to Abram have affected the Hebrews as they faced a hostile culture and persecution? b. What promises of God motivate you to live openly for Him in your culture and to persevere in difficulty?! Are you kidding me, God?! I’m studying Moses here. Moses. How can my 3rd day of study already be so significant to me? Hostile cultures and persecution. Persevering in difficulty. In order to answer the question, I had to come up with the many, many promises God has given to me throughout the Bible. Promises to be with me. To give me strength. Can you see how the layers are working?!

God is preparing me for something. Some days I fear it may be something beyond what I will be able to bear. But then I’m reminded of one more of God’s promises that “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (I Cor. 10:13).  Any temptation to desert the calling, to lose faith in God will not overcome me. I’m not the first to encounter it and I will not be the last.

Is your walk with the Lord heavily layered too? I have a feeling for most of you it is, whether you recognize it or not. So why all the layers? Are we really that hard-headed? Maybe so, maybe not. Either way, I think He just REALLY wants us to get it. For our own good. Not to worry us, but to give us peace.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”                                            – John 16:33