By Gary Witherall
Gary Witherall serves with Operation Mobilization and is also a leader in the SVM2 network. He travels internationally challenging students to live abandoned to God.
Two battles rage in a follower of Christ, the seen and the unseen. Lose one and the other will come crumbling down.
They create constant tension and cause for a lot of internal wresting. The battle for the inside man is all about who I am, and the battle for the outside is all about what I do.
To say as some do, “there is a suffering people” is wrong. The truth is, we all suffer. There is internal suffering such as rejection, loneliness, failure, loss of purpose, break down in friendships and the list goes on.
Then there is the outward suffering such as sickness, debt, war, racism, lack of career etc. We all suffer. In addition to this we have an enemy trying to destroy us, but we have spiritual armor and Christ in us.
“Sir, is this your bag?” In January 2007 at an airport, I was searched for the second time. I could not say anything. Speaking would just make the officer more thorough. So I gave him a blank look and let the process begin.
Slowly he squeezed his fat hand into the tiny latex glove as if he was ready to do surgery. I wondered if half the test was for my reaction to his methodical search. As I looked at his tired sunken eyes and tight work shirt, I perceived he most likely hated this more than I did.
Being searched at the airport is something we now have to tolerate. No one likes the agitation, but it is the agitation that starts the process of making a pearl. A piece of grit enters the oysters’ world and slowly, often very slowly, something priceless is formed.
Agitation is an unpopular word, and it is found in inconvenient places such as an airport, or in a seized traffic jam. But, as I have discovered, life’s issues are permanently full of such battles. I can feel when I begin to get irritated.
It usually occurs when I am slightly tired or hot. In front of me a slow crowd shuffles through a door or someone is complaining to a cashier in front of me when I need to get moving. It is not the waiting that annoys me, as much as the monotonous shuffling through life.
It’s the constant heavy traffic, red lights, and lines of people waiting for everything from coffee to airplanes. I can get depressed and find it is all meaningless.
Yes, the idea that life should run smoothly in your car, your house, your work and relationships is a myth. Like some action movie where the hero in a car chase, beats all who appose him, and in the end, gets the girl.
In contrast, I fail, get irritable, need to sleep. This is known as the human factor. My life is full of shortcomings that can take hold of my life without permission.
But God the pearl maker, the restorer is at work in me, silently and slowly. He is changing, crafting and chipping edges away.
I can talk about the pearls of my life. They are in fact the most precious memories and stories I hold so dearly. Yet many of them came with pain, failure, and grievous agitation.
How I had planned for things to go one way, but my life at times felt like a coin spinning on a table.
In all situations, God is at work in our lives. He uses all the difficult times and stressful relationships to shape and mold us. God is always at work in our lives. We will fail, but God uses that too.
In fact Dr. Lutzer wrote a book called “Failure, back door to success.” I have learned people often appreciate knowing that I have struggled with failure and weakness.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:10-11
The inward man is all about God’s hand of sanctification in our lives.
We can fly off anywhere, do any kind of ministry, preach to the largest crowds about Christ, but the inward man comes with us where ever we go. We are Christ’s workmanship, being carved and shaped. Sometimes it is not fun.
My father in-law was talking to me about going through tough times. He mentioned David who was anointed king but running in the wilderness. It was in those days of suffering where the Lord met him and he wrote many of his Psalms.
While the first battle lays concealed, this battle is seen. It is often the first question a person asks another, “What do you do?” It is our service and our calling whether in the business world or in ministry.
It is an easier question, as apposed to the question, “Who are you?” which is far too personal. But the outward battle also rages. In ministry I have seen a lot of poverty and suffering. The world is full of inhuman situations.
During my late teens I found Christ in a radical way. I believed God was calling me to the mission field. In 1986 I joined Operation Mobilization. I had no idea what would take place. But over the next fives years I traveled to many parts of the world, seeing the needs and the pain.
I grew as a person inwardly and developed in ministry. Nations such as India taught me about the unspeakable suffering in the world today. Later after Bible School I married Bonnie and we prepared to go out on the mission field.
A struggle developed to find the place where we should go. One day while Bonnie was praying the Lord spoke to her saying, “I have not called you to a place; I have called you to myself.” It became a great revelation for the both of us.
God is calling us to an intimate relationship, where he can lead and guide us. The going is secondary. At the end of the year 2000, we sold everything we owned and flew to Lebanon.
There Bonnie established her work among Palestinian refugees in a prenatal clinic in Sidon where we lived. I was involved in Bible teaching and sharing the gospel. In November 2002, a gunman knocked on the clinic door and killed Bonnie.
Everything up to this moment in my life-all the experience I had and everything I knew was to be put to the test. Suddenly everything I loved and knew would change or be lost. What I experienced that day and many days since has burned, riveted, into my mind.
This test catapulted me into an intense need to know that God is in control. Is God relevant in my life? Is He real? Can He hear my prayers? Does the gospel change people? Would He be faithful to me in momentous suffering?
I had no strength left, and lost everything I loved in one moment. I would have completely turned away, but it was as if I felt the Lord physically put his arms around me, day after day. I felt his presence on me in an unusual way.
The storm had come through, everything had been stripped away, but I discovered that my house had been built on a rock. To this day I cannot imagine how I would have dealt with this without knowing Christ. But I imagine such deep despair would drive a man insane.
“………in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. “2 Corinthians 6:3-10
Do not be fooled, the Christian life is tough and many fall away. We must dedicate ourselves to repent, live in purity, stand firm putting on the whole armor of God. And when the day of great suffering knocks on your door, you will be ready.
One thing I can guarantee, if you follow hard after Christ Jesus, YOU WILL SUFFER. May God give you the grace and strength to fight these battles!
Thoughts for discussion or for your personal time with God:
- What have been some of the pearls of my life?
- What do you believe God’s calling is on you life? “I did not call you to a place, I called you to myself!”
- Are you failing with the inner or outer battle?
- How do I filter the pain of the world?
- What does it mean to ‘be real’ as a follower of Christ?
- How do I deal with the pain in my life?
You can contact me through my website www.totalabandon.com . My story is available through Tyndale publishers; a book entitled “Total Abandon.”