Turning Suffering Into Success
Are you a doodler? I am.
I used to sketch and doodle all over my notes while I was in school. Eleven years ago, while I was listening to a lecture on Philippians, I sketched an image that, at the time, I had no idea would still resonate with me today. I drew the Earth set on the ground like it was the size of a truck, and underneath it was crushing a scraped and bruised girl. She had blood spilling out of her body, pooled on the ground. You are probably thinking that’s a horrid and gruesome thing to be drawing, but let me tell you what I was learning about Paul, his experience in the world, and maybe it will make sense.
Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while in prison. He was there because he had been preaching the gospel, but he knew that everything he was enduring was for Christ’s sake. He was being persecuted for his beliefs and for speaking about them, but he rejoiced anyways because through his imprisonment many others began talking about who Christ is. Paul said, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this, I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). It didn’t matter that he was beaten up, ridiculed, and shamed; he still had joy, peace, and hope. Sometimes it’s people who bruise and scrape you like the girl in my drawing. For Paul, it didn’t just come from people but also from circumstances. He was in prison, awaiting death!
I think people are feeling a few bruises and scrapes from our current circumstances. People are feeling stress, frustration, and a lack of control. These feelings can lead us into choices and actions we aren’t proud of. Maybe through stress and frustration, we are quick to anger with our friends or family. Perhaps feeling a lack of control has us gripping to areas of our lives we never have before (i.e. toilet paper). Probably a common thing many of us are experiencing is grumbling through our day or situation. I know I have! I work and follow instructions from my company while complaining and grumbling about the direction I am given. I disagree with how we handle COVID-19 and so I complain. The Lord doesn’t want that shadow on my heart, and He would rather my co-workers see the light in me. See Him! My frustration is the wound I bear right now from the crushing that COVID-19 brings.
The world presents circumstances and people that will crush you. They will bruise you. They will scrape you. We hear the phrase and use the language of “being a witness.” Have you ever wondered exactly what that means, or looks like? Do you wonder how you can be a witness to your friends, family, and co-workers?
Paul said, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Paul expected his execution to be on the horizon, and he knew that death would mean eternity with Christ, a wonderful outcome. Continuing to live, though, he knew would be fruitful to Christ’s name by being a witness to more people. Paul sought the glory of God in all things and wanted his faith and action to point back to only one name. Jesus Christ. This is why even in prison, he rejoiced because his circumstance spread the name of Jesus.
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.
What if our current circumstance could progress the gospel? How can you spread the name of Jesus through this time?
There is something that I didn’t mention about the sketch I did 11 years ago. I said there was a girl bleeding as the world crushed her, but there was something else. In the blood were words, but not just any words. They were characteristics of God. As the world crushed this girl you could see peace, joy, love, patience, generosity, and wisdom pouring out of her. I remind myself that every time the world or the people in it crush me, I want to bleed Christ. That is a way you can be a witness. It’s not hard. Lean into Him, spend time with Him, and ask for more of Himself. As the Spirit fills you and is with you always, you have the power to live out His characteristics. All you have to do is ask.
I don’t know what wound COVID-19 has brought you, or what other circumstances in your life have caused you to bleed. I hope that in every opportunity you have, you would allow the Spirit to fill that wound and display the Way, the Truth, and the Life to those around you.
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you, it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.