THE AFTERNOON I KICKED THE FLOWERS!
Holding forth the word of life;
that I may rejoice in the day of Christ,
that I have not run in vain,
neither laboured in vain.
Fight the good fight of faith,
lay hold on eternal life,
whereunto thou art also called,
and hast professed a good profession
before many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12
A PERSONAL TESTIMONY BY THE EDITOR:
COPING WITH MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS AND CANCER
I am uneasy. Writing about myself makes me feel like that. I can but trust the reader will not suspect my motive for doing so. My only desire is to encourage, especially those who cannot understand why God has dealt with them in the way he has.
A number have admitted to being puzzled about MY situation (a few believing I am the object of God’s displeasure), wondering why after over thirty years of preaching and twenty four years of pastoral ministry, God should remove me from it all – but I am not confused. I know why. Well, to begin with, had he not done so there would have been no VPIF; a ministry reaching thirty one countries!
SNAKES AND LADDERS
It happened forty years ago (1958), and any blessing God has graciously granted my ministry since, is due to what occurred that extraordinary afternoon.
At the time, I was a student at a missionary college in England, and had just returned from the principal’s study with some bitterly disappointing news. Having informed him I believed my calling was to Britain and not to a foreign field, he reminded me this would mean many more years in training. Possibly, as many as nine. I felt as if I had been sentenced at the Old Bailey!
What patience I had snapped. After three years training for a secular career, which I had willingly sacrificed for a life-time spent as a missionary, after further study that doorway had also slammed in my face. Besides, my fiancee (now my wife of many years) and I had been hearing wedding bells, but they would now have to be silenced for an indefinite period.
I left the principal’s office stunned, angrily gritting my teeth. The ‘board’ appeared filled with snakes, and shamefully, I was blaming God for emptying it of ladders. How many christians have been, and are, in that position like children wanting (demanding!) only the smoothest of pathways upon which to stroll, yes stroll, to heaven. Yet, it is ‘through MUCH TRIBULATION’ we christians enter. (Acts 14:22)
AN UNEQUAL STRUGGLE
In an agitated state I made my way to the college garden where, behind the tall hedgerows away from prying eyes, I paced the meandering pathways between the rockeries. For three long hours I waged a private war against the turn of events (alright, I admit it, against God), pouring out my complaints to him who knew ‘my thought afar off’. (Ps.139:2) Like many young men in my position, for whom patience lies beyond the fingertips, I was anxious to fly ahead with my schemes unhindered by halters. But I was about to receive a rude awakening,
In lectures the question had often been posed what the cross is that every christian has to carry (Luke 14:27), and now suddenly I knew; obedience to the will of God for one’s life without hesitation, question or complaint. In fact, to follow Jesus’ example, (Matt.26:39) Yes, but what does that mean? Often christians pray, ‘Lord, make me more like Jesus’, forgetting that he was ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. (Is.53:3) A daring prayer!
However, following Jesus’ example and bearing one’s cross is a necessary ‘halter’, and those who wear it are privileged to do so, it being the symbol of the spiritual baptism of having been crucified with Christ. (GaI.2:20) Mere words, or actions in themselves however commendatory, cannot testify to the quickening experience, but rather true repentance and personal submission to Christ do. If he is not one’s Lord, it is doubtful whether he is one’s Saviour either. One dare not try to separate the two, although many claiming allegiance to Christ try hard enough to do so – and think somehow they have got away with it!
Christ possessed a cross, given him by the Father, with which he staggered to Calvary for a sinner like me. He had ‘delighted’ to fulfil the Father’s will (Ps.40:8), always doing ‘those things that please him’ (John 8:29), but was I, even if it meant inconvenience and self-sacrifice? Did I REALLY love Christ sufficiently to reply to that question in the affirmative? Despite hanging my head, I continued petulantly muttering my objections, while leafy twigs and the nearby flower felt the rough edge of my shoe.
I sought to escape Christ’s gaze, but failed as one after whom I was named had once done, and in my mind I could hear the same pertinent questions being asked. (John 21:15-17) Did I REALLY love Christ? Of course I did! But then the Holy Spirit replied by searching the nooks and the crannies (an experience every student preacher needs to be confronted with) when he suggested that my order of priorities was awry.
The truth had dawned. It arrived as a terrible shock to be confronted with reality; that although my love for Christ was genuine, it came a poor third. Third? Yes, that was the blow which injured my pride. My personal desires were top of the agenda, followed by a zeal for christian ministry and study, but loping far behind was a mere affection for the Lord himself. In truth my heart was lukewarm, and I was only fit to be ‘spewed’ out. (Rev.3:15,16) I was visibly shaken.
