Sunday, December 20, 2009

Suffering Well.

The Village Church is a booming congregation in the Fort Worth area. Friends of ours moved to Texas about six years ago, and they have made The Village their church home.

Several years ago a youth pastor at the church was electrocuted at a baptismal service and died. A power cord was somehow in contact with the metal frame of the baptistry. It was an awful loss, but the church continued to grow...reach out.

Four weeks ago my friend emailed me a notice from the congregation. Their young Lead Pastor, Matt Chandler, had a siezure on Thanksgiving Day. Tests were run. A brain tumor was discovered. Surgery was scheduled. The entire congregation -which was just moving in to a new worship center- prayed and waited for the biopsy results to come back.

They did. The people at The Village Church know the results: the tumor was malignant. Surgery got most of it -but not all of it.

When I read the email to the congregation, I began to cry for this young family...this congregation. I called my buddy. He told me Matt, the Pastor at The Village, was in rehab. He was having a tough time with his language skills. My buddy said Matt got out of the hospital for the weekend so he and his wife, Lauren, could go out on a date.

The note to the congregation asked them to keep praying for their pastor, his wife, and their three children. The people were asked to respect the privacy of the Chandlers, and not to visit without first being invited to come by.

Then, the email made two important points.

First, "As you hurt and weep for the family, do not do it alone." Which is a good word for every single one of us. Often, when we are hurt or scared or we fail, we want to slip away. Become invisible. Hanging in there, staying connected with our friends, showing up at church, seems like such work...and we go it alone. Always...always...always...a big mistake! Paul, in the New Testament (Romans 12:15), talks about being connected...weeping with those who weep, and rejoicing with those who rejoice.

Second, the email asked that people pray "The Chandlers and The Village would suffer well and for the sake of Christ's name." That may be a shocking statement for those of us in North America who assume that hanging out with Jesus means we won't suffer.

We don't talk much, in the church, about suffering well. Which is a real disservice to the people of God. One of the lessons the Bible wants to teach us is how to suffer well.

What would it look like to suffer well? Paul, in 2nd Corinthians 4, talks about what it is like to "be hard pressed on every side." He talks about what it is like to be "crushed" and "perplexed" and "struck down."

Then, the first century missionary pastor talks about keeping our eyes on the glory of God in the face of Christ, letting his light shine out of us. Paul reminds the Corinthians that the resurrection of Christ is something to focus on...as we trust God will raise us up to new life even when we are going through tough junk. Don't lose heart, Paul says, but trust God to be at work in us renewing us...growing us...deepening us...even when stuff is overwhelming.

"We fix our eyes not on what is seen," Paul says, "but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

The writer of Corinthians makes a statement (4:17) worth remembering: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."

I'm not sure I am smart enough to make a list of everything that constitutes suffering well.
I do think, however, it involves trusting God. Focusing on the power and love and faithfulness of God. Refusing to give in to the temptation to become bitter...or withdraw from God, our friends, and the church. Suffering well may mean looking for ways to give and serve and bless others, even as we hurt and ache and tire. Finally, suffering well may mean trusting that God is able to work for good in every situation (Romans 8:28).

I'm praying for Matt and Lauren Chandler. I'm praying for their three children. I'm praying for the people of The Village Church and everyone touched by the life of that congregation

And I am praying that you and I are learning the important art of suffering well.