Worship From the Fires of Suffering

A few weeks back I had one of the most painful weeks of my life: Multiple Sclerosis teamed up with a bout of Shingles and Satan didn’t miss the opportunity to shoot his fiery arrows.

To be honest, that is the pretty version; the plain version is that my mind was bogged down in the “M.S. fog”, I was struggling with M.S. triggered discouragement, my whole body felt like knives were stabbing me, and my back, where the shingles were, was extremely painful and felt like sandpaper rubbing raw skin if anything touched it.  What I wanted to do was retreat into a dark room and lay down in the hopes of getting some sort of rest and reprieve, but, going out to preach on the streets is the calling that was resonating in my spirit.

But in the face of all this scripture cries out, beseeching us,

by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1 NASB).

Trials like infirmity, suffering, and tribulation seek to rob our worship by binding us in time with physical burdens so that we do not cast our gaze above time into eternity, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and worship Him from the fires of these trials with bodies in submission to His perfect will.

Doubts declare in the darkness, “I simply cannot do this”, “I am just not ready”, “I don’t have it in me”, “I must be crazy”.

How can we offer our bodies to God as acceptable spiritual sacrifices of worship when we are overwhelmed with such suffering, and what does that even look like?

I believe Wesley’s hymn captures the essence of this superbly;

Thee, Son of man, by faith we see, and glory in our guide; surrounded and upheld by thee, the fiery test abide.

The fire our graces shall refine, till molded from above, we bear the character divine, the stamp of perfect love.

~Wesley Hymn #329

We must peer through faith and let the resplendent glory of Christ capture our gaze and enrapture our souls!  From this high temple-mount of holy trust in God,  we can abide the test being upheld by Him until we are wholly refined in His perfect love.

This is about trust, not trust in ourselves, nor the provision of this world, but a holy trust in God for which we lean wholly upon His mercies to meet and provide our all- not so that we can simply go on living common lives, as we have always done, but so that we can offer our bodies in spiritual service of worship for those things with which God is most pleased- the “good works prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  ~Philippians 4:6-7

The reality of Christ’s peace is understood by so few because it is not grasped by human means of inquiry, but by means of trust through faith.

Those who suffer little in life often struggle to find the all-surpassing-peace-of-Christ because they continue to retain control over everything.  And yet, so many who suffer much never find such peace because their hearts are weighed down by the cares of this world (Luke 21:34).

I know the temptation to think that “if only my body were strong, like other people, I could do more for God”, but truth be told, the vast majority of people who are wasting their life away not serving/worshiping God are those who perfectly healthy.

The real battle begins with trust– do we lean wholly God’s mercies rather than our own strength and provision- and then moves on into the heart and mind, which is where so many people, healthy and weak, rich and poor, wise and simple, lose the battle to spiritual fatigue, discouragement, doubt, uncertainty, and deception.  Those who would worship God in the fires of trial must relinquish their grip on all life’s anxieties with a child-like trust in God.

The strength of human resolve, the might of our flesh, and the intellect of the human mind offer empty promises that they cannot deliver.  If we lean on these attributes when our tribulations come, we will surely stumble.

Christ doesn’t give peace in the same way that the world gives peace, rather, He gives it through trust, and said “therefore, let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).  With thanksgiving in prayer and supplication we entrust our hearts and minds to God and close every door to iniquity and tribulation through which they might rob our worship for God!

But sometimes when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death we can hear from the tombs those who cry out “but I prayed to God and He did nothing!”

“You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  Adulterers and adulteresses!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” ~James 4:3-4

For many people, their prayers to God were for their own desires – they may have offered God a tithe out of His provision, but their heart was bent on pleasure, not God, to preserve their own way of life and not to seek His way of life – and for many they felt betrayed because they were led like lambs to the slaughter by wolves and false teachers who said “this is the way! Find peace here with us” when there was no peace to offer.

Never listen to the voice of doubt that echos out from the tombs!

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. ~Hebrews 10:19-23

For He who promised is faithful.  Never doubt that!

With my body full of pain, and my mind sluggish and bogged down as if a thick fog had descended upon me, my tank was empty and I had nothing left to offer, except this broken, empty, weak excuse people call “my body”.  What was I to do?

I prayed after God and poured out all my measly sorrows and cares on the altar I’m not even worthy to approach, and out of the glory of God’s throne in my heart I heard Him say “let your flesh wholly despise my work, then go out and do it in My name- and I am with you.

The 30 minute care ride to the bar-street I preach on was agony as my back was rubbing against the car seat, and I was assaulted the whole way up with doubt; “David, what are you doing man?”, “maybe just go up there and pray and then go home”, “you’re not under a law, you don’t have to go”.

Let me deal with that last one for a moment.  That is precisely why “going” is such an acceptable sacrifice of worship to God!  I am under no law to go out every week and preach the gospel to the lost- but Christ has so enraptured my soul that I am compelled to worship Him in this way!

Perhaps your spiritual service of worship is something else, maybe you clean the Church building, or maybe you serve the homeless and sit with them at soup kitchens.  Perhaps you have a prayer ministry that isn’t being glorified in the spotlight, but it is your calling.   In all of these things no one is under a law of ritual obligation!  Rather, we are a people being moved and compelled by the glories of Christ, who has utterly and totally enraptured our souls, that we heartily pick up the banners to which we each have been called by God and joyously worship Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength!

As I approached bar-street and moved through the crowds of drunken revelers, I found a corner and stood there without an ounce of strength in my bones- everything in me was crying “go home!”  I saw a tarot card reader set up on the corner and prayed to God, “Lord, I don’t have anything in me, but I will open my mouth- use me however you want; let me be a fool, let me be a preacher, it is up to you”, I went up to him and started talking.  Thirty minutes later, as I walked away, a big hulking man approaches me with his wife who was literally half his height and God spoke a word of encouragement to me through him.

I took my corner and began preaching,

“Deliver those who are drawn to death, and hold back those who stumble to the slaughter” ~Proverbs 24:11

What came over me was nothing like adrenaline or physical strength- it was not a feeling of physical might or intellectual superiority- it was the splendid presence of absolute peace engulfing my whole spirit, soul, and body.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  ~Philippians 4:6-7

Too often we stand at a stalemate with God, demanding that first He pave the way and make everything fall into place before we entrust ourselves to His care, but God is searching the world “for those who will worship Him in spirit and truth”.  We think we can levy demands on God and arm-twist Him until everything seems just right in our own eyes, but all the while His eyes have already moved on to look for those who will trust in Him.

We are never alone.

Thou Lamb of God, thou Prince of peace, for thee my thirsty soul doth pine, my longing heart implores thy grace; O make me in thy likeness shine!

When pain o’er my weak flesh prevails, with lamb-like patience arm my breast; when grief my wounded soul assails, in lowly meekness may I rest.

Thou, Lord, the dreadful fight hast won, alone thou hast the winepress trod; in me thy strengthening grace be shown, O may I conquer through thy blood! Wesley Hymn #338

Part 1: Faith in Infirmities

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