At the time, I was only four years old in the faith, but I considered myself committed to my Lord and Saviour. That afternoon, revealed to me, was the startling truth I was not as I had assumed myself to be (who is?); God’s thoughts not being our thoughts. (Is.55:8) In short, assessed by heaven’s values I was a hypocrite. In a very small way I was beginning to understand how the apostle Peter had felt. (John 21:15-17)
CONVERT, OR DISCIPLE?
So for four years I had unwittingly been playing-acting; that I was in reality just toying with the christian faith, assuming that a ‘convert’ and a disciple were the same person. Now, I recognized the difference. A ‘convert’ is selfishly anxious to avoid ending in hell (understandably!), but is not willing to enter any further into the christian experience. (Phil.3:10)
The christian life for a ‘convert’ consists of Sabbath observance, perhaps merely one service, and possibly the midweek meeting maybe, if there is nothing ‘better’ to do, Little else, apart from the occasional good deed. The soul is treated carelessly, private devotions an option; Christ is present somewhere, but far from the centre. That being so the ‘convert’ has every reason to wonder, if he bothers to do so, whether he truly belongs to heaven. (2 Peter 1:10)
Christ though seeks DISCIPLES, men and women who from a love for him, will obediently follow close behind carrying their crosses – AT WHATEVER THE COST. The disciple, as opposed to the mere ‘convert’, places Christ first (literally) over all things, and at all times. His family, and even his own life, must be subordinated (‘hated’). (Luke 14:26)
Hence when Christ had started his final journey to Jerusalem and Ca]vary (Luke 9:51), with all that meant in terms of self-sacrifice and total commitment to the Father’s will, he brushed aside superficial offers to follow him. They had to be made aware that discipleship – Jesus having nowhere to lay his head – entails spiritual toughness. (2 Tim.2:3,4) So let the dead bury their dead, and such is the vital importance of discipleship, proverbially there is no time to say farewell to family and friends. ‘Forsaking all’ for Christ is what is required of his followers (Luke 14:33), ‘looking back’ is unworthy of such a high calling. (Luke 9:57-62)
THE BREAKING POINT
In the distance I heard the bell summoning we students to tea, the first time that afternoon I had been aware of life beyond the garden, but I was in no position to heed it. I felt sick in my heart, shaken, and broken in spirit. I wondered how I would be able to return to the main building and mingle with my friends again. I felt as if the laser beam of holiness had penetrated my soul; a lighted torch had scraped the nerve-end of my conscience.
But still, God had not finished with me. Supposing he did not want me to serve him – ever and intended using someone else instead? What if he told me to break off my engagement, or as with Jeremiah (16:2), commanded me to refrain from ever getting married? Would I still love him? Did I love him for himself alone, or merely for what I could get from him? Sadly, there was no doubting the answer. Although I wanted to be of some use to God – a desire which has never left me to this day – unwittingly, I had expected it to be on my terms.
I sat down on the gardener’s rickety old chair nearby, head in hand, close to tears. Marriage and ministry had been expected within the year, but now both would have to be shelved indefinitely. Instead, God was commanding me to begin the long and slow hard climb for the third time. I could either go forward, obediently and submissively, trusting him from day to day – or, seek my own short cuts knowing he disapproved. What did I intend doing? Christ was claiming me for discipleship, urging me to place him first; to love him more profoundly than anyone or anything else. And all this for the rest of my life.
I thought of Abraham. What greater trial of faith and commitment could one have than to be made willing by God to offer up his only son as a sacrifice? Yet, we read, that without questioning the Divine intention, Abraham ‘rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass’, and off he journeyed to the appointed venue. (Gen.22:1-3) He had had many more reasons for flouting God’s commands than I did, but his faith and love for him were greater than any personal consideration. As Abraham is the father of all those with God’s gift of faith, I too wanted to be ‘blessed with faithful Abraham’. (Ga1.3:7,9)
THE TWIST IN THE TALE
After three hours ‘wrestling’ with God, I walked slowly from the garden a transformed young man. This had not been a mystical experience, no extra-biblical ‘second blessing’ encounter. It was far more practical than that. Christ had offered me discipleship, and I in turn had offered myself to him wholeheartedly with the solemnity of a vow (Eccles.5:4), and I knew there was never to be a turning back.
As I returned to my fellow students, keeping what had happened a secret (and doing so for very many years), there was something I was blissfully unaware of, because the Lord had graciously refrained from telling me. Unlike me, he knew my experience in the garden had little to do with the reasons for my bitterness when I had entered it, but was in fact a preparation for my eventual difficult ministry, and what lay many years ahead.
He knew that twenty-five years later (1983), a doctor would sit on my hospital bed and tell me I had multiple sclerosis, and all that means in terms of physical decline. Years after that (1997) another consultant would inform me I also had cancer! Try telling that to a ‘convert’ and observe his reaction, but when a disciple hears the news, he thanks God for the privilege in the spirit of 2 Cor.12:9,l0.
Dr. Peter Trumper