The Suffering Saint

Suffering is spiritual warfare.
— Paul Tripp

Suffering is spiritual warfare,” says Paul Tripp. Why? Because you are not a machine.

If something dysfunctions in a machine,” he says, “the machine feels no sadness, doesn’t worry, doesn’t question beliefs, doesn’t wish for the life of another machine and has no concern for what the future holds.”

He’s No Machine
You and I are not machines. Despite my delusions of strength, if you’ve suffered, you’re well aware that suffering isn’t bound to its epicenter. The ripple effect and its incremental outward expansion goes beyond the physical origin and reaches well outside the target. Amid the tough stuff of life, you’ve likely been sad, worried, you’ve questioned God or you’ve longed for a do-over. And you’ve probably wondered whether or not it will “always be like this” and if there’s hope for a normal future. If you haven’t, I have.

So has Kevin Scahill.

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Kevin is no machine. More than 2 decades ago, Kevin was driving the streets of Dallas - the same streets he patrolled as a seasoned police officer - when his car was hit by a semi truck. His daughter walked away with a few stitches; Kevin, a traumatic brain injury.

His speech is muddled, his breathing is labored, and his posture is as straight as a question mark. Wrapped with a makeshift brace that begins around his ankle and attaches to his belt loop, his right leg wants to go one way while his left leg is determined to go another. You and I will take 10 steps before he takes two.

The Suffering Saint
I met Kevin at the Joni & Friends Family Retreat in Texas where families impacted by special needs travel for hours and even days in some cases to hang with friends, worship together, relax, go fishing, play games, learn about Jesus and just have a blast. Kevin, however, isn’t a camper. He’s a volunteer leader. He’s a servant; a humble, sweet, God-fearing, Gospel-dropping, suffering saint. The spiritual warfare he’s involved in is so palpable that the friendly fire inside his heart strays to reach my pride and defeats it on impact. The longer I live and the more mistakes I make, the more I realize it’s impossible to be proud in the presence of the humble.

As we stood together and welcomed families to camp, the only thing higher than the Texas heat was the energy coming from the crew of volunteers. As they line-danced to ‘Footloose’ in exuberant anticipation of their guests, Kevin turned to me and with beads of sweat dripping from his brow he said through the noise, “Jimmy, I don’t want to elevate her, and I don’t want to lower Christ, but Joni Eareckson Tada is the closest thing to Jesus I have ever known.

Gulp. (Pull it together, Peña.)

The Real Battle
Each morning before 7:00am prayer, Kevin could be found swimming his laps and doing his therapy. In fact, over the course of the last twenty years, he’s learned how to breathe, to eat, to stand, to talk, and to walk; and all for the second time. And yes, he’s learned how to fight. By God’s grace, he stands toe-to-toe with suffering and doesn’t flinch.

I used to think that the battle raged within reps and between sets; through pumps and progress and through the welcomed blood, sweat and tears of grit. Not so. That kind of battle is a masquerade party under the guise of pain and punishment, so write this down. If you look forward to it, it’s not suffering.

I’ve said it before, but angels don’t rejoice when we reach our fitness goals. They rejoice when a lost person chooses Christ. Truth is, the Apostle Paul disciplined his body like an athlete - not to turn heads - but to change hearts. It’s warfare. And from experience, real suffering attacks the heart and goes for the soul. I’ve met a warrior who isn’t going to let that happen.

- Jimmy Peña

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QUESTION: Know any warriors? Any suffering saints that have made an impact on your life? Please name someone here and we’ll thank God for them and pray for them.