Thorns, Crosses, and Wheat
This is my first post since December. I really thought I would get back to writing more. After all, that is part of what I was talking about in my last post, as I considered pressing on “toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). I know that God has gifted me with the ability to write. And yet, how often have I sat in front of the computer screen, trying to think of something to say, and my mind has simply gone blank? I end up exhausting myself with solitaire instead of writing or going to sleep early.
Doesn’t sound like pressing on toward the prize much, does it?
The monotony of daily life wears us down
I’ve been realizing that pressing on is hard work. And perhaps what can make it so hard is the monotony of an average day. We get up, make our meals, go to work, relate to the same people, or don’t relate to any people – depending on the situation. Each day has its assigned tasks, and within it, we are living a very real internal life with all the emotional weight surrounding that.
Pressing on sometimes feels like trying to pass through a mountain without a tunnel to walk through. Or like trying to get up after waves have knocked me down, but the undertow is so strong I can barely get a foothold in the sand.
And pressing on every single day can wear us down. At least it does me. I get so focused on pressing on that I forget why. I begin to get up with this heavy weight tugging at me, longing for the sun to set before it has risen.
For me, it has been coming to grips with some physical issues. One surgery to prepare me for another, only to find out that I now have to undergo some diagnostic tests for a small mass in one of my lungs. Another month of doctor appointments and pressing on through things that just weren’t part of the deal.
A thorny topic crosses my mind (pun intended)
No one really knows what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). But I think it is with good reason. For some of us, it’s a thorn; for others, it is the cross Jesus asks us to carry. Custom-fit just for us.
I have to be honest, I’ve never been fond of thorns, particularly on roses, and carrying my cross has not been the topic of many sermons I’ve heard. Although I’ve never forgotten the one sermon I heard on the topic in university. The pastor shared the following story (retold in my style 😉):
A man had a dream. And in the dream, Jesus was passing out crosses to His children. When it was the man’s turn to receive his cross, Jesus reminded him that he was carrying it for God’s purposes. The man felt honored and said, “Lord, I will pick up my cross and follow you.”
Jesus handed him a cross. The man picked it up and frowned. He tried putting it on his shoulder; he tried dragging it, then he tried lifting it. But the cross was so, well, awkward and uncomfortable. He turned to Jesus and said, “I don’t mean to complain, but couldn’t I have a more comfortable cross? I don’t like this one.”
Jesus smiled and pointed the man to a small building filled with many different sizes and shapes of crosses. “Yes, if that is what you really want, you may put your cross back into the store room and pick another one.”
The man thanked Jesus, went it, placed his cross next to some others, and then began trying out the other crosses. To make a long story short, he spent hours trying out crosses. It seemed like he found fault with every single one! Why one even gave him splinters! (Actually, the man would have been hurt quite badly by some of the crosses, but he did not see an angel protecting him from behind.) He was almost ready to give up when he noticed another cross lying near the exit of the storage room. He didn’t recall having tried it out. He picked it up. Well, he couldn’t say he liked it. After trying out all the crosses, he had begun to realize that crosses weren’t made to be comfortable. In fact, he began to wonder what Jesus’s cross had felt like. What kind of cross had His Savior carried? (But that is a topic for another story).
But well, this cross, he thought he could live with. At least it wasn’t breaking his back or making him stumble and fall so hard he couldn’t get up (though, as he considered that, he did remember that Jesus had stumbled and fallen under the weight of His cross). And so, the man picked up the cross and took it to Jesus.
“Lord, thank you for letting me try out the crosses. I’ve picked this one. Is this OK with you?”
Jesus smiled and nodded approvingly. “My child, that is the one I gave you, to begin with.” And then he went on to explain, “You see, I know what you are able to bear – with my help. This one is perfectly suited to who you are, and the work I will do in your life. Pick up your cross and follow Me.”
Pressing on and following Jesus
I’m glad the Lord encouraged me to work on this post tonight for you, my friends. It has been a rough few weeks. I have not wanted to accept what Jesus is allowing in my life. I have been disappointed that my cries for healing, like Paul’s prayer for deliverance from his thorn, have not been answered the way I wanted. Instead, now I have a new challenge to face, along with everything else.
But Jesus is with me. He has allowed all this for a reason. And somehow, I think, if I were to choose to rebel and fight and complain, I’d end up with all kinds of splinters and knee-breaking falls. But as a sister who is now with the Lord said in her testimony:
“Like a grain of wheat that must bear fruit, we must die that we may live in Christ. We are winnowed and ground into flour by that divine harvesting, kneaded and baked into that small loaf that Christ will bless and multiply for His people.”
Quoted from the movie “Sue Thomas: Breaking the Sound the Barrier” at time point 53:21
Becoming God’s grain for baking
When I listened to Sue Thomas’s testimony, I was reminded of Isaiah 28:27–29, verses that I clung to during a particularly tough time when I was in university.
“For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, Nor is the cartwheel driven over cummin; But dill is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a club.
Grain for bread is crushed, Indeed, he does not continue to thresh it forever. Because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it, He does not thresh it longer.
This also comes from the LORD of hosts, Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great.”
Isaiah 28:27–29 NAS95
Now I am reminded of these verses with a new insight: the Lord is working in me and in all of us to make us bread for the starving world around us.
I pray these thoughts will encourage you. I don’t know if you are dealing with thorns, crosses, or feeling like God is beating and grinding you beyond comprehension. But I know this; God is working to do something good in our lives. And we can trust Him because HIS counsel IS wonderful, and HIS wisdom IS great.
Sue Thomas was a deaf woman whom God worked through in unique ways. Her testimony has encouraged me. I pray that her testimony will bless and encourage you as well.