But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3: 7-8
Our pastor has been preaching a series of sermons on Job, and as the focus was on suffering, I had a flashback of a time of physical pain that was so intense and unrelenting that my mind was consumed with just one thought: What can I do to get out of this pain? My friend with five children asked if it was worse than childbirth. Having had three children myself, I said yes, because with labor pains, at least there are breaks in between, but this pain was nonstop.
I had had sinus surgery, in hopes that it would put an end to my chronic problems, but the ensuing infection – my worst ever – along with a bout of flu that prevented me from keeping down any oral meds, turned this time into the most physically painful experience of my life. For about 36 straight hours all I could do was sit helplessly in the recliner (Lying down made the pressure even more unbearable.) whimpering, “Ow-ow-ow-ow …” The sum total of my prayers was, Make it stop! Make it stop! PLEEEEESE make it stop!
For a while I passed the time using a little trick a friend had taught me. If your sinuses are so congested that the pressure is intolerable, the thing to do is exhale deeply, and wait as long as possible before inhaling. Blood will rush from your head to your lungs, and the pressure will be relieved … a little … for a few seconds. Of course, in the meantime your lungs erupt in spasms and you’ll feel as if you’re smothering, which isn’t fun either, but at least it’s a switch to a different kind of pain. Going back and forth between suffocating and head-in-a-vice pain, I thought about Jesus on the Cross, having to push up against the nails in His feet in order to be able to breathe, going from one kind of agony to another, hour after hour, and gained a new appreciation for what He had gone through … for me.
As my head throbbed incessantly, I remembered that Jesus had been beaten in the face. He must have had His nose broken, and so He knows what I’m feeling. … But then Scripture says not a bone of His was broken, so maybe not. … but then, nose isn’t bone, is it? It’s cartilage … and such was my delirious train of thought through the minutes and hours of agony.
At other moments, between episodes of vomiting, I contemplated the unfairness of it all. I lived a healthy lifestyle! I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t take drugs, didn’t eat junk food. I only drank coffee in the morning. I exercised, I ate lean meats, yogurt, and salads – organic salads! – I took supplements. …
As I rehearsed my list of all the reasons I should not be going through this, I was getting into an unhealthy mindset. If I had tried verbalizing it, I might have heard how ridiculous it was.
In the moments when I was able to think somewhat rationally, I silently recited passages of Scripture that I had memorized. At one point I tried “reading” Philippians. In chapter 3 Paul was reciting a litany of reasons he could have (but didn’t) “put confidence in the flesh.”
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Philippians 3: 4-6)
Paul then went on to say that all that counted for nothing – it was “rubbish.” What mattered was knowing Jesus Christ. Nothing that Paul had done in the past in the way of “righteous acts” could earn him salvation.
There was something familiar about this passage. Who was it that was just rattling off all their credentials as reasons why God “owed” them something?
Oh yeah, that was me. I had somehow got into my head that all my “healthy living” meant God owed me a healthy body.
It “just happened to be” Good Friday, and as the Christian radio station softly played the local church service, I considered that the sinless Lamb of God was sacrificed for my sins, so that I didn’t have to spend eternity in agony, but could be forgiven and adopted into God’s family.
It hit me like a crumbling mountain:
God. Owes. Me. NOTHING.
If dying on the cross were the only thing Jesus ever did for me, if He never gave me another blessing for the rest of my earthly life, I still had reason to be grateful every day.
I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the “fellowship of sharing in His sufferings,” but I did try to stop complaining.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I don’t like suffering – don’t even like the thought of it. I hate thinking of what You went through, especially that my sin was the reason it was necessary. Thank You for being willing to go through it all to pay the price that I could never pay myself. Amen