When I was eleven months old, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The doctors, at one point, told my parents my chance of recovery, of survival, was five percent.
Things progressed quickly, and I was soon headed for a bone marrow transplant, preceded by intense radiation treatment. I’m no doctor, but I understand this radiation treatment was meant to eliminate my body’s cells before the bone marrow transplant—there’s no point in adding good blood into a contaminated place. You need to wipe the slate clean.
And so, should I survive the transplant, the doctors gave my parents a list of developmental impediments likely to occur due to the death of these cells. On the list were stunted growth and infertility.
Should I be saved, my life would never be normal.
GOD’S MARK ON HIS PEOPLE
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14)
I don’t think this verse is saying Christians will be blessed after they are insulted for the name of Christ, but that they are blessed now, and can expect to be insulted for that blessing. The blessing of God “rests upon” us. It is external; it can be seen and observed by the world because of the transformative grace of God within the heart.
God has placed His mark on His elect, though it’s not like a tattoo or a birth mark, but instead it is the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). That’s the visible “Spirit of glory and God rest[ing] upon [us].”
And what do we get from the world in response to this love? What is the world’s response when they see our God-driven faithfulness, gentleness, and kindness? Sometimes, the response is wonder, interest, and conversion, but often it is ridicule. Don’t be caught surprised by what the Bible predicts:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 John 4:12–13)
So this is what the Bible promises us. Do you know this? God’s saving work entails worldly ridicule. Should you be saved by God, your life will never be normal.
THREE BLESSINGS RECEIVED WHEN GOD RESTS UPON US
You can see how reflection on my cancer story provokes me to also reflect on God’s saving work, and vice versa. In both scenarios, God left His fingerprint on me when He saved me. That fingerprint is visible, unchangeable, and it leads to worldly ridicule and shame.
My parents were not surprised when I stopped growing after reaching four feet, eight inches. And I was not surprised when I was made fun of in school, on the baseball field, and around the neighborhood for my height. And I was not surprised when my doctor read me the results of my fertility test.
And we as Christians should not be surprised when we bear spiritual fruit, when we feel compelled to share the name of Christ, when we are moved to sacrifice our time and money for the glory of God. Nor should we be surprised when we are ridiculed for our devotion to God in school, at work, and around the world.
These sufferings, though expected, are never easy. But I want to encourage you now with three blessings that come when God’s saving work causes present suffering in our lives:
BLESSING OF MEMORY
“Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles and the judgments he uttered.” (1 Chronicles 16:11–12)
Less than two weeks after I was diagnosed with leukemia, my older brother, then four years old, was diagnosed with it as well, sending our young family into utter turmoil. He went through long stretches of chemotherapy. And God saved him too.
This cancer story, as you can imagine, is integral to my family’s history, to my family’s identity. And so now, twenty-five years later, we talk about it all the time. My parents remind me of the anniversary of my bone marrow transplant over text, we reminisce at dinners about how our church family cared for us, and we feel overwhelmed to this day that God protected us.
And so the biblical story, and how we’ve seen God intervene to save us by His grace, is also integral to our history as Christians, both individually and communally, within the church. We celebrate days on the calendar to remember Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, and ascension. We remember and share with others the lessons God taught us throughout our lives. We get together to sing out to God, overwhelmed with praise for His great name.
This blessing of memory can be accessed any time in the Christian life, but it is most called upon and most needed when we face present suffering. When the world ridicules us, we turn to memory to recall what God has done for us, and why He is worth everything that is happening to us.
BLESSING OF NEW OR STRENGTHENED RELATIONSHIPS
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
I have formed a few relationships with people, which were started explicitly and entirely because he and I had suffered in the same way. Perhaps this has happened to you too. In recent times, I have been asked every once in a while to speak with a young man who is shorter than everyone else at school, and feeling very down. I am uniquely able to speak to him because I went through the same thing.
When we suffer as Christians, the local church provides an invaluable resource to us: people. These people have also suffered for being Christians. And so the local church becomes this amazing place where people understand each other’s sufferings in a way that non-Christians just can’t understand. We need each other!
When God’s saving work leads to worldly ridicule, He also pushes us toward the church. These tough times compel us to form new relationships we otherwise would not have formed, or it can also strengthen relationships, bringing friendships to a deeper level.
Praise God for the church, amen? It is there that we can be blessed by those who have more experienced that us, who have borne our burden, those less encumbered than us, who can bear our burden, and those in greater need than us, whose burden we can bear.
BLESSING OF FUTURE GLORY
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
When we suffer as Christians, we know that there is future glory coming. If we were to suffer as non-Christians, we would not have that hope. But as Christians, having the Spirit of God resting on us, being ridiculed by the world, we know no matter the how great the weight of what we suffer now, the glory that awaits us will be even greater.
God restored my health, he saved me from cancer, and one of the marks he left on me was infertility. My wife and I are now in the adoption process, and, let me tell you, I often wish I could just have children naturally. It is a burden on me, right now as I write this sentence.
But, oh, how amazing will that day be, when I go to my child and see his or her face for the first time. When what was anticipated becomes actual, when no space and no time separate me from my son or daughter. How great will that day be? The thought overwhelms every burden I feel today.
And how much more amazing will that day be, when as an adopted child of the living God I go to Him, and see Christ’s face for the first time. When what was anticipated becomes actual, and when no space and no time separate me from my Heavenly Father.
How great that day will be!