Reading this part of David Livingstone’s biography is mind-boggling. After undergoing countless of anxiety, sickness, suffering, and dangers in exploring Africa for the gospel, David Livingstone was still able to express these words.
I remember Livingstone as one of the top stories in our Vacation Bible School . His life frequently visits our Bible lessons when I was in grade school. He is also a constant illustration by pastors in their preaching on missions. I remember as a child I was mesmerized by his life story, his sacrifices, his pains and his victory. There was one time, I could not remember, hearing or reading I could not also remember, saying that he hadn’t taken care of his family that much- that he was victorious in an eternal-spiritual sense, but he was a familiar failure to a family-sense.
His short 5-word sentence embodies a philosophy that helps me face reality. It lifts me up from a mindset of the world that exalts a life free of pain, a world that glorifies modes of escaping reality. David Livingstone’s philosophy in this economy of words is rich, transforming, phenomenal. He approaches pain as reality, yet he changes my perspective on it. He does not deny pain, he redefines it.
I’m mesmerized the moment I read this. I thought of life itself. I have failed in the past, and certainly I will fail in the future. Pain and suffering is a major portion of our past, yet it will also visit our near future. Yet Livingstone harnesses a weapon on these words- a weapon that empowers me to defeat the giants of regrets, pain, numbness and misery. This weapon is also a house. It empowers me to welcome suffering and woe. This weapon is a binocular. It allows me to see a different perspective on my situations. It opens a new dimension to reality- that I am to see the valleys as the way to eternal pleasure and joy, that pain is a gateway to greater bliss. And in this life, following Christ, we never make a sacrifice for him at all. Everything is joy. Everything is pleasure. That the chief end and the chief means to that end has been and will always be joy.
In fact, the first book written in the Bible is Job. It deals with the subject of pain and suffering. The book of Job enlightens us to a God who allows pain and suffering. We may be tempted to see God as a saddistic enthusiast, one that takes pleasure in the pain of others, one who delights in the misery of His bride- yet I see this not as a grotesque idea, the Creator allows pain because it is an awesome tool that breeds intimacy.
Pain is a road to pleasure. Paul cried because of his “thorn in the flesh.” He pleaded that God will remove that suffering, but God did not. God allowed the thorn to remain in Paul and just said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” God allows pain, His goodness dominates that act, why? Because of the very reason that His goodness in allowing pain is a means to draw us intimately to Him.
He knows that suffering is a reality of our lives. He is not blind, nor indifferent to our pain. Job, David Livingstone and all humanity have experienced this frequently, have eaten this with tears and sweat in our brows, and have always needed the truth to help us face it with courage and fear.
For Livingstone, I am comforted that someone somewhere in the point of history calls sufferings as a privilege which led him to believe that he never made a single drop of sacrifice for the Master. Why could have he given something to Whom belongeth all things? What an outlook! What