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The Fellowship of His Suffering

Rebel soldiers were starting at one end of a large room, taking women away one by one and bringing them back after they were finished with them. Helen’s first impulse was to hide and not have to bear this humiliation again. Then she thought of Jesus. He put himself forward as a substitute for us. The fellowship of his sufferings—she moved to the front, to try to protect some of the other women from undergoing a new trauma they might possibly have escaped so far.

She looked back later on this whole period and wrote: “We learned why God has given us His name as I AM (Exodus 3:14). His grace always proved itself sufficient in the moment of need, but never before the necessary time…As I anticipated suffering in my imagination and thought of what these cruel soldiers would do next, I quivered in fear…But when the moment came for action…he filled me with a peace and an assurance about what to say or do that amazed me and often defeated the immediate tactics of the enemy.”

She writes movingly of how abandoned she felt…”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His answer to her was a removal of the fear as if it had been rinsed out of her—and a strong sense of his arms around her, holding her and comforting her. She felt as if he were saying, “When I called you to myself, I called you to the fellowship of my suffering. They are not attacking you. They are attacking me. I’m just using your body to show myself to the people around you.”

Those paragraphs are taken from Noel Piper’s, Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God and the chapter providing a brief biography of Helen Roseveare. It’s a portion of the book that has stayed in my mind, even a couple of years after first reading the book. It moved me when I first read it and it moves me now. The account has been meaningful to me as I’ve begged God to show me where sin has taken a hold in my life—those hidden areas that far too often are difficult to see. There is some sin in my life that is so obvious that I simply cannot deny it. But there is some sin that is buried far beneath the surface and only God can call it to my attention. A sin God has revealed to me as I consider the deliberate hardship of this faithful woman is that of valuing my own comfort. Life in North America, even as a Christan, can be far too comfortable for my own good. A comfortable faith is, I believe, a dangerous faith.

This account has also been meaningful to me as I’ve pondered what it means to give everything—to lay it all on the line for the sake of my Savior. In some ways it seems that there would be a certain heroic quality in giving my life for my faith. We reserve a quiet awe for martyrs and justifiably so. But somehow it seems that what Roseveare offered was almost more than her life. She suffered in a way that surely affected the rest of her life. She was willing to give her life, but in a sense gave even more than that when she made her way to the front of that line. What an example of faith!

How many people would be willing to lay not just their lives, but their bodies and their dignity on the line, as she did? How many would be willing to be used as she was, believing all the while that what men were doing to “the least of these” they were in fact doing to her Savior? How many would be willing to do this knowing that they would have to live forever with the consequences? How many would be willing to do this out of love for women she did not even know?

I stand amazed at this story. Really, I do.

It was only later, when Roseveare had returned to her native England, that she discovered an amazing chapter of her own story and one that had been written at the same time. “It was the very night of Helen’s attack. [A] woman had been awakened with a strong sense to pray intensely for Helen, whom she only knew of. She prayed and didn’t feel free to stop until a certain time that she named to Helen. Given the difference in time zones, that was the same time that Helen had been washed through by the peace of God and known that she wasn’t abandoned by Him.”

As Helen Roseveare abandoned herself to men, she was in reality abandoning herself to God and to His promises. She was willing and able to trust that as she gave herself to God, He would be her strength. She knew that her body was but a vessel God was using to show Himself to the people around. She knew in her heart of hearts that the anger of the men was really an anger directed at God. And unbeknownst to her, while she went through her ordeal, other believers were holding her up before the throne of Grace. He did not forget her.

In 1989, 120 young people sat cross-legged in the Piper living room and dining room, covering nearly every square inch of floor space. They had accepted our open invitation to anyone who thought missions might be in his or her future.

As Helen Roseveare stood by our fireplace and looked into their faces, she reached backward toward the mantel and eased a long-stemmed rose bud from a tall vase. As she spoke, she broke off the thorns, the leaves, the petals, the green out layer of stem—every element that makes a rose and rose. All that was left was a lithe, straight shaft. The pieces that lay on the floor were not bad things. But, she explained, they had to be removed if she were going to make an arrow. God does this to us, she said. He removes everything—even innocent, good things—that hinders us from being the arrows that he will shoot for his purposes at his intended target.

And that is a lesson we can all draw from her story. We all need to abandon ourselves to God so that He can make us arrows fit to shoot for His purposes and at His intended targets. Like so many faithful men and women that God has used for His purposes, we need to allow Him to strip away layer after layer of ourselves, that we might be wholly and completely His.