The Great Suffering Joy

“For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” Philippians 1:29

I am the son of a former professional athlete. My dad played in the NFL as an offensive lineman for about 7 years. In my eyes, my dad was the epitome of strength and masculinity. Everything that I thought being a man consisted of, my father embodied. He had a way of commanding a room, yet making everyone feel like they’re the only person he’s talking to; he was impressive. My father retired from the NFL and became a deputy sheriff. He continued to live out his love for football by coaching a high school football team. My father really cared for young athletes, especially those who came from single-parent homes. He desired for them to have direction, discipline, and to know Jesus. I always wanted to be like my dad. He made so many people happy. The irony is that he and I were very different. I am not an athlete at all; I am an artist to the bone. My father was stoic and I’m extremely demonstrative. That being said, initially I found it hard to pinpoint similarities between my father and myself that weren’t merely physical.  That all changed in 2006…

It was my sophomore year of college. I was 19 years old and my 37-year-old father died. It was unexpected. This was the catalyst that set my life on a trajectory that I never thought I’d cross. With my dad’s passing came sorrow. Immense, I can’t see the purpose of going on, sorrow. It was the type of sorrow that lingered and that would swell up in your chest just when you thought it had passed. That was until I found joy.

The last (face to face) conversation I had with my father was a couple of weeks before he passed. He had encouraged me to do a summer missions project and said that I should go to India. The interesting thing is that in applying to do the summer project I applied for any country that wasn’t India. A week after my dad’s passing I received an email from the sending agency through which I had applied to do the summer project. I was accepted into the summer program and they said they wanted to send me to India.

I spent the summer in India sharing the Gospel with people who had never heard. Still carrying the sorrow of my father’s passing, my mourning became bitterness. I remember on Father’s Day walking through the narrow streets of a crowded Indian city, literally yelling at God. I didn’t understand why “he took my dad away.” I was crying and pushing my way through this path when I got an overwhelming sense to stop. As clear as day, I heard the Lord ask me why I was crying, then urged me to look around. I looked and saw swarms of people on their hands, knees, and faces praying at the altar of idol gods. That’s when perspective shook me awake. Why was I crying for myself when I have an eternal father and these people surrounding me were truly fatherless? This truth ignited hope. I still felt the loss of my father but now I was able to see past the fog to a bigger picture.

I learned that joy is eternal.

I could never say I am happy about not having my father here with me but I definitely have joy that my father knew Christ as his Savior and is spending eternity with him. That is joy. It affects generations and outlasts all circumstances. I realized that it’s that joy that I was called to share with others.  During my time in India I had the privilege of sharing with people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. One of the guys that I became great friends with bonded over the fact that my father and his mother died on the same day. I told him the story of my father’s passing and how now I have joy in knowing that my dad is with Jesus. His story was very different. He was completely consumed by the uncertainty he felt in losing his mother. The last image he had of her was at her Hindu ceremonial burning. I shared the Gospel with him and he wept when realizing that it was too late for his mother but became fueled with zeal to share what he had just learned with his father and grandmother. This friend has now translated several books of the Bible into his grandmother’s tribal language and has recorded an oral Bible in one of India’s many languages.

While in India the Lord opened many doors for me to share and it’s in serving Him that I learned that there is joy in knowing Christ and in suffering for him.

I was honored to watch the Gospel change the lives of the people I met in India. This is a privilege that we have as believers. In knowing Christ, we can experience joy through serving him. It’s in our service that we are used to usher life change. Can you imagine being a part of someone’s life being changed for eternity?  It gave me an eternal perspective and allowed me to see first-hand how the Good News, is good, indeed. But with this responsibly comes struggles. My wife, my little son and I will be moving to India (indefinitely) to be a part of what he’s doing there. Sharing in India was not easy. Leaving my family, friends, and changing my career was not the ideal thing to do but it pales in comparison to eternity and the joy that comes from making an everlasting change.

After my father’s death, I received a Myspace message (it was 2006) from one of his high school students. The student thanked me for allowing my dad to mentor him and be a part of his life. The young man also said he and a group of his teammates committed their lives to Christ at my dad’s funeral. The student talked about how much joy he has now; and that my dad was the reason that he has a relationship with Christ. The Lord used my dad’s service and his family’s suffering to allow joy to prevail.

After reading the message, I realized that my father and I are alike in the ways that matter. We both understand the joy that comes in serving, sharing, and suffering for Christ.

Reflect On This:

  • Recall a time when you felt some sort of suffering, large or small, through a circumstance in your life. In what way have you allowed the Lord to alter your perspective on your suffering? In what way are you resisting the Lord in your suffering?
  • When our suffering intersects with the spread of the Gospel, it has an eternal impact; joy prevails.  How might the Lord be inviting you to see your suffering from an eternal perspective?
  • Take some time to offer your suffering to the Lord. Write out a prayer to the Lord that honors your suffering while simultaneously honores His desire for the advancement of the Gospel.

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Great Suffering Joy

  1. Awesome job on this, Bernard. I know the Lord is going to use you and your family in a mighty way. Love you guys. Can’t wait to meet your little boy!!

  2. Loved this, Bernard. What a great path God has allowed you to walk and what a great transition from bitterness to joy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *