The Black Velvet

Standing outside church this weekend, I happened to glance to my left to see a lady with her seeing eye dog walking toward the building. A rather large outdoor entryway, there's plenty of room to meet friends, grab a coffee, catch up and, as it turns out, to get a bit turned around.

Well, for whatever reason, I happened to look to my left and saw this Labrador retriever leading a red-headed blind believer toward the main entrance. But they were a bit off course. As they passed, I wondered if perhaps they were headed toward a small group of people gathered outside the building, but no. They walked right on by them. And then, having traveled a bit too far, they stopped. I knew something was wrong.

Walking up behind them, I asked if they were ok. She said, "We can't seem to find the door." She humorously blamed her sweet dog, who by the way looked a lot like Josey. I introduced myself, offered my assistance and helped them to the door. She said thanks. I nodded and winked at the sweet pup. He looked at me as if to let me know that he could take it from there.

(To think I thought I was the one helping them...)

Intrigued. That was the prevailing response I got last week from "The Black Velvet" post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. If you've arrived at our tiny corner of the internet because of that post, I'm so glad you're here. If you happen to be new, give me a shout in the comments section. Introduce yourself. You'll quickly find that PrayFit is a place where we love to forget our "self."

So, where was I? Oh, yes. The Black Velvet. Well, reading Spurgeon last week, I happened upon a wonderful quote of his. He said, "Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly." Pause it. Close your eyes. Sit there for a second. The need for context is blinding, right?

Well, Spurgeon suffered from a myriad of mental and physical hardships; kidney inflammation, gout and depression just to name a few of his struggles. "You must go through the fire if you would have sympathy with others who tread the glowing coals," he later wrote. (Feel free to read that sentence again for its amazing imagery.) Meaning simply that if you've made it to the end of any distance of difficulty, you know what others are going through as they suffer in step, and your heart hurts along their way.

This week, we'll take a look at a few of Spurgeon's thoughts on the subject of illness and health and how the two paths convene and diverge along the road to Calvary. But to a "faith & fitness" industry - filled with its meadow maidens striking a pose under the guise of faith while verse-splattered tank tops with their easily-devised metaphors fill your media feed - Spurgeon has plenty to teach us. Some of you reading this sentence could likely add to its content, I'm sure, because your feet still throb from the coals of suffering.

And for those wondering if Spurgeon honored God with his ailing body (never mind the millions and millions of current readers) he baptized almost 15,000 members, maintained a weekly attendance of 6,000 people, and spawned 66 para-church ministries, including two orphanages and a theological college. By 1892, Spurgeon had published more words in the English language than any other Christian in history. Without the aid of television, radio, or the Internet, Spurgeon proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to an estimated 10 million people in his lifetime (The Spurgeon Center).

So, as chief curtain holder, allow me to pull back Spurgeon's introduction to this week's theme; a theme that doesn't forget the forgotten canvas; that ignored territory that was trod most frequently by Jesus Himself on His road to Calvary.
The fit and fiddle mock it.
The strong and independent vilify it.
But the blind, the lame, the beggars, the sick, the suffering and the souls with their soles upon the coals, they kiss it. For those whose "grief presses them down to the very dust to worship” it's home. 

Pulling Curtain:
"Health is set before us as if it were the great thing to be desired above all other things. It is so? I would venture to say that the greatest blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has. If some men, that I know of, could only be favored with a month of rheumatism, it would, by God’s grace, mellow them marvelously.

Imagine. To be favored with illness. What would that do to our industry? Well, for this little corner of it, may the curtain we pull back this week be a source of perspective; a reservoir of comfort; a reminder that faith doesn't mean fitness. (It's almost absurd to clarify it, I know.) But may the curtain we pull back be the black velvet where God's love glitters. After all, like me, someone you know needs help finding the the door.

- Jimmy Peña