As we enter into the Season of Lent I am reminded of the importance of Jesus’ temptations by the Devil in the wilderness and his subsequent sufferings throughout his ministry culminating in his humiliation, mockery, flogging and death upon the Cross. He modelled for us the humanity of God who came down amongst us as one who serves. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8,9).
Lent causes us to value pain and suffering. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power will rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9,10)
The temptation for us in this world, in our culture, is to glorify success, health, prosperity and to preach a triumphalist Gospel that denies suffering, failure, illness, dying, persecution and death. We want to get to Easter by avoiding the way of the Cross.
I see this in the ministry of many churches and pastors who preach how to be successful in life, celebrate the victories of life but ignore the failures and losses. Yes, Jesus is victor. Yes, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But remember that the “all things” include the things we suffer. St. Paul gives us a list of all the things he suffered in 2 Cor.11:22-30. His boasting is of the things that show his weakness.
What makes for a successful Christian life and ministry? Not the status of a celebrity Christian in the limelight of publicity but the humble servant who is willing to be like Jesus. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24,25). Sometimes we are called to endure hardship, to persevere, to tough it out, when it is not easy. There are periods in life when it is a hard slog and much darkness but we don’t quit. Jesus is there alongside of you and he knows what you are going through because he has been there before you. In that sense you can do all things in Christ who strengthens you.
The people who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven will not be the stars of this world, but the anonymous saints. “They were the silent ones, the salt of the earth, men who raise no outcry in history.” (Miguel de Unamuno, Peace in War) Lent puts us in our place, deflates the egotist, and helps us to see the challenges of running the race.