A Place for Experience

He had patients who were suffering. It was the 1920’s and surgery was growing more and more effective with the development of anesthesia. But when it came to removing an appendix, general anesthesia like ether and local anesthesia like medicinal cocaine were less than desirable options. There was a relatively new option for local anesthesia that was called novocaine. But what would it be like for his patients to experience surgery using this new drug? How would he convince them of its efficacy?

The doctor’s name was Evan O’Neill Kane and the year was 1921. He was 60 years old when he decided that to be an effective practitioner he would have to experience the surgery himself. So he used novocaine, a few well placed mirrors, and a scalpel to remove his own appendix.

In a completely different era the contemporary singer-song writer Jason Mraz revealed in a recent interview with Daryl Hall (of Hall and Oates) that there was a moment he realized as a young artist that he didn’t have the life-experience he needed to sing about some of the things he was singing about. It was then that he met an 60 year old man in a coffee shop.

Mraz’s musical skill and the older man’s life experience found an immediate connection. The two have been writing partners ever since. Both Mraz and Kane exemplified the same principle: personal experience is a crucial component for communicating to and caring for others.

To Jail or Not to Jail

The apostle Paul took a similar track when he was in Philippi, recorded in Acts 16. After the conversion of Lydia he continued to preach the gospel to residents in the city. During his preaching ministry a demon possessed slave girl began following him and crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” Thoroughly annoyed at the whole situation, Paul cast out the demon. The freedom that was brought to that slave girl also brought a loss of wages to the men who owned her. The whole incident landed Paul and Silas before the city magistrates. After a beating, imprisonment, a literal jail break, and the conversion of their captor the magistrates tell Paul and Silas that they are free to go. Paul’s response was,

They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.

It was illegal for the magistrates in Philippi to beat Paul and Silas exactly because Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. And up until that point Paul and Silas had apparently hidden the fact that they possessed Roman citizenship, a fact that Paul will vigorously assert later (Acts 22:25). So we must conclude, that for reasons unrecorded in Scripture, Paul endured suffering for the Gospel that he could have legitimately escaped. He shared in the experience that the Philippian Christians, most of whom were not Roman citizens, would endure after Paul’s departure.

Imagine--as a member of the Philippian church--the camaraderie in suffering that you would feel after receiving the following correspondence from Paul:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27-30)

After that passage, Paul launches into the well known section describing the humility of Jesus in his incarnation and atonement (Phil. 2:5-11). Paul’s experience of suffering resonated with the Philippians experience of suffering and laid the ground work for rich theological teaching about the person and work of Christ. Apparently personal experience was very important to Paul.

Know and Tell

Here then is the struggle for many Christians. Where does our experience fit into our communication of the Gospel, into our practical works of Christian service? Is the sharing of personal information and story selfish? Does it undermine or distract from the error-less truth of the Word of God that we proclaim? The New Testament would answer all these questions asserting the positive place of our own story in our own communication of Gospel. Our experience serves as a picture frame, a setting for the diamond of God’s truth communicated through us. But for many people, they are simply ignorant of their own story. If that’s you, then here are three things you can do to learn what God has been up to in your life.

1. Write out your testimony. Christian, you are an object of God’s mercy, a trophy of his grace. At a particular time, in a particular place, through the gospel shared by a particular person, the Lord caused you to be born again. It is a story you have been given. It is a highlight clip, a viral video, of God’s grace in the life of a sinner. Take time to think through your own conversion and put pen to paper to write it down.

2. Reflect back on suffering you have endured after your conversion. Everyone suffers. Jesus told us to expect it in this fallen world. And it is often in our times of suffering that God is most clear about his gracious love for us. But it is difficult in the midst of suffering to chart that grace. And frequently after the suffering is gone we don’t take the time to reflect back on and notice God’s grace to us. Don’t waste your suffering. If you do avoid reflection then you are utterly unequipped to help others who suffer in similar ways as you have simply because you didn’t take the time to understand what God taught you.

3. Journal. No, you don’t need to buy a moleskine or download a cool app. You don’t even have to record it in written form. But I do encourage you to take routine breaks daily, monthly, and yearly to reflect back on what God has been up to in your life. What have you been learning? What has your experience taught you about life, love, repentance, grace, faith, and the ways of the Lord?

If you take the time to actively engage your own story of grace and suffering you’ll not only learn more about what God has been doing in your life but you’ll also be equipped to care better for others. Often when someone is in a tight place, they are more likely to receive truth that is prefaced with, “I experienced something similar…” (2 Cor. 1:3-7).