Friday, January 24, 2014

Sacrificial Agony

Wise words from Charles Spurgeon:

You must expect to feel weakest when you are enjoying your greatest triumph.

A few months ago, God granted me the privilege of a personal sacrifice.  I am not trying to brag; it was a minor work, and nothing compared to the profound sacrifices of the truly great men and women of the world, not the least of whom have offered their freedom, their property, even their lives in the service of Jesus Christ.  But a sacrifice it was nonetheless, one with great personal significance to myself and for which I can give only God the credit and glory.

But I didn't feel good about it.  Even this small part of myself which I had to deny, the small service I performed for another at my own expense, crushed me and brought me to one of the lowest points of my recent life.  In the act, I felt not like a good Samaritan, but like a wounded warrior trampled in the heat of battle and struggling for his life.  It left me week, exhausted, spent, and miserable.  At the time, I couldn't tell if what I had done had been a good work or a terrible sin.  I was conflicted and weak, not triumphant.

They tell you that when you put others before yourself, you will feel good about yourself.  They tell you that virtue and sacrifice are not only beneficial for others but also soothing to your own soul.  They are wrong.  In some cases, yes, their pragmatic exhortations might be true, but when it comes down to it, sacrifice is painful.  It weakens and does not strengthen the human spirit.  As the frequently on-the-mark Neil Peart would say, "There is never love without pain."

But we as Christians are called to love.  We are called to sacrifice.  We are called to die to the self, and it is truly a death, and a painful one at that.  To sacrifice is not to reign triumphant in some self-made kingdom of self-denial, but to die and to be buried.  Jesus was not joking when he told his followers to "take up your cross."  If not meant literally (and in some cases it was meant literally) it was pretty darn close.

And thus it is not always in the depth of our sins that we realize our need for a Savior, but in our proudest moments.  Many outside of Christ's body lead upstanding lives, doing good, avoiding evil, and benefiting others, but despite their goodness, they can never be good enough.  For it is in our finest moments, in the midst of our most profound sacrifices, that we truly realize our weakness, that our best is never sufficient, that our petty sacrifices are ultimately worthless, that we make mountains out of molehills and stumble over pebbles as if they were boulders.  We go about our lives seemingly blamelessly, performing our daily tasks and our duties to others, and think ourselves complete, independent, and whole, until we are stopped dead in our tracks by the unforseen demand, the sudden test of will; we pass our test and then stumble past the checkpoint in tears, falling to the ground in exhaustion and begging for mercy.  We do our good work for the day and then find that we don't want to do any more good works.

And thus the futility of our petty existence pervades our lives, surrounding our bubbles of self-importance and fencing us into our own limitations despite our feeble efforts to pretend that our backyard is a great forest.  We are like children, playing at our silly games and thinking them important, playing the part of heroes and thinking ourselves worthy of praise, except that our feeble imitations never grow into reality, and our self-centered souls never grown into maturity.  The trivial exploits of children are insufficient and insignificant in the world of adults, and it is not until we come to grips with our own insufficience and insignificance that we can be saved.

And yet saved we will be.  For the child has a father and so do we, and His eternal Son has become our brother.  In weakness he came into the midst of our futility.  In humility he lived among our futile efforts.  He became insignificant that we might become significant, and died that we might live.  He came to sacrifice Himself, and trembled in the face of the sacrifice.  He sweat blood in the garden, cried to His Father for mercy and received no answer, poured Himself out before the world and endured the excruciating separation between Himself and the only One who could have saved Him.  His greatest triumph was his greatest weakness, His greatest victory His greatest suffering, as He hung suspended in agony, a wounded warrior facing sin, death, Satan, and hell.  In His death we also die, and in His resurrection we also rise again.  The Rich One became poor that we might become rich.  The Pure One became sin that we might become pure.  The Strong One became weak that we might become strong.  Our very strength is our weakness, but His weakness is our strength.  Amen.

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