Nobody really likes to get hurt.
Pain is a God-designed trigger that allows our brains to tell our bodies that we are in danger of doing serious and/or permanent damage. The natural, human tendency is to learn to either avoid those things that cause us pain or immediately stop what we are doing when we experience pain. It’s really pretty simple.
However, there are those scenarios in life when an individual intentionally subjects him or herself to horrific pain in an attempt to accomplish a goal. Runners will push through excruciating fatigue and muscle cramps to win a race. A fighter will endure multiple rounds with a broken nose with hopes of having his hand raised. A weightlifter will push her body to the point of exhaustion and swelling and soreness to achieve her desired results.
There are just some things that we think are worth the hurt.
The funny thing is, almost without exception the things we deem worthy of suffering most always are for our benefit– a first place trophy– a raised hand and the crowd’s roar– rippling muscles and the amazed admiration of others. We’ll endure a lot of pain if it’s for our good.
Question: When was the last time we signed up for suffering knowing we weren’t going to get a thing in the world for it? When was the last time we stuck our necks out there and intentionally put ourselves in harm’s way solely for someone else?
This is exactly what Jesus did for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For OUR SAKE he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus Christ coming to earth, living and dying on the cross– bearing our sin in His body on the tree(1 Peter 2:24)– that was all for our sake. Jesus’ self-sacrifice was so that we could receive His righteousness and be counted among the children of God.
Jesus didn’t stand to gain a thing. He was God. He was happy in glory in perfect loving fellowship with the Father and the Spirit. He was perfectly content as He had been throughout all time. He was perfectly self-sufficient and the perfection of everything good and right and holy. He wasn’t lonely or needy in any way. Everything He did was for our sake–not His. It was for our sake.
That’s good news. That’s the Gospel.
Let that sink in.
With that Good News as the fuel for the command, the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
Jesus was God. (John 1, Hebrews 1) As people rescued by Jesus we are commanded to imitate Jesus. If Jesus willingly signed up for suffering, Christians are called to sign up for suffering.
American Christianity has morphed into something that is but a shadow of Christ and biblical Christianity. Where our founder, Head, and Savior was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) and His earliest followers watered the newly planted church of Christ with the blood of their martyrdom, many now place the highest priority on safety, convenience and comfort. Pain and suffering is avoided at all costs.
If the Son of God suffered and was made perfect by it (Hebrews 2:10 – see footnote for explanation) how dare we think we are not to suffer for the glory of Christ, our growth in grace and the good of others.
This past Sunday was Orphan Sunday. Pleasant Valley Community Church joined literally thousands of other churches around the word to raise awareness of the worldwide pandemic of orphan-hood and at-risk children.
The Bible commands Christians in James 1:27 to “visit orphans…in their affliction.” Can I say to you as a foster and adoptive parent that to “visit” an orphaned or at-risk child “in their affliction” is to join them in their affliction. You are literally joining them in their hurt. You are present with them in their pain and it hurts you.
Sometimes it hurts really bad.
Sometimes you are crushed mentally and emotionally when your eyes are opened to the horror that is the reality of life for children right here in our city.
Sometimes your heart is shattered into a million pieces when you see the faces and hear the cries of hungry, sick, forgotten children who have nothing or no one.
Sometimes you are physically pained when you give yourself away completely to a child that refuses to acknowledge your sacrifice let alone love you back.
Sometimes your decision to pursue and love messy, broken, issue-riddled kids cost you some of your dearest relationships because others aren’t ready or willing.
Sometimes it hurts your pride. Sometimes it hurts your agenda. Sometimes it hurts your checkbook. Sometimes it hurts your safety, convenience and comfort.
It just plain hurts. It hurts bad.
Intentionally putting yourself in a position to get hurt from so many angles puts you in a unique position to have ugly in you revealed that you had no idea was even there. They say marriage is a real sin magnifying glass. Then they say having kids turns that up a notch. Can I say that when you add orphan care to the mix some really funky stuff will float to the top!
I used to think I was a pretty selfless, generous guy. Until kids that weren’t my flesh and blood started breaking my stuff. I used to think I was a pretty patient guy. Until I had foster kids openly defying me and feeling like there was nothing I could do to curb their hellish behavior. I used to think I was pretty kind and loving. Until I went to pick up kids from a supervised visit with their biological parents who had neglected and abandoned them and the children screamed and cried and wanted to stay with them rather than return to the safety and security of my home – and it made me furious. All kinds of ugly sin will surface. You can count on it.
Orphan care is a hammer that God wields with powerful precision to knock the nasty off of us. It’s good in the end, but dang it hurts when it is happening.
But at the end of the day all of the pain is totally worth it.
With Jesus’ suffering as our example that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21), let’s sign up for suffering. As we join the orphan in his affliction, we are joining Jesus in His suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5, Colossians 1:24) and therein being conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Is there anything more Christ-like than intentionally putting ourselves in harm’s way to rescue those from whom we stand nothing to gain?
But not only will our painful pursuit of the orphan cause us to look more like Jesus, God uses our obedience for good in His world. Our self-inflicted pain is not meaningless. God really uses our humble obedience to His Word as a means of grace to rescue those in need. The fatherless get a Father. The homeless are housed. The hungry are fed. The sick are made well. The orphan gets a family. And in God’s amazing, saving plan, our physical rescue often is used as a means to extend spiritual rescue.
God help us to love like Jesus. May the love of earthly fathers be so radical, so persistent, so passionate that when orphaned and at-risk children hear the Good News that God is a Father their little hearts scream, “Yes!”
It’s not always glamorous. It’s not always praised. It’s not always fun, easy or convenient – but it’s good and it’s right and it’s holy.
It’s now open enrollment season. Is anybody willing to sign up for suffering?
*Footnote: When I referenced Hebrews 2:10 and made mention that Jesus was “perfected by suffering” I am not suggesting in any way that there was a moment in time when Christ, the Son of God, was not perfect. The writer of Hebrews is drawing our attention to the fact that God the Son, in human flesh, was tempted to sin in his moments of suffering (see Hebrews 4:15 and Luke 4) yet He perfectly obeyed the Father and was without sin in His suffering. The idea of Jesus being made perfect by suffering in Hebrews 2 is just a poetic way of saying that the Son of God was without sin and by being so He has accomplished a perfect righteousness in His flesh that can be ours by faith alone in His substitutionary life, death, burial and resurrection.