The Secret

“In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:12b-13

In March 2008, while preaching in Sylvester, Georgia for dear friends, Cathy and Ben Bush, I received a disturbing call from my wife, Dana.  She had discovered a lump under her arm, and had scheduled an examination. Upon my return to Texas, our six-year battle with breast cancer began. Today marks Dana’s fifth year of being cancer free.

Those who have fought the good fight, with their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, family, and friends, know the significance of this day. Many have prayed with us through the darkest days of delay, doubt, despair and defeat. We are grateful for them,  and extend this invitation to them to join us for the victory dance. This is a big day.

Paul had a secret. He was not interested in hoarding it, or hanging it over the heads of those who followed him. He was eager to share what he had learned about the Christian life.  Here it is.

“I can do all things through Him, who strengthens me.”

Suffering and strengthening are not enemies of one another. They are friends, fighting back to back against a common foe.

Paul had developed a courageous companionship with Jesus that could only be known through suffering.  He uses a word for suffering that provides the English word “pathos.” It can be either a joyful or sad experience. The difference is in how one responds to it.

He said, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish, so that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8

His life’s prayer became, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Philippians 3:10

Conventional wisdom says, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” It is an interesting thought, and makes a great throw pillow, but it is not very biblical. Apparently what conforms you to the death of Christ releases the strength of His resurrection power. For a Christian strength comes from being conformed to death, not avoiding it. There is a difference between having survived death and begin revived from it. The Gospel is not death defying.  It is life giving. Big difference.

The secret that Paul has learned means that he has been initiated into the mysteries of God’s Kingdom. He has been fully taught, completely instructed, and become intimately acquainted with and accustomed to the ways of God. For Paul the secret strength is in The Savior, not the system.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Paul didn’t take small comfort in his suffering, and quietly whisper a feeble “Praise the Lord, anyhow.” He rejoiced in it greatly! He was strengthened by courageous companionship with Christ. He was also overjoyed, by the evidence of His Savior’s influence on the hearts and minds of his friends.

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me.” Philippians 4:10

Regardless of his love for Jesus, Paul was still touched by the love of his friends. Paul lost some good friends along the way. His suffering proved some old friends to be false ones. Suffering also purified other friends into even better ones.  This is one of the bittersweet side-affects of suffering.

Note to self: Don’t be surprised by suffering. Lose your shock-face. Put on a happy face for the friends who show up at the start of your suffering, have your back in the middle of it, and are still standing with you at the end of it.

On a personal note, as Dana and I share this day together, we cannot help but reflect on those who fought the battle against cancer with us. Thoughts of them put smiles on our faces and warm our hearts. This reflection on them is not a deflection of glory to God. It doesn’t minimize our praise for the ministry of The Spirit of Christ in our lives. Their friendship greatly magnifies it.

Today I will present Dana with a small strand of six pearls. One pearl for every year of the battle against cancer she has endured. A pearl is formed by a grain of sand pressing upon the flesh of the oyster. The irritation isn’t rejected. It is received. The rough exterior of the sand is recoated repeatedly, until it is recreated into something beautiful.  The oyster’s repeated response, over time produces a smooth, white pearl.

I have watched Dana receive the suffering that has cancer brought her way. She received it as her “Great Adventure” and turned it it into praise to God. Her consistent, courageous companionship with the Savior gave her grace under fire, and strength to overcome a relentless enemy. Though cancer impacted her body, it could not influence her heart.  Jesus proved Himself to be her “Pearl of Great Price.”

Congratulations Dana. I am proud to be your husband, and friend. I look forward to sharing life with you, as we lead people to TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!