“Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”
That seems like a strange verse to spark a devotional thought, but stay with me. I have been reading the book of Acts, and I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now. This terse little verse is easy to just sort of read over in the larger context of that chapter, but I got a lump in my throat and starting thinking. My sentimental side says that it seems kind of strange to just state that big thing and then move on along with the narrative. Part of me wonders about the details that are left out. How did John feel about losing his brother? What about Peter, what were his thoughts about losing a close friend and ministry partner? Peter, James and John were the three disciples who Jesus chose to see His transfiguration on the Mount. You hear their names together often. They must have been very close friends, with a deep bond forged through their relationship with Jesus and the shared bond of apostleship. John and Peter must have grieved when James was martyred. Surely they felt his loss deeply. But we are not told anything about that.
I was thinking about that and why we aren’t told about their personal grief and feelings and thoughts over this event and why it is kind of mentioned in passing almost, just a background detail to explain what followed, and I think it must be because their private emotions and thoughts are just not the important point of the book of Acts. The birth and growth of the Church and the spread of the gospel and the transition from Old to New Covenant is the point, not the personal, and I have to believe real, grief, pain, and suffering, and, yes, joys as well, of the individuals along the way. I think those men had such an unshakeable faith in the message they were commissioned to share that their own personal griefs were subjugated to their calling to obey the Master who had saved them. They knew Jesus. They knew Him as Messiah and King and Savior. They knew they had a call to share the message of hope in obedience to and love for their Lord and Savior. They knew that James was absent from his body, but present with his Lord. We who belong to Christ do not grieve as those who have no hope. They completely trusted Christ, Savior and King, and the gospel must still be proclaimed. And they continued on, faithfully, to the very end of their lives.
The application I take away from this is that we are bought with a price. When we trust Christ, we renounce our ‘right’ to allow our personal emotions, griefs, or sufferings to paralyze us. I’m not just talking about the big things, but sometimes we get paralyzed by far less significant disappointments. We do not have the luxury of wallowing in our own self-pity. Whether it is a physical death or the death of a cherished ideal of what we wish our life would look like, we do not have the luxury to let our grief over the loss define us, consume us, and steal our joy in Christ. We do indeed grieve, and sometimes grieve hard, however. This is a valid part of life. I am most definitely not saying that I believe it is in any way wrong to grieve a loss of any kind. Grief has its place. Each time I miscarried, I grieved, and I grieved hard. But I didn’t stay there, paralyzed. I also will never forget that pain. Those experiences are part of who I am, and the things the Lord taught me through the pain are precious and can be useful as I seek to allow God to work in and through me and trust Him with it. I have hurts from my past that I could dwell on and allow to make me bitter or resentful. We all have things in our past that could cause us to be bitter or resentful or angry or hurt or, you name it. All of us have stuff. No one gets a free pass to go through life unscathed. How will you respond to trials and suffering? Will you wallow on and on? Will you let that pain define you? Or will you grieve, but as one who has hope? Will you trust Christ to be your all in all, your strong defender, casting all your cares on Him because He cares for you? Do you really believe, deep down where only you and God know your thoughts, that He is good and that His grace is sufficient, even if….? Do you really believe His way is best and that He knows and will do what is best for you, as His child? Is it easy to choose that road, to choose not to wallow? Not at all. But is it necessary? I believe so. I’m saying this to me. I’m far too prone to let much less significant disappointments cause me to gripe and grumble. I don’t like to think about this kind of thing.
I think, especially here in the West, we are afraid to think about suffering. We are afraid to be around others who are suffering and hurting. We are afraid to think that all our wants may not be His will for us. The fact is, however, we will all face suffering of some sort. Some seem to be called to more than others, but we all have it to some degree. It is wise to think through these things and know Whom we have believed, and be persuaded that He is able to keep that which we've committed unto Him and to complete that which He has started in us.
It comes down to this, true believer in Christ, over all, our calling to serve and love and enjoy Christ is supreme. If it is His will that something I thought I wanted is not to be mine, I must seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. He is Lord. And He is causing all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Am I truly able to say from deep down in the heart of me, “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple”? (Psalm 27:4) Am I able to truly say with surrendered heart, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to His cross I cling”? Am I able to say with Paul that “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead”? (Philippians 3:8-11)
May I be found faithful. Lord, please grant me the faith to persevere to the end. Grant me eyes to see Your glory. Let my cup run over with love for my Savior. Let me choose this day that I will serve the Lord. You alone, Lord, have the words of life, where else could I go? May I take those personal griefs to You, Lord, for Your grace is sufficient for me. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.