A few months ago, I was asked to speak to a group of men in my church to tell my story, my testimony as it were. I’m reproducing that speech here because it exemplifies perfectly the name of this blog. It also is a cheap way to add a new post.
I’m going to talk about uncertainty and suffering. For those of you old enough to remember, I’m going to paraphrase Gordon Gekko by making a statement almost as absurd as his infamous quote by saying, “Suffering is good.”
In a group of guys this big, I’m guessing many of you are struggling with some kind of trial right now, whether it’s health, career, addictions, relationships, or depression. There’s a good chance that at least one of you is involved in an inappropriate relationship right now. That isn’t prophecy, just probability.
In the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, “It’s always something.” As a result, you’re probably wondering if God cares about you. You might even be wondering if He’s out there.
I’ve been there. That’s why I’m here tonight. Usually testimonies are given by pro athletes, fighter pilots, or successful businessmen. I’m none of those. I’m not famous at all. I’ve never won the lottery, sent an inappropriate tweet, or been convicted of a major crime. Yet. I’m just a guy trying to follow Jesus.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS is an auto-immune disease of the central nervous system. It causes the body’s immune system to attack a material called myelin. Think of myelin as the insulation for your nerves. The immune system gets confused, seeing it as an enemy and attacks it. As myelin is destroyed, communication between the brain and the various parts of the body is interrupted, short-circuited, if you will. This can cause virtually any bodily function to fail at any time. The disease is progressive and incurable. As a result, my life has become what you’d call uncertain.
Funny story: Long before I was actually diagnosed, I was participating in fund-raising bike rides for MS. Don’t you love irony? Maybe I should have been doing “Biking for Billionaires”.
Fortunately, I’m stable at the moment, but I could wake up tomorrow and be unable to walk, or blind, or incontinent, lose all sense of feeling, paralyzed, or a bunch of other Not-Good stuff. Chances are, one or more of those will eventually come upon me in my lifetime, but who knows?
When you think about it, life is uncertain for all of us, though, isn’t it? I have this sword of Damocles hanging over my head, but don’t we all? I could be killed by a drunk driver on my way home tonight. Another paraphrase, this time the immortal Joaquín Andújar, “you can sum up life in just one word, ‘you never know’.”
All this uncertainty should affect the way we live our lives. As I see it, there are two options. The first is to avoid risk and suffering and strive for security and comfort.
That’s not only unwise, it’s impossible. We all face trials. In spite of all the security and comforts that I surround myself with, they will find me. I’d argue that making life decisions based on risk avoidance is the riskiest way to live. A couple of my favorite quotes fit here. Brennan Manning said, “To live without risk is to risk not living.” In Braveheart, William Wallace says, “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” I don’t know if the real William Wallace said that, but if he didn’t, then the screenwriter Randall Wallace did.
The second option is to prepare for the inevitable and live with reckless abandon to the will of God. That’s what Jesus did.
Here are a bunch of reasons why I say suffering is good.
Trials are the only things that transform us. People don’t grow to be more like Christ by sitting in an easy chair watching CSI. My spiritual growth is not proportional to the amount of money in my IRA. In fact, it’s more likely inversely proportional. This wisdom is found throughout Scripture. And my experience confirms that it’s true. Since my diagnosis, God has comforted me, stretched me, and used me more than ever before.
So why do I still seek security over God’s will for my life? It makes no sense for someone claiming to be a disciple of Christ.
Handled rightly, suffering glorifies God. Saint Peter said that my suffering results in praise, glory, and honor to Jesus Christ. What’s more important, His glory or my comfort?
In suffering, we experience the faithfulness of God firsthand. When Paul faced a trial, he prayed for relief. God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That doesn’t happen at the beach or on the golf course. Unless you play like me.
Suffering is our greatest testimony. When we think that our opulence and comfort display the goodness of God, we send the world the wrong message and do a disservice to the gospel. No, it’s through suffering that we witness to God’s faithfulness. One of my favorite songs says, “My weakness is my testimony.” That’s a literal truth for me.
Finally, God uses suffering to prepare us for service to others. One of my favorite verses says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” The way of comfort is the way of self. Suffering is the quickest road to selflessness.
A few weeks ago, our pastor challenged us to pray during Lent that God would help us to surrender ourselves to whatever it is that He is calling us to. In other words to be willing to have Him lead us out of our comfort zones and into the center of His will. Those are wildly different places, but it’s the difference between a life in the Kingdom of God and a life of mediocrity and meaninglessness. As he told us, Peter didn’t know he was signing up for a life of trials and suffering when he started following Jesus. I don’t believe he ever regretted it.
When it comes to risk, I always think of this quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
By the way, sometimes, when we refuse to voluntarily take the risk God calls us to, He puts us there anyway. Before His ascension, Jesus told His followers to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. They barely took it to the end of the road. God pushed the point by allowing them to face brutal persecution. That made the ends of the earth look a lot more appealing.
I’ve paid that price more times than I care to admit.
When faced with trials, I always seem to ask, “Why me?” What I should be asking is, “What now?”
Guys, it’s all about Jesus. As the Scottish store owner said, “Everything else is crap.”
Whatever it takes to honor Him, to make His name known, and to please Him is what I want to do. Unfortunately, I think I’ve got spiritual MS, too. My head knows all this stuff, but my hands, feet, and mouth don’t seem to get the message.
Some people will rightly ask why God doesn’t heal me. I wouldn’t refuse it, but there are greater miracles than healing.
Through MS, God has given me the privilege of ministering to a subculture that I would never have come in contact with. They are my “ends of the earth.” I’ll bet you weren’t aware of the fact that this is the home church for at least five people with MS.
Another example: People with MS are supposed to avoid high temperatures, which can cause disastrous complications. Miraculously, God has sustained me through several trips to my beloved Haiti since my diagnosis with no adverse reactions. He even gave me the opportunity to share my testimony during a Sunday morning worship service down there. In one of the most beautiful acts I’ve ever experienced, two wonderful Haitian brothers – one of whom has since gone to be with Jesus – took me aside and prayed for me:
Meanwhile, it’s a day at a time for me as it is for all of us. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but as old the song goes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”