So I’ve written before about all the stressful things that are going on in my life; it is crazy hard and frustrating right now. I had had it with one thing after another cropping up without reprieve, and was wallowing in this despair one day recently when suddenly, as I was preparing eloquent complaints in my mind, I heard very clearly: “What do you want people to know about your life?” That stopped me dead in my thoughts; before I share my answer to that question though, I’d like to share this:
If anyone ever suffered for the sake of the gospel, surely Paul did. He was ridiculed, slandered, imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, threatened numerous times with death, and generally lived a fairly miserable life after his journey on the road to Damascus. Yet he writes to the Philippians (most likely from Rome during his imprisonment): “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul’s secret was trusting God and relying on His strength, in every circumstance, no matter what it looked like. Some people say faith is blind, but that’s not true at all. Faith does see, yet it does not rely on sight but on revelation from heaven. Paul went to Jerusalem on purpose, even though he knew terrible happenings awaited him; one prophet even bound himself up with Paul’s own belt as a prophetic gesture to the imprisonment Paul would face (Acts 21:10-11). Paul had a heads-up that after Jerusalem, things would not be so fun for him; and yet, in response to the pleading of his friends, he says: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul had his eyes on the Lord, and was determined to allow God’s glory to be brought through him no matter what happened.
It’s not easy to hope for what you can’t see; to keep your eyes fixed on the Lord and not on the trials. How hard it must have been for Paul, not knowing if this imprisonment would be to his death. We all hope for things to change for the better, and we know God can do miracles, but what if He allows us to be tested, as He did Job? What if He wants us to bring glory to Him in terrible dark places? To show the enemy that our praise and worship of God isn’t because of what we get from Him, but because of who He is?
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) faced this dilemma. When ratted out by malicious Chaldeans for not worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, and threatened by the king with death in the superheated furnace, they responded (honorably) to him thus: “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18, emphasis added). The three of them were resolved that no situation or outcome would sway them from worshipping the Most High God, even if it meant death for them. What if there is no rescue, no healing, no deliverance? Do we love and trust the Lord so much that we pray, like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39)? Do we really want glory brought to His name more than anything else? This kind of faith, this kind of living, is not easy. It cannot be done without the power of His Holy Spirit, His strength in us; it can’t be done without daily being immersed in His presence, falling more in love with Him, dying more to ourselves.
And so, as the question of what I want people to know when they look at my life echoed in my mind, I realized that I don’t want people to know how poor and miserable and pitiful I am, sucking the life out of every conversation and relationship. My spirit rose up in me then with a desire for people to know instead how God is always faithful, always good; how He is trustworthy, and gracious, and powerful, and worth all of the suffering there may be ahead of me: for the people who would see Him clearly for the first time because of His light shining from me, illuminating His face for them, and for the glory that might be brought to Him through it all.
Hebrews talks about how all those great faithful people of the Bible never actually saw the fulfillment of the promises made to them while they lived on the earth, but they were not dismayed because they knew they were part of something huge, bigger even than their whole lives; something that had eternal significance. This is what they had faith in; this was their hope.
This is why I am striving to be joyful in my life, no matter what it looks like. By no means have I even begun to live this way. But my heart and my eyes are set on Him, as I slowly let my own desires die, because really, my life was never supposed to be about me anyway.