When I read this quote this morning, I thought it would be the perfect spring board for some thoughts on difficulty. It is hard in this day and age to not hear about, read about or personally experience difficulty. We have televisions, radios, computers, i-pads and phones keeping us aware, 24/7, of the pain and suffering going on in the world. Every time I get into my Yahoo email account I go through the home news page. The headlines are often sad, disturbing and even a little shocking.
I don't know where you are at, but I don't need to read the headlines to understand pain and suffering. Each of us has a load to bear, a burden that seems to be permanently attached to our backs, much like the one Pilgrim had when he started his journey towards the celestial city. When I read Oswald's words in the above quote, I think, "What? Seriously?"
I have never thought of suffering as something to delight in! Grin and bear, struggle through, rant and cry, fall on my face....maybe, but delight? I don't think so. We might think that Oswald didn't get it, but he did. He served with the YMCA as a chaplain after the start of WWI in Cairo Egypt. He saw devastation, pain and suffering all around him. Oswald knew life was tragic. Yet, he was able to say that we should delight in difficulty.
Is it scriptural? Read what Paul says.
I am sure these verses came to mind when Oswald preached on suffering. There are several things in this passage I would like to point out.
1. We are but dust. The treasure of the Gospel was entrusted to us. Salvation is given to us. From the beginning when God breathed life into dust, He knew that His most precious possession would one day be kept in clay pots. Clay pots can be busted, broken and ground back into dust. We are just that fragile.
2. He is but God. It is His surpassing power and His greatness that formed the clay pot in the first place. It is His strength and might that enables the pot to hold the precious treasure of the Gospel. We would not have life, if it were not for Him.
3. For every negative there is a positive. Look at the next few lines of this passage.
Afflicted.....BUT NOT crushed.
Perplexed...BUT NOT despairing.
Persecuted...BUT NOT forsaken.
Struck down...BUT NOT destroyed.
There is no doubt that affliction can cause us to feel crushed. Perplexity can create despair. Persecution can cause us to feel forsaken. Being struck down can make us feel as though we will never get up again. But God!
4. We are dying. This is not just the physical process that we are all destined to go through, the shutting down of our bodily systems. This is a spiritual dying to ourselves and our flesh. This is what Jesus died for, our death, so that we might live through Him. Our recognition of this death and subsequent life is the first step in being able to delight in suffering. When we know who we are and who Christ is, life can make sense even when it doesn't!
5. Death to life. Jesus died on the cross and rose again. We will die one day, but we will also rise again. During our time on this planet we can make the choice to accept the fact that suffering is real, albeit painful, and that it is a sign of Christ's death being worked out in us, so that we can have life, His life, always and forever. Making this choice is often a hard one, but it gets easier the more times you do it. We do not have to be crushed, despairing, forsaken or destroyed. We can turn our thoughts and our eyes towards Him and we will be victorious.
I believe this is what we can delight in.