“Be prepared for surprises in this Kingdom.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
In two days I will start chemotherapy. It still feels like this whole thing is happening to someone else. And I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what these toxic drugs will do to my body. There’s no way of knowing for sure how my body will react.
I have many friends who have encouraged me by telling me how strong I am and how I’m going to kick cancer’s butt. I do appreciate those sentiments and all the love and support that come with them. In the cancer world, there’s a lot of talk about being a survivor and overcoming and beating the odds. A positive attitude definitely helps. But I have a feeling all that isn’t going to be enough when the inevitable weakness comes. When I’m wracked with nausea or shocked by my changing appearance or troubled by some weird side effect that I wasn’t expecting.
But thank God he has not left us alone and without his promises when those times come. Many of those promises are wrapped in lessons that run directly counter to the advice the world gives us. The world says to avoid discomfort and suffering at all costs, but God promises that it will come. The world says to keep your head up and believe in yourself when trouble comes, but God tells us to rejoice in our sufferings, to delight in our weaknesses because in his economy, in his kingdom, things are upside down and surprising. It’s when we delight in our weaknesses that God’s power rests upon us.
It seems the apostle Paul could give a master class in these lessons of the upside down kingdom, and we are to imitate him as he imitated our Lord Jesus Christ. The Corinthians were used to measuring people by their soaring rhetoric and powerful presence, but Paul appeared as just the opposite of what they expected. He says, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling…” 1 Corinthians 2:3 Paul’s life was filled with all kinds of suffering (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-29!) and he teaches us how to not just survive but live faithfully in the midst of our sufferings. It’s not by pumping ourselves up with the latest self-help advice. It’s by identifying with Christ and learning, through the suffering, the surprising lessons of this upside down Kingdom.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he recounts again his sufferings and hardship and teaches us these things:
- At the point of despair, rely not on yourself but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
- In the midst of affliction and persecution we do not give up hope because we’ve learned that we’re just jars of clay carrying around the very reality of both the death and life of Jesus in our bodies. Any manifested power belongs to God and not us. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12
- When we have pled with God to take away the suffering and pain and he says no, we learn that his grace is enough because his power is made complete in our weakness. We can even rejoice in our sufferings knowing that it’s at the point of weakness that we see the power of God on display. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
In this school of suffering, I feel like I’m only a kindergartner, but I take comfort in knowing there are many who’ve gone before me and graduated from this school. They have all learned what Allan Chapple shares here from his book called True Devotion:
“…power-in-weakness lies at the heart of authentically Christian life and service. In this in-between time, we experience God’s power not so much in being kept from hardships and weaknesses but in being kept in them. His power is seen most often in our perseverance, when we triumph not by rising above our trials but by staying true in them.“