Have you ever experienced suffering so painful or seasons of death so long you felt the you were fighting to gasp your last breath of air? Seasons where you’ve cried out, “How long, God? Have you forgotten me?”
Or maybe you're searching for reasons. Reasons why this season is so hard. Reasons why you’ve had to wait so long on God to break through with promised hope.
God’s purpose for you in the midst of your pain and waiting is death. This may sound unsettling at first, but read on.
Any follower or would-be-follower of Jesus must embrace the death of the cross.
Christ bids us to come and die. To our self. To our opinions and wants. To our being right or being entitled. To being served.
We are being conformed to the image of a God who is the Chief Servant of the universe, to the one who humbled himself to the point of death. And he calls us to the same - over, and over, and over again.
The fullness of resurrection life comes only as we beat the cross and it works its painful death to us and in us. No truer words have been spoken than John voiced, for himself and for us: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). And we decrease as God tests our faith and lays the axe to the root of all we used to be and the sinful nature that so easily raises itself against him and the holiness he’s called us to.
When you embrace the cross, it is not a one-time death. If you would die to yourself and become more and more like the resurrected Christ - which is to say as he takes ground in your heart that used to be occupied and ruled by you - you will find that even more death lies ahead. There is, over the horizon of your heart, yet more ground ruled by the self-life. Blind spots and self-righteousness you didn’t know were there. And our conquering king takes his rightful place, not as we try to improve upon our selves, but as we surrender ourselves through death.
When the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, if we are wise, we resist him and allow his sword to slash at our flesh and not our souls. In prayer, through the Word of God, we fight so as not to fall, and we let the heart-wrenching trial and painful circumstances he meant to destroy us to destroy our flesh, so that what he meant for evil God uses for our good of further death to ourselves and further conformity to Jesus.
This is Job’s story. God knows this most righteous man still needs greater sanctification. To go from a righteous hearer of God’s Word, honoring him with his blameless life, to being completely undone in repentance at a true vision of God himself.
Like he always does, God takes what the enemy means for evil and uses it for our good. That good is not comfort or ease, or necessarily any other good we might choose for ourselves. It is the good of conformity to the image of his Son, and he’s using all things - including trials that bring about death to our selves - for the good of becoming more like Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29). For the good of us decreasing and Jesus increasing as he lives in us.
This is our highest good and greatest grace: life, through death. You can waste your suffering, hoping for life as it was before your present trial, but God wants to use your suffering to bring you through it more dead to yourself and more fully alive in Christ than ever before.
To those to whom he’s given this gift, and who have been faithful with it, even more death and life will be given. You may find that after faithfully holding on to Him in the midst of trial that there’s another trial around the bend - that God’s even pointing out your faithfulness to the devil as a candidate for his attacks (Job 1:8; 2:3). He is not doing this in scorn. He is not doing this to put your greatness on display, but to demonstrate his greatness as he continues to work death and resurrection life into his children.
Believers who long for more of Christ and more of his life to overtake theirs don’t begrudge the discipline of the Lord. In every big trial and every little, daily inconvenience, we know that our Father in heaven loves us and believe this amazing truth that he always works everything for our good. And so as whatever sword he chooses to use penetrates our flesh - whether his own or the enemy’s - we cry out for him to go to the root of the cancer of self, to “get it all” so that Christ may fill the void left by death.
Lord, with trembling and faith and hope, we invite death to our self-lives through whatever means you choose so that we might know the joy of Christ being ALL to us and in us. Crucify everything in us that is not of you, and may we yield to your life in us, for the glory of your name. May we decrease over and over and over again so that you might have ever increasing access to live and love through us with your mighty heart.
We will follow you, Jesus. From death to death, and through death to LIFE. Amen!