Thursday, April 5, 2012

40 Days of Virtue: Love Perfected

"But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put childish things behind me."
1 Corinthians 13:10-11 NIV

"Why do we suffer?"
As a pastor, church leader, minister, I have been asked that question many times. My gut reaction:  "Why wouldn't we?" When I try to imagine the suffering of Jesus, I wonder how we could ever think that He should intensely suffer, and we would lead perfect painless lives. It seems I have that perfectly logical thought one minute, and the next minute I am the one suffering and asking God that same "childish" question,
"Why must I suffer so? Why is my life marked with such pain?"
Today is Maundy Thursday, which seems the perfect day to ask that question. Today we remember events leading to the crucifixion of Christ: The Passover/Last Supper Jesus shared with His disciples, His arrest, suffering, and trial (Read Matthew). Serving the meal to the disciples, Jesus spoke these words,
"I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:15-16NIV)."
The "fulfillment" Jesus speaks about in this passage is powerfully linked with the coming "perfection"  in today's verse, 1 Corinthians 13:10. 

Perfection, in Greek, means fulfillment, completeness, maturity, end. In both verses, this perfection or fulfillment is referring to the second coming of Christ, when all things will be perfected, completed, fulfilled.

When we're hurting, we tend to mistake Christ's first arrival as the fulfillment, our perfection, the end of our pain. Yet, suffering is the journey toward perfection. The Apostle Paul describes how he pleaded and pleaded and pleaded (3 times!) for the Lord to take away his pain. Instead, God spoke these words to him,
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2Cor.12: 9)."
Has God spoken these profound words over you?
He has spoken them over and over to me. And, I can tell you firsthand, it really puts things in perspective when He does. It's not really what we want to hear! We want God to coddle us and make everything go away. But that would not necessarily be to our benefit. The words Paul spoke in response to God have been my mantra through many a trial, "when I am weak, then I am strong"...
  • When I discovered my daughter had been sexually abused; when my husband committed suicide...His power was made perfect in me.
  • When I suffered with the pain of fibromyalgia...I was weak and He was strong.
  • When I grieved the pain of my past...processed repressed memories...His grace was sufficient for me.
God has used every pain, every trial to refine my mind, my heart, to mature me as a woman of God, "to put childish things behind me".  Through suffering, God polishes me and perfects me and prepares me to serve Him fully, love Him completely, and to also love YOU. I know He is doing this same miracle in the midst of your suffering too.
Today, instead of focusing on our own pain, let us consider the Love Perfected by a perfect man dying on a cross. Not just any man, this man was and is the Son of God. Not just any cross, this was the cross of Christ.
"During the days of Jesus life here on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him...(Hebrews 5:7-9NIV)"
Consider this:
  • If the one and only Son of God was brought into submission, learned obedience, and was made perfect through suffering, why would we expect to escape that process?  
  • If Jesus prayed and petitioned and cried out to God in his pain, shouldn't we do the same?
Oh Lord God, use my suffering to cleanse and perfect my heart, to bring me into submission to Your greater plans for my life, to "put childish things behind" me, to be made mature, complete, in You. May I become Your outstretched arm that points others to the "source of eternal salvation". In the powerful name of our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

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