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Experiencing the Fullness of God in The Deficits of Life

In June 2023, a group of ten people from Burke Community Church traveled to remote South Africa to minister to vulnerable children. In this series of posts, we are sharing the perspectives they gained in that experience. I begin with my own.

You do not know what you are asking – Mark 10:38

The morning after returning from a challenging but deeply inspirational trip to rural South Africa, I was challenged by this simple statement of our Lord. I am working my way through the gospel of Mark in my daily time in the word, and Mark 10:38 was the verse I landed on.

It was no mistake.

To provide context, Jesus was just asked by two of His disciples to grant them a wish. They desired to sit on either side of Him in the kingdom. Notwithstanding their hubris, Jesus does not rebuke them. Rather, He simply states the profoundly obvious – “you don’t know what you are asking.” Which He then follows up with a question: “Are you able the drink the cup that I drink?” James and John don’t seem to miss a beat. “We are able,” they pronounce – confirming that they truly do not know what they are asking.

James and John are probably thinking that the cup involves the demands and pressures of holding a leadership position in the kingdom – for this is what they anticipate. Even though Jesus had just informed them of the true nature of the cup He would drink, this reality seems farthest from their minds. On their minds are power, position and glory, not persecution, crucifixion and death.

Looking For Glory

It might seem easy to condemn the Sons of Thunder after the fact, but the challenge I have for you is this – are we really any different? When we ponder our place in the kingdom, it seems we can well imagine the glory. But do we conceive of the suffering? We can image the accolades, but do we visualize the ridicule? We can imagine the comfort of the throne, but do we lay hold of the torture of the cross? When we readily pronounce ourselves worthy of the cup… do we know what we are asking?

Can we say honestly that we seek the same suffering that Christ endured? That our motivation for standing in His ministry is to be belittled, beaten and rejected as He was rejected? Or do our motivations fix upon something grander beyond the cross? If we are honest, it may be that what we are really saying is “give me the comfort of the throne, but spare me the crucifixion.”

Through The Cross

The problem is the kingdom we long for does not come after the cross, it comes through the cross. Which brings me to the journey that culminated in this verse. It was a 10-day journey I took with nine other people to spend time with brothers, sisters and children of Christ in the rural and very poor Eastern Cape of South Africa.  Our experiences in undertaking the work of the ministry in this setting were profound in and of themselves. But equally if not more telling for me were the challenges. For they demonstrated, even in some small way, what I mean when I say the kingdom comes through the cross.

It was through these challenges, and the team’s response to them, that I was reminded of the true outworking of faith and God. In this I was reminded that the kingdom comes through suffering, discomfort, peril, unmet expectations, unexpected dismay, airport delays, lack of power, lack of running water, missing toilet seats, flat tires, cold nights, sore backs, swollen knees, stolen possessions, and hearing the stories of abuse, neglect, cruelty and deceit endured by many in our world; stories that split open the walls of the heart. How does the kingdom come in such difficult things?

The kingdom comes when, in the midst of all these things, joy still abounds in our hearts, complaints find no space or opportunity to take flight, and despair is stifled by rejoicing. The kingdom comes when we are led to the realization that it is bigger than any of our circumstances, no matter how challenging they may be. That was the gift God gave me through nine people who chose to experience nothing but the goodness of God in our time together in the field, despite the circumstances.

It seems that only when God allows us to experience a deficit can we truly appreciate what it means to have. In the midst of lacking many things, I came to see that what this team truly had was the Holy Spirit. And He is always more than enough.

The Cup Half Full

Upon reflection, I might be tempted to say “Jesus, we drank from Your cup.” But of course, I cannot. Because God in His mercy did not allow us to drink in the fullness of it. He was faithfully protecting us against every arrow flung by the evil one. We lacked power, but no one stumbled in the dark. We lacked running water, but no one fell ill. Our tires went flat, but we didn’t crash. We stepped into the lives of those truly suffering, but their experiences did not become our own.  God gave us the cup, but it was only half full.

And in that, I was reminded it was not so with Jesus. God did not remove the cup from Him, nor did He lessen its wrath. Jesus experienced the fullness of the cup for us when He went to the cross and the grave for our sins. And in doing so, He released us from despair and freed us from experiencing despondency in any situation. 

Taking The Cup

In summary, what I learned from 10 days on mission with my nine brothers and sisters in Christ is that unless we are willing to take up the cup, we won’t truly taste God. This team took a risk in traveling thousands of miles over dozens of hours to a place where their discomfort was guaranteed, but their health and safety was not. The point was not the risk in and of itself. (When we seek danger for the sake of seeking danger, we chase yet another idol.) The point was that the risk was not a barrier.  After all, risk avoidance is not just a deterrent from risk, it is a deterrent from God.

If I am honest, like James and John I didn’t really know what I was asking for when we stepped out on this journey. I may even have had delusions of grandeur; a trouble-free, comfortable time working for God in His field. What a loss that would have been.  Thank you, God, for sparing us the fullness of Your cup, but nevertheless allowing us to taste the sweetness of picking it up and trusting in You. Amen.