I think often of you who read this blog. Some of you I know, but most I do not. The sitemeter map shows red dots around the world where you live, and I love to contemplate you in your various countries, seeking earnestly (I trust) for some insight, encouragement or blessing from The Benediction Project. Thank you for reading and for sending your comments from time to time.
These are difficult days. Numerous friends and acquaintances are going through some kind of adversity. Just within the past few weeks I have become aware of friends and/or family members struggling with job issues, financial stresses, physical health problems, losses, relationship breakdowns, loneliness, disillusionment with life, psychological illnesses, discouragement with children, and so on. No doubt you have those in your life grappling with these or similar issues. Perhaps you yourself are suffering in one or more of the above ways.
Over the years I have become increasingly aware of the sufferings of others, including both the varieties of suffering and the extent/severity of these afflictions. Especially since 2003, when I had a heart transplant that would give me, I thought, an improved quality of life, I have been reading books and materials (especially autobiographical accounts) on the issues of suffering.
One of the truly great books on the topic of suffering, particularly physical illness and pain—a book Ruth Bell Graham called “by far the best I have found”—is by the former missionary to India, Amy Carmichael. Through her years of serious pain and disability she wrote down her thoughts in "Rose from Briar", a book that has helped me more than any other, except the Bible, during the past seven-and-a-half years of post-transplant difficulties. While Carmichael’s book comes out of her physical trials, her words have great pertinence to other categories of suffering. I wish to share some thoughts from her book so that you may find strength in whatever adversity you find yourself.
Carmichael begins one chapter with a personal word from Julian of Norwich, who wrote some 500 years ago that when she was earnestly thinking of our Lord’s suffering, and trying to see (as it were) his dying,
…suddenly, He changed the look of His blessed Countenance. The changing of His blessed Countenance changed mine, and I was as glad and merry as it was possible. Then brought our Lord merrily to my mind: “Where is now any point of the pain or of thy grief?” And I was full merry.
Carmichael then presents Julian’s reflections on the mystery of our identification with Christ on the cross.
I understood that we be now, in our Lord’s meaning, in His cross with Him in His pains and His passion, dying; and we, willingly abiding in the same Cross with His help and His grace unto the last point, suddenly He shall change His Cheer to us, and we shall be with Him in Heaven. Betwixt that one and that other shall be no time, and then shall all be brought to joy.
The following words of Amy Carmichael, after she ponders Julian’s being “full merry,” are some of the most remarkably bold that I know of in Christian literature. From these I thought of the title for this posting: “Adversity,…and High Ambition.”
It seems to me clear beyond question that in the lives of God’s beloved there are sometimes periods when the adversary is “given power to overcome.” This power need never overwhelm the inner courts of the spirit, but it may press hard on the outworks of being. And so I have been asking that our dearest Lord may have the joy (surely it must be a joy to Him) of saying about each one of us, and about us all as a little company of His children: “I can count on him, on her, on them for anything. I can count on them for peace under any disappointment or series of disappointments, under any strain. I can trust them never to set limits, saying, ‘Thus far, and no farther.’ I can trust them not to offer the reluctant obedience of a doubtful faith, but to be as glad and merry as it is possible.”
And all that begins in the gift of a great contentment.
It is my desire for myself, and each of you, that these words, coming from the pen of one of God’s choice suffering servants (and now in glory with him), may express our High Ambition in the midst of any adversity. For it is then that we will be “as glad and merry as it is possible” in this life.