"When I wake up, the dream isn't done
I want to see your face and know I made it home
If nothing is true, what more can I do?
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to hear my friend and pastor Trevor preach about what discipleship means. He was making the altogether true, but somewhat controversial point that discipleship does not happen in the Protestant-approved spiritual disciplines. Reading your bible is not discipleship. Singing worship songs is not discipleship. Prayer is not discipleship. Sitting across the table at a coffee shop from someone and talking about your feelings is not discipleship. That's not to say those things aren't important to the Christian life or forming our character or that they aren't good spiritual practices. But they are only preparations for discipleship. Discipleship, after all, is following Christ. That happens primarily when we suffer and when we struggle and when we fail. Because discipleship is following Christ and Christ is going to a cross. The question we face as His disciples is are we willing to follow Him even there?
As many similarities as there are between David and Christ, I am indebted to my friend Dan for pointing out to me a key difference. David became king. Yes, he spent much of his life running from Saul, hiding in caves, facing persecution, plots against his life, and real danger. But he became king. He enjoyed the spoils of wealth, of success, of power, of prestige, of significance, of military might, and of celebrity. He became everything he could have ever dreamed to be and more and all of this was clearly done by God's own hand.
Jesus did not.
At least, not in the way we see in the life of David. Jesus would become a spiritual king, the savior of Israel. But he spend his life nomadic and homeless, hanging out with the scourges of society. He had no real career or accomplishments to his name, certainly no prestige or celebrity. He never wrote a book, never was even recognized as a proper teacher by the religious authorities of His day. He was 30 years old, unmarried, with no property, and spending all his days with a bunch of uneducated fishermen. It is safe to say that most people probably thought Jesus' life was a failure. And then he went to a cross. The only recognition of his kingly status was a sign reading "King of the Jews" hanging above his head adorned with a crown of thorns.
Now who do I really want to be like? Do I want to be like David or do I want to be like Christ?
Our pastor J.D. drew a comparison in his sermon this week between the pasture where David is tending sheep when they call for him so that Samuel can anoint him as the next king of Israel and the place we spend our lives as we prepare for whatever we think God is calling us to in the future. I think this reads with a lot of twentysomethings like me who constantly feel like we are waiting for our real lives to begin and these preparation times to fade away to mere memories. J.D.'s point was not waste this time. God forms kings in the pasture. That is where he makes ordinary, weak people into people who are capable of extraordinary things through His strength.
But what if God's calling for me isn't from a pasture to a throne? What if while I wait and doubt and struggle what God is calling me toward is more suffering? If following Christ means going to a cross then suffering is a permanent part of that equation. I must be united to Him in His death if I am ever to access the healing that is found in His life. Would I still worship Him if that is the case? Am I enduring the pasture and the cave and the wilderness because of the promise of a throne or because I know that God is with me no matter where I am? (I'm asking these questions because I honestly don't have the answers.)
If God's calling for me doesn't involve getting married to the woman of my dreams or having a moderately priced house in the suburbs or attaining financial stability or having the respect of my colleagues or the admiration of my friends, then am I still interested in pursuing the path which he has laid out before me? And if I don't, then did I ever really have any faith or trust in Him at all?
I think no one serves better as an example of someone who suffered well in scripture than Paul. He encountered difficulties not when he was young but when he was older and knew enough to avoid strife and hardship. He had status and prestige and power before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. That was where Paul lost everything. He lists out the various things he has suffered in his second letter to the Corinthians.
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.And yet through it all, he sings hymns while in prison and converts his jailers. He not only endures torment and hardship, he almost seems to prefer it or at least to expect it. He goes around writing things like, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. And "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." And "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." At the end of his life, he uses his allotted time to defend himself before his would be executioners to try to convert them to Christianity instead.
This is not to fall into the all-too-common traps of sanitizing the bible or of glorifying the saints. Paul's suffering were real and painful and difficult. I think his testimony suggests that he endured them faithfully but at the cost of great discomfort. I just don't think Paul considered it to be suffering if it was what God planned for Him to do. He welcomed God's plan no matter the outcome or affect on his life. He didn't hold back his faith hoping to attain the things he wanted all along and then just slap the name of God on the side. He was ready, he was eager to suffer if it meant joining God in His mission for the world. I don't have Paul's faith.