My friend Mike Rehmet told a story about his wife Gina, who likes plants but apparently doesn’t have the greenest of thumbs. She brought home a new potted plant and set it on the front porch. As they were going out, he noticed the plant there, and said, “so – this is where you’re gonna do it?”
I was thinking about this as I read this passage recently:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,
7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
(1 Peter 1:3-7, NASB).
So, I just got back last Sunday from the Mockingbird conference on grace and suffering. I suppose it should have been obvious that you don’t go to a conference like that without getting a pop quiz afterwards from God! While I was at the conference, my host family all became terribly ill with some stomach virus; I just knew it was going to hit me while on the plane wedged into the window seat. Thank God it never did! Afterwards I flew to Dallas to stay see family and friends and to go to a technical conference, where I was in the middle of some serious family ordeals as soon as I stepped off of the plane. During that conference, back home at my job, we had a dramatic system meltdown, which was so bad that I had to miss significant portions of the conference so I could help resurrect things. Since I’ve gotten back, a few of us have had to work virtually non-stop very long hours to dig out of the mess of all that.
As I was sitting in the basement pecking at my computer trying to dig out of the Big Crash of 2012, with people breathing down my neck and even yelling angrily at me in some cases, Mike’s story came to me. I thought I was going to die to self in a glorious way, with a dramatic martyr story with books and inspirational quotes being printed about me! Jim, the great missionary to India, killed for his faith by Muslim extremists while preaching to crowds of thousands! All of India has turned to Christ as a result! Instead, I am asking God, “so – THIS is where You’re gonna do it? The BASEMENT, working, on a computer, alone?” It seems a bit obscure and inglorious. My various trials are garden variety yawners. No one wants to hear about this stuff! It’s so technical that I can’t even explain much of it to my boss or my wife.
So, I notice of myself, that I want to control my suffering. I want it to be noticeable, I want it to be celebrated. My flesh is more evident in my suffering than in any other place. I want to be noticed for my martyrdom; surely this suffering earns my redemption and significance. NOW God is going to exalt me and this will all be over! As I was working late in the basement alone last night, it occurred to me that there was no one there watching except God, and I’m sure He has seen worse. I was hoping for more drama in my various trials, which I hoped would never come but if they did, I hoped they would be big dramatic ones!
I am an important person to myself; my one life here is the only life I have to afflict, so I desperately want my affliction to really count. I can’t abide this little humble obscure stuff that no one cares about. I want to be noticed for my heroic suffering! I want it to result in the salvation of millions! When Corrie Ten Boom was dying, people were saved just by entering the room. She had lived through the holocost! Now THAT is significant suffering! I want to be significant, not humble! Come on God – THIS is where You’re gonna do it? Can we rethink that?
I had a major revelation about this a few years back. I was going to therapy for some depression, and I realized that I hadn’t given myself permission to count my own problems as real. Years ago I went to Auschwitz and saw what they had gone through, and I measured all of my own problems against this backdrop. I would tell myself, “I have normal first-world humble problems, but remember the terrors at Auschwitz; it could always be much much worse.” That is true, but my humble problems are real problems, and it doesn’t help to trash-talk the very thing that matters deeply to God in my life.
Here is the grace: I’m already tremendously significant. I don’t need to be a martyr to matter. I can cast ALL of my cares upon Him, especially the humble garden variety ones, because He cares for me! Good endurance in humble circumstances is a very difficult and needful virtue. If I am going to humble myself, there has to be some obscurity and humility in there somewhere, right? That is so I can learn that there is nothing I must do to earn His care, because my trials are only a tiny foretaste of much greater glories and pleasures to come. It has to happen somewhere, and so it must happen in the context of our normal daily lives. If I am looking for my suffering to matter to other people, or even to myself, I am looking to the wrong place for significance. It may look like nothing to me, but it means everything to God, and God is the ultimate audience who matters.
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,
7 casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
(1 Peter 5:6, 7, NASB).