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Saturday-Longing Distress

For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.

 

Philippians 2:26,

 

When we read these words, I bet you can’t help but think back to times in your life when you felt the same way. Times when you longed for someone. Something. Times when you were distressed. Times when it seemed like the bottom dropped out of your life.

 

I remember being in a worship service after my job had been eliminated through downsizing. But God, in a marvelous and powerful way, had already provided another job that was both a big promotion and paid significantly more. But it required a move.

 

As I sat in the last row, hunched over with my head in my hands, it all just came crashing down. At first my eyes started to water up. Then tears were rolling down my cheek. Finally, I was sobbing uncontrollably. I cried out to God in a voice that broke with deep hurt and emotion, “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.”

 

Epaphroditus, also known as The Big E, understands what we’ve gone through. He didn’t just have one feeling of longing and emptiness that suddenly came and went. It wasn’t a single feeling of wanting to be with them. If you look carefully, you’ll notice how Paul says that The Big E longs. He longed and longed for the Philippians. He longed for long periods of time.

 

Since he longed over and over, The Big E had built a pattern into his life. And that pattern had become a rut. And like all good ruts, they’re not there just to be a bump in the road. A rut is something to be stuck in. And he was stuck in his longing for the Philippians. We’ve all been in a rut like The Big E. We’ve all had times of longings in our life. Those feelings of great wanting are deep canyons with no trails to climb out. If he had only longed, that would have been bad enough. But it was worse.

 

The Big E was also distressed. His heart wasn’t just full to overflowing with sadness, it changed everything about him. Being distressed is more than just a feeling. An emotion. Being distressed impacts your entire life. Everything and everything you are. When I think about being distressed, I look back at my life and try to remember when I was in the same place as The Big E. I think about when I hurt someone I loved, or when someone I loved who hurt me. It’s not a time of happy thoughts and memories.

 

And then I think about all the people in the Bible who’ve been in distress. I think about Joseph being thrown into a pit and sold by his brothers[1]. David being chased through the desert[2]. Or Stephen being stoned after telling the crowd all about Jesus[3].

 

I think these people and others throughout the history of God’s people went through more distress and suffering than we will. And as bad as they had it, there was someone who hent through more. There was only one other person in all the Bible that is described as being distressed.

 

And He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with Him, and began to be grieved and distressed.

 

Matthew 26:37 NAS

 

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is the only other person in all the pages of the Bible who’s described as being distressed like this. His sorrow overwhelmed him[4]. His mental and emotional agony poured out of him through great drops of sweat and blood[5].

 

This wasn’t a surprise to Jesus. He had known for some time that he was going to be betrayed, arrested, rejected, tortured, and crucified[6]. But it’s one thing to know it, and something completely different and more powerful to experience it.

 

And why was The Big E so upset? Not because something so awful and terrible happened to him, but because the Philippians heard that he was sick. He went down into the depts of despair because his close friends heard the news of his illness.

 

It’s one thing to become emotionally distressed and depressed when a member of your family gets sick. Your wife. Your husband. Your child. Your mom. Your dad. As one person put it, you’re tied to your family by an umbilical cord.

 

But it’s something altogether different when it happens to your friend. Someone who you chose to become close to. Someone that you decided to build a relationship with. Someone you wanted to be with.

 

That’s how Jesus feels about you and me. He was willing to go through longing and distress for us. He purposefully went to the cross to pay the price for our coming back to God. His longing and distress were even greater than ours because he’s God. But that didn’t stop him.

 

And when we finally get it, this motivates us to respond in wonder, love, and praise[7].

 

Noodling Questions

 

  • When was the last time you cried out to God, “I don’t want to?” Why?

  • How does Jesus going through grief and distress impact your life?

  • Where do we draw the line on what we’re willing to go through for others?


[1] Genesis 37:23-28

[2] 1 Samuel 23:13

[3] Acts 7:54-60

[4] Matthew 26:38

[5] Luke 22:44

[6] Matthew 16:21–23, Mark 8:31–32, and Luke 9:21–22

[7] Love divine, all loves excelling, Charles Wesley (1747)

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