Everything I know about death, I learned at my grandparents’ sick bed. I’ve been within an arm’s length as three of my grandparents crossed over from this temporal world to their eternal home. Perspective zeros in with pinpoint accuracy in that moment. After a lifetime of trying to figure out what matters and what doesn’t, staring down death lifts the veil. All the worry, all the anxiety, all the embarrassment, all the shame melts away. So do bills and houses and cars and retirement plans. Jesus’ charge to love God and love others is what is left standing.
The most powerful sermons of my life have been preached by suffering. When my car is parked on Easy Street I can convince myself that all kinds of silly things are worthy of my time, devotion, and emotions. But when suffering and sadness and disappointment are my zip code, I am forced to look past my circumstances toward the bigger picture.
I wish this weren’t the case, but the longer I live, the more I realize I cannot fully grasp the sweetness of God without knowing the bitter taste of life in a fallen world.
The Apostle Paul had an uncanny grasp on and devotion to the gospel. He sent shock waves through the church and into our lives by saying, and actually living like Christ is all that matters:
My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
- Philippians 1:20
Paul knew in his gut that it was Christ alone who saved him. He refused to be entangled or sidetracked by any other message. But how did he get so Christ-assured? How did he step around the traps that trip up so many of us? How was the gospel imprinted so deeply on Paul’s heart?
I wish I could say that his resolve was a result of great preaching or prayers answered swiftly and easily, but that’s not how Paul became obsessed with the gospel. His singular focus on Jesus was honed in prison cells, by hospital beds, and at crash sites. Struggle was the boxing ring that trained him to live his life for Christ.
In Philippians 1, we find Paul in a prison cell. Though stretched thin in the tension between this life and eternity with Christ, suffering helped him see things clearly:
For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
Paul looked at a future in prison or a possible death sentence, and he saw Jesus there. He looked at a life of doing what he loved, and he saw Jesus there too. He knew freedom from suffering meant freedom to preach the gospel, but then he got arrested and found out the gospel doesn’t lose its power behind prison walls (Philippians 1:13). His faith had been refined in the pressure cooker, so he knew there was no need to ever turn tail and run. He refused to let fear freeze his feet.
Suffering emboldens us because when we are face to face with our worst case scenario, we see Jesus staring back at us. We don’t have to wait till our deathbeds to see the “one thing” as clearly as Paul did.
Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Erin Davis is a popular author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.