The Key to a Purposeful Life
The Christian life is not simply a matter of "pain now, gain later." We are given—right now—incredible fellowship with God. Eternal life is knowing him (John 17:3). We have been enveloped in God's family hug, and we live all of life within the warmth and security of that embrace.
If I am united with Christ, suffering is not a deviation or a dead end. For some reason, and I know this is insanity, I expect my life to proceed smoothly. When it is interrupted by pain, I feel surprised and angry. But if I am in Christ, I can expect suffering to be a normal part of my discipleship. It is not a detour from Plan A, but an expected component of life with Jesus. In fact, it is an opportunity to participate in Jesus' life, to share in his sufferings (for he suffers with us), and to have his resurrection made known in my body (2 Cor. 4:10-11). That can radically change my experience of suffering. Gordon writes,
Both suffering and death, while they are the common and inevitable heritage of the race, may in the believer's case be so linked into union with the cross and passion of his Lord, that they shall in a certain sense be transformed from inflictions into sacrifices.
Our suffering is not a pointless impediment to our productivity or fruitfulness. It is something we share with Jesus, for the good of our souls and of his kingdom.
If I am united with Christ, I am freed from my fears. My 5-year-old son is a space buff. Consequently, we have done a lot of reading with him about the U.S. space program. His favorite mission is Apollo 11, the first to land on the moon. My husband recently found himself wishing he could have been on that incredible mission. Then he realized how little he would have actually enjoyed it, because of the sheer terror of not knowing whether he'd get back to earth safely. He imagined it—being confined inside a tiny metal box, hundreds of thousands of miles away from his home planet, while any one of a million things could have gone wrong and killed him instantly—and concluded that his fear would have overshadowed any real appreciation of the adventure. The story of Apollo 11 seems nothing but glorious now, but that is only because we know how it ended. I suspect that Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and the late Neil Armstrong would have given anything to relive their mission with the knowledge that they would come home safely.
Jesus wants us to know the ending of our story. Otherwise, the terror of the unknown would distract us from living life to the fullest. Because we are united to Christ, when we look at him, we see the end of our story. We do get to come home safely. That changes our experience of this "mission" that is our lives. We can live them joyfully, as adventure stories and not tragedies in the making.
May we rest in the security of our union with Christ. We are tethered—to a strong character, to a settled plot—and will not disappear into deep space. Let us embrace our unpredictable seasons of life as those who are confident in the quality of the plot, committed to character development, and enjoying our relationship with the protagonist. Christ in us is "the hope of glory." And hope does not disappoint us (Rom. 5:5).
Sarah Lebhar Hall is an adjunct professor of biblical studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Trinity School for Ministry.
Go to ChristianBibleStudies.com for "Fear-free Living," a Bible study based on this article.