What I have always found most compelling about Jesus Christ is that the Creator came to earth in the form of His own creation to experience our physical reality. We do not serve a God to whom our earthly trials are foreign. We serve a God who knows hunger, pain, cold, betrayal, distress, weakness and sorrow. We serve a God who was tempted in every way so that no struggle we lay before Him is new or confounding. He knows our troubles because He has been similarly troubled. It is easy to read about Jesus’ miracles in the bible and consider only that He was divine. However, one cannot deny that the bible also gives us a clear glimpse into the humanity of this man. If we as teachers and spiritual leaders, those who wish to disciple others, can take anything from His example, it should be that our humanity must be just as transparent if we are to be effective in the work we do.
I remember feeling quite out of place when I first began studying the bible and going to church. I must admit that my admiration for those who were discipling me at times took me from a place of encouragement to one of discouragement. While I desired to walk in a holy manner and to carry myself as I saw these seasoned Christians carry themselves, I couldn’t help but think that I was too different from them to actually arrive at that place. I saw people who appeared to have it all together, who appeared to have all the answers, and who I thought couldn’t possibly understand the evils with which I struggled daily from within and without. I saw in them a picture of apparent perfection that I couldn’t attain or fake with any success. While I most certainly can attribute some of these feelings to simple spiritual immaturity on my part, another reason for this attitude was that I didn’t see anyone else struggle like I struggled.
1 Corinthians 12: 24-26 tells us that:
“God has combined the [whole] body, giving greater honor to that part which lacks it, so that there would be no division or discord in the body [that is, lack of adaptation of the parts to each other], but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. And if one member suffers, all the parts share the suffering; if one member is honored, all rejoice with it.”
This call to share in each other’s sufferings carries with it one crucial implication, an act upon which it is dependent if the body is to behave in this God-ordained manner. We must confess our sufferings to one another. We must share with the body those things which trouble us and seek to steal our hope, our joy and our faith. There is no shame in experiencing the things which Jesus himself told us to expect as we walk out our faith. He says in John Chapter 16 that we will have tribulation and distress and suffering in this world. I have no reason to hide these trials as they come. In fact, I have a duty to reveal these things as hiding them prohibits the remainder of the body from doing the work it is designed to do in bearing these burdens with me.
Oh, how have we come to the place in which we find shame in the things God has meant for glory? Romans 5: 3-5 describes not only the expectation of suffering for the believer but its necessary place in our spiritual growth and transformation.
“And not only this, but [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
To rejoice is to show great joy or delight; to exult is to feel or show triumphant elation or jubilation. This is a picture of a fighter going into combat with pleasure, excitement and the assurance of victory. When was the last time I approached a temptation or a trial in this way? When have I ever grabbed my brother and excitedly announced that I am joyfully in the thick of battle, excited for the victory to come, patiently awaiting the necessary spiritual transformation that the word of God promises will be produced in me in the process? The more likely scenario finds me struggling on my own, reluctant to share my trial with others for any number of reasons founded in shame and fear.
Painting a picture that we have grown so much in our faith that we have been elevated above temptation and trial, that life is now smooth sailing and without trouble, is nothing more than a lie. If my life is free of struggles, my faith will stall. It is only through hardship that I can move to patient endurance, then proven character, then hope and confident assurance.
Remember, Jesus Christ was tempted in every way. Even God himself walking the earth as a man was not above temptation. Not only that, our story of redemption is marked by His sufferings for our sake. If He was not above such things, how can we expect to be above such things? Part of the beauty of the Lord is that He can relate to me. He knows intimately what ails me, the evil that tries to keep me under its thumb. If we are to lead others in their journey of faith, we must lead as He led. If we hide behind an image other than that of the reality of our condition, we become a stumbling block to those who are looking to us to help them grow in Christ.
I think the clearest example of Christ’s transparent humanity is seen when He is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The story is told to us in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22. In reviewing these scriptures, several things become clear.
In each account, Jesus asks the Father to take or remove from His hand the cup of judgment or divine wrath. This is Jesus, the perfect Christ who was sent for our redemption, the only way to restore us to the Father, asking whether there is any other way to accomplish this goal. This is a man so troubled by the task that lay ahead that an angel had to visit him to give him strength, implying that he had entered a state of great weakness. Jesus described His emotional condition to his disciples as deeply grieved in the soul and almost dying of sorrow.
These accounts also state that he was distressed by the weight of His spiritual burden, in agony and anguished. His suffering was so great that his body entered hematidrosis, a condition in which blood mixes with perspiration, believed to be caused by the rupture of the blood vessels that feed the sweat glands in response to extreme stress. This is trial; this is trouble.
But God did not hide His trouble. He enlisted His disciples to share this burden. Multiple times He asked them to stay awake and keep watch. Our savior, our God, in the trenches of humanity, exposed to man the extent of His human condition during a time of emotional and physical weakness beyond comprehension, and asked for help. There is no greater humility than this. The Most High God chose to occupy a place of utter vulnerability, then He asked man to help carry Him through it.
This is God’s picture of the transparent humanity that is necessary in our spiritual leaders. It is an honest and humble presentation of this Christian life as it truly is and not as we would like it to appear. It is the joyful embrace of trial and tribulation, exposed to the church body with a call for its members to help carry the burden. It is a reassurance and encouragement to our disciples that while our struggles carry different names, the source of our spiritual condition is one that we share, and there is no shame in the battles we must fight along the way.
Some of us are searching desperately for leaders who look like us, because all we see are Christian archetypes that seem to live lives too far removed from the realities of our world. Others of us are helping lead the fold in a way that shows an incomplete picture of what is looks like to take up our crosses and follow Christ. Still others of us are members of both camps, in urgent need of a leader to show us by example how to lead others in honesty and humility.
Father God, continue to transform Your church so that the body operates as You have designed. Show us the ways in which we impede this process, and bring into our lives brothers and sisters who can walk with us through this time of transformation and share our burdens without judgment. Keep us humble and honest with ourselves and with others. Father, remove the spirit of shame and replace it with the spirit of forgiveness and compassion. Give us courage and joy as we suffer for the purposes of your kingdom, and remove the pride and fear that causes us to try to endure these trials on our own. Thank you for this impartation, and impart further knowledge and wisdom to us daily. We ask these things in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.