Smoothed and flattened, the wrinkled sheet of wide-lined tablet paper lay in the center of my empty desk.
A crayoned sun in the upper right corner beamed five thick rays onto the happy faces of dancing flowers. A white house with two large windows and red shutters sat squarely in the middle. In front of the house, sitting in a chair with large, spoked wheels, was a girl with blond hair, two pink circles on her cheeks, and a wide smile with neatly lined teeth.
I smiled. A portrait of me?
Big blockish letters scrawled with a red marker bore the following message:
I LIKE MY CAT AND I LIKE SCHOOL. WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO HAVE A WHEELCHAIR JUST LIKE YOURS.
My smile broke into laughter.
Shannon is a healthy, active little girl who plays hopscotch, four square, and “Mother, May I.” She may not realize it now, but she has absolutely no use for a wheelchair.
Try telling that to Shannon! A wheelchair would top her birthday list, more coveted even than a purple bicycle with pink and white streamers on the handles. As far as she’s concerned, a wheelchair means adventure. A joyride. An initiation into a very special club.
Shannon hasn’t a clue about the price one actually pays to join such a club. The pain. The paralysis. The disappointment. The heartache and the hurdles. She discounts all that. She disregards the dark side, considering it not worth even knowing. All she desires is the chance to identify with me, to be like me, to know me. If that means having a wheelchair, then great—she’ll take it!
It takes a child like Shannon to illuminate the meaning behind Paul’s words to the Philippians:
I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (3:8, 10)
There’s no better way to identify with Jesus—to be like Him and to know Him—than to gain initiation into the fellowship of His sufferings. Or as Shannon might say, “the Club.”
Suffering has a way of taking life out of the abstract, out of the theoretical, making it painfully concrete. Lofty sermons from eloquent Bible teachers don’t bring release to people locked in suffering. Ph.D. programs in ivy-walled seminaries don’t deliver hope and comfort to those in deep pain.
When we suffer, we realize we are not handling theological ideas, we are rather being handled by a Person—the warm and intimate Person of the Lord Jesus. At other times, when life is rosier, we may slide by with knowing about Him. With imitating Him and quoting Him and speaking of Him. But only in the fellowship of suffering will we know Jesus. We identify with Him at the point of His deepest humiliation. The cross, symbol of His greatest suffering, becomes our personal touchpoint with the Lord of the universe.
No one’s asking you to beg membership in the Club as my little friend Shannon might. But there is something about her wonderful, wild abandon, her childlike trust, that must endear her to the Lord.
You don’t have to choose suffering. You don’t have to choose pain and humiliation. All you need do is choose God’s will, as Jesus did on His cross. When you do, you’ll be initiated into the Club—the fellowship of His suffering. And this is intimacy of the highest order.
Dear friend, since you’ve picked up this particular book and read this far, I think I know something about your heart. You have a longing to move toward a closer, deeper, more intimate walk with our God. That’s what I want, too! More than anything. So why don’t we agree to walk together for a while? Let’s take a thirty-one-day journey toward the heart of heaven, and into the love of our Father and our Savior. Since we can never come to the end of His love, or truly understand the fellowship of His suffering, this little excursion represents only a few steps on the way.
Maybe so. But they will be steps in the right direction.
This is a crazy world.
TV ads for luxury SUVs and sports drinks bookend stories of car bombings in Baghdad. A handicapped infant is left to starve to death in a neonatal unit, while a couple two thousand miles away search high and low to adopt a child—any child. Millions of dollars are spent to protect the eggs of birds on an endangered species list, while human babies are aborted in the third trimester. Battered wives paste on smiles as they dress for church. A preteen girl writes in her prayer diary, “My daddy took away my innocence last night.”
It’s all crazy.
I’ve seen the insanity and cruelty of man in places such as Bucharest, Manila, Quito…Auschwitz.
The madness began in Eden, where man and woman chose to part company with their Creator. Whenever man gains control, chaos and darkness reign. It is insanity that blights beauty, shatters peace, and brings hurt and injustice and cruelty and neglect. It is an insanity that preys upon the innocent and crushes dreams and quenches the light of hope in young eyes.
But this is still “My Father’s World.”
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass
I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.
In His coming, the Lord Jesus hallowed this broken, crazy world. He breathed earth’s air and felt the warmth of its sun and drank its cool water and walked its dusty highways. Earth’s soil drank in drops of divine sweat, tears, and blood.
The Holy Spirit is here, the wise and gentle Counselor. He speaks through His Word, and He shines through the lives of countless believers all over the world.
It is a crazy world. We keep crazy schedules. Life speeds by at a blur. The crazy waves of circumstance roll over us, overwhelm us, threaten to drag us under.
Yet God is with us, no matter where we find ourselves in life. Right in the middle of the insanity. And anywhere, at any time, we may turn to Him, walk with Him, talk to Him, hear His voice, feel His hand, and catch—even if just for a moment—the fragrance of heaven.
Intimacy with God is an island of sanity in a sea of confusion. It is a quiet place, and it is ours. Whenever we look up into the face of our Father…whenever we reach for His hand…whenever we quiet our spirit to hear His voice…we have found a place of refuge and intimacy that nothing in this crazy world can take away.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1, NASB)
Please pray with me: Lord, even though I face a busy day (or have just lived through one!), even though I find myself running from this to that, from here to there, I still want to crawl into the shelter of Your arms. Even though my life moves at a blur, I want to still myself in Your strength. I want to rest in Your protection and tender care, even when I feel like I’m wrestling alligators. I take refuge in You, Jesus. This day, all day, and all days.