Wednesday morning BS (Bible Study) is such a blessing to me. This is the study in which I get to spend an hour (or more) studying the Scriptures for the coming Sunday with folks in our church family. God does a lot of heavy lifting most weeks- this is the riverbed through which my sermon flows.
It never ceases to amaze me how God can draw us to aspects of a passage we had never noticed in the past. Today we read the passion story in Luke 22-23, in preparation for Palm/Passion Sunday. None of us had remembered that Jesus was visited by angel in the Garden of the Gethsemane as he prayed for the Father to take this cup from him (Luke 22:43). It appears only in Luke, we discovered. Interesting that even after the angel strengthens Jesus, he prays even harder for the cup to pass from him!
We talked about the meaning of the crucifixion in our own experiences. I shared about my experience of the stations of the cross, with all of the kneeling, standing, and genuflecting, making me realize it was literally the least I could do in response to Jesus' death for me.
Another member shared about her experience of having to be willing to go to the cross, to be willing to bear the cross of suffering, and discovering in the midst of suffering the true depth of joy and assurance that flows from such an experience.
This has me thinking about suffering. I don't spend enough time reflecting on Christ's suffering. When I was first coming to faith over a decade ago, I was not at all comfortable with the idea of Christ suffering for me. But as I have grown in my experiences, I am discovering the comfort that comes from knowing that suffering is part of the journey, and it is redeemed by God in Christ. It is in truth unavoidable, and strangely, a tremendous blessing. For it is in suffering that we draw nearer to Christ, and discover the depth, strength, and peace of God's presence.
We continued the conversation talking about how common it is for people to draw closer to Christ in hard times. When things are going "well" by our definition, we are far less likely to rely on him alone. It is when things are beyond our control that we are most likely to trust and pray the hardest.
The phrase "downward mobility" came to mind. Nowhere does Jesus encourage his followers to try to accumulate wealth, move up to a bigger home, buy nice cars, and generally try to live the American Dream. There are plenty of times Jesus says things like encouraging his followers to give all they have to the poor, spend time with the poor, and take nothing but the clothes on their backs when going out in Jesus' name.
I think that voluntary suffering (downward mobility) can bring us close to Christ in much the same way that involuntary suffering can. I even think that perhaps those who don't choose the way of voluntary suffering are more likely to experience involuntary suffering as radically life altering crisis....not necessarily because God is "sending them suffering" but because any amount of suffering that comes into a life bent upon avoiding it feels radically life altering. When we choose the way of suffering, which is always a part of the way of following Jesus, we discover the grace that supports and sustains all of life.
So, my learning from Scripture today is that I am going to work on treasuring my suffering, real and perceived, as an opportunity to draw nearer to Christ, and to trust.