God could have saved us and made us instantly perfect. Instead, he chose to save us and leave indwelling sin in our hearts and bodies to wage war against the new and blossoming desires to please God that accompany salvation…since we know God does all things for his own glory and the good of his people, his decision to leave Christians with many struggles with sin must also somehow serve to glorify him and benefit his people. This is shocking news, isn’t it?
Paul’s Reason for Boasting about the Thessalonians

[3] We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. // [4] [Therefore] we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 ESV)

Suffering sucks. But Paul had every reason for boasting to other churches and being proud of the church in Thessalonica for their steadfastness and faith insofar as they were continuing to grow in their trust in Christ and love for one another in the midst of their suffering. If Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had every reason to be proud of the Thessalonians for these reasons, I would imagine God the Father had every reason to be proud of them too.

Therefore, what if we changed our paradigm for suffering as not something to be avoided, but something to be embraced? What if we saw suffering as times where God’s careful providence was over us and for every small victory of growing in faith and love, our Father in heaven looked down on us and nudged at members of the heavenly host and said, “Hey, did you see that? That’s my boy right there. I knew he could do it! I’m so proud of him. Keep at it son! I’m right here watching your every step.”

And what if in our moments of regression and sin, instead of feeling guilty and hopeless, we heard our Father in heaven saying to us, “Don’t worry son! Your older brother already paid the punishment for that. Let’s get you up . What do you need to overcome this struggle right now? Just ask and I’ll give it to you. I’m right here. I’ll always be here for you.”

How would this change how we address suffering not just in our own lives but in the lives of our friends and loved ones as well?

If our ongoing sin keeps us at the foot of the cross, desperately in need of a refuge and redeemer, then the party starts here and now and my daily sin becomes the conduit for outrageous joy and celebration.
It is a radical and almost frightening thought to see that God is actually as much at work in our worst moments of sin and defeat as he is in our best moments of shining obedience. Far from leading us further into sin, this concept draws us into deeper dependence on the promises and the power of God.
Perhaps our greatest problem is not the reality of our sin, but our unbiblical expectations of what Christian growth should look like. What if growing in grace is more about humility, dependence, and exalting Christ than it is about defeating sin?
The Memoirs of Rev. Walter M. Lowrie (1819-1847)

As I was digging through the old online archives of Princeton Theological Seminary on 19th century American Presbyterian Missionaries, I came across the memoirs of a relatively unknown (perhaps even forgotten) missionary named Walter Macon Lowrie (access it here for free). What I thought was simply the memoirs of another missionary quickly changed when I read the preface:

The Editor of this Memoir has done little more than to select and arrange the papers of his beloved son…Whatever profit may arise from the sale will be applied to the enlargement of the Ningpo [Chinese] mission, under the care of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church. 

This wasn’t just the memoirs of another missionary. These were the memoirs of a martyr. And what’s even more heart-wrenching is that Rev. Lowrie’s own father compiled these memoirs in the memory of his beloved and martyred son to encourage the church to persevere for the cause of mission and the glory of God.

I did some more research and I discovered that Rev. Lowrie’s father was Walter Lowrie (1784-1868), a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who later retired from politics to work for the Missionary Board of the Presbyterian Church (in the USA). Three of his sons grew up to become missionaries—all of them threw away promising political careers for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. 

I may revisit Rev. Lowrie’s memoirs in more detail since Dr. Jue assigned a biography project on a missionary from this time period for one of my courses. Nevertheless, I would encourage you all to check out Rev. Lowrie’s memoirs. From a brief glance, it looks pretty darn good.