Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (New International Version)
I haven’t been a confessing Christian my entire life. And so, I can relate to Peter’s exhortation. I still remember what it feels like to live my life without any thought to God or spiritual matters. I also have many memories of giving my life to Christ and, for years, having people puzzled as to why I didn’t want to join them in activities which would clearly diminish my spirit and suck the soul out of me.
The thing about partying and immorality is that it’s a life filled with constant movement. Slowing down only makes one come face-to-face with what is truly inside the soul. And if someone has an empty vacuous soul, or a damaged spirit, or a broken heart, then attempting to drink or work away the inner pain makes sense when there’s no regard for God.
The last thing I ever wanted to do was suffer, yet before my own spiritual awakening, it seemed I could never outrun the hurt no matter how hard I tried, even with all the constant locomotion.
But I found in a committed Christianity the slow and quiet place I so desperately needed. I discovered in ancient Christian practices of solitude, silence, and stillness the opportunity of finding my true self.
There are times in our lives when we need to explore the place between our hurting hearts and the hunting for joy. It’s actually a quiet place sandwiched between the ignominy of the cross and the celebration of resurrection.
Within the geography of the soul, this is something of a lost country for many folks. Some people have never had the thought that such a place even exists. Yet, this is the very place which gives meaning and focus to a disjointed and frenetic lifestyle.
To be even more specific and focused, there cannot be a better life, a new life without a death to the old life and dying to self. There must be suffering before there can be glory.
I’m a heady sort of guy. Most things, for me, have to go through my brain. Although I have come to appreciate and value my heart and my gut, I still find myself sometimes gravitating toward my intellect as the answer for my stress. Yet, there are many times (maybe even most times) when I really need to get out of my head, connect to my gut, and wrap my heart around whatever problem or challenge is before me.
I have been a devoted follower of Jesus for many decades now. Yet, I still encounter a sizable chunk of Christians who devalue the place between the real suffering on Good Friday, along with the very real death of Holy Saturday. In the tomb, there is no movement. All is silent and still.
Jesus was in the solitude of a dark tomb. So, there’s no getting around it. If we want a Resurrection Day with all its celebration and glory, then we cannot circumvent the place of darkness and stillness.
To be a Christian means a readiness to follow Jesus and suffer as he did. It involves a willingness to stop our striving, manifested through constant movement, and embrace the disciplines of solitude, silence, and stillness with its contemplation and radical acceptance of what is – and not just what we want something to be.
This requires the sense enough to pray and please a higher power than fair weather friends. It demands a Christian counter-cultural shift to face the ridicule of friends so that we might take some much-needed time to be with Jesus in his life, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Put plainly and bluntly: If you and I want to live with Jesus, we must die with Jesus.
I could give you ten steps to having a better life, but this would ultimately mean nothing apart from the willingness to spend some time and sit in the place of suffering and death.
And, ironically, in doing so, we find the life that is truly life, and discover a way of existence which is far greater and better than we could have ever dreamed.
Merciful and almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we submit ourselves to you, knowing that our lives are in the hands of a gracious and sovereign Being who cares deeply for all creation and every creature. May our longings for transcendence result in the deep and good desires of our hearts to be met fully in Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.