Successful Suffering

Jul 1, 2011Find joy today, Heal from the past

I’m grateful to have James Watkins here today talking about a compelling and important subject. He calls himself an Author-Speaker-Threat to Society. I like that. And I like his perspective.

Successful Suffering

For ten years, I directed a writers’ conference on the east coast. One morning, while making sure the stage was ready for the morning session, I found an envelope on the podium addressed to “Jim.” The contents shocked me—a “Thank You” card with the following hand-written message inside: “We can see Jesus in you.”

I immediately turned the envelope over and checked the address once more. Yes, it was addressed to “Jim” and yes, I was the only Jim on the program. I was stunned!

You see, the closer I feel I’m getting to Jesus, the farther I realize I am from His character. The more I pursue righteousness, the more I discover my wretchedness. And the more loving I try to be, the more selfishness and ego-centricity I find growing like mold in the corners of my life’s refrigerator.

“We can see Jesus in you.” Unbelievable! Especially when I think back to my “successful” years—award-winning author and editor, world-traveling conference speaker, denominational executive, and co-pastor of a growing church—I certainly didn’t resemble the Christ I was trying to follow. It has only been during my “failure” years—years between book contracts, estranged relationships, being voted out of a church, and having to borrow from inheritance money to make a living writing and speaking—that I have come to derive my self-identity and self-worth from simply being a loved child of God.

Apparently, one doesn’t become more like Jesus by being successful, but by being buried under a ton of lemons! And here’s the most shocking discovery. Of all the amazing, baffling, confusing Scriptures, Hebrews 5:8 is the most amazing, baffling, and confusing:

So even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.
What?! Read that again! The very only, begotten Son of God learned to be obedient by the things He suffered. Was Jesus, as Isaiah writes, “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (53:3) because He obeyed His Father? Or did He obey His Father because he was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering”? That’s probably a whole other book!

But what I have learned is that the only way I can become like the Lord I love is through hardship and heartaches. (And compared to three-fourths of the rest of the world, my “suffering” has been the hangnail variety.) I have learned absolutely nothing from success, but I have learned much from suffering.

This idea goes completely against much of what is being taught on so-called “Christian” television. Jesus didn’t teach a “prosperity” gospel but a cross to be taken up daily. And, that, I believe it is the essence of Paul’s writing in Romans 8:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose [which is] to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Italics mine).
Excerpted from Squeezing Good Out of Bad (XarisCom 2009).  From Jim’s “Hope & Humor” blog at