I have once again begun to travel around the world to minister to women; training and encouraging them as they carry the gospel to those who haven’t heard. In July I am flying to Southeast Asia and I realized last night around midnight that my seats for all my flights to Singapore had not been chosen. To give you a picture of what this means, I will fly from Atlanta to Seoul, Korea (I usually fly from Detroit which is about 13 and a half hours but the Atlanta flight will be 15 and a half hours!) and then I have another eight-hour flight from Seoul to Singapore.
As I gazed at my computer, it slowly began to dawn on me that the only seats available were the MIDDLE ONES!!!
My heart sank and I literally felt sick to my stomach. How can I endure these LONG FLIGHTS IN A MIDDLE SEAT and in Economy, no less???!!!
I seriously fumed about it all night. Woke up early in the morning to go on and see if I possibly missed something and NO I DID NOT! UGH!!
As I was making my coffee this morning, I sensed the whisper of my Savior saying, “Kristi, didn’t you say, just last night say that you wanted to learn about what it means to have joy in suffering?” (I’ve been thinking a lot about it – but honestly thinking about it and doing it are two very different things!) And then God reminded me of what Paul suffered to carry the gospel to those who hadn’t heard – shipwrecks, beatings, misunderstanding – and I thought well then what is a middle seat anyway- such a little thing in comparison!
Since I was a little, I have been afraid of suffering for my faith in Jesus. I saw a movie when I was a teenager on persecution, and it scared the pants off me. And so, this girl has chased comfort with a single-minded focus. I have skipped over and literally run from passages that talk about suffering for Jesus because they strike fear into this heart of mine, and I wonder if I would step up to plate when the time comes for me to take a stand for Jesus.
But this summer, I’m reading a book, Evidence Not Seen by Ruth Diebler Rose who was a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. She and her husband were missionaries – they had already suffered much attempting to take the gospel to places where it wasn’t known. Her husband almost died when he trekked into Papua New Guinea and came out with foot rot. (It’s just as horrible as it sounds.) And then they were separated by the Japanese, and she never saw him again. All of their wedding presents she had brought with them were rifled by the Japanese and she had nothing left but her precious memories. I’m humbled and amazed at her fortitude and strength, and at the willingness that so many missionaries have had, to leave and go to the ends of the earth because they believed the gospel is truth; a hope worth sharing. And I wonder . . . do I love Jesus like that?
As I started reading this book, I sensed that God was calling me to dive deep into this area of suffering – to not skip over and avoid because I’m afraid but to be willing to let Him do His work in me. That I needed to press pause for a season and give time and space for Him to illuminate and change my heart regarding suffering and persecution. (Not necessarily a pleasant subject to meditate on I have to say!) But I’ve run long enough and it’s time to learn from my Savior.
As I’ve thought about suffering and wondered at how Paul and the other apostles could rejoice in their suffering and count it a privilege (Acts 5:40-41), I’ve come to realize they had a depth of love for God that I have not tasted and experienced. In sharp contrast to their deep love for God, is my heart that loves God when it’s comfortable and when it won’t cost me much.
But I want their kind of love for God!
And I know this kind of love only comes from being in the fire where it is purified and refined. Where we taste and see that the Lord is good not in our comfort but in our suffering.
Was Paul happy in his suffering – no but he embraced it, knowing God was doing His refining work. I love what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1.6 after he had begged God to take away his thorn in the flesh: Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
So if it is the middle seat of suffering where my love for God will be refined than I choose joy in the middle seat and who knows maybe God will have two lost souls on either side who need the treasure I carry.
Spilling His Grace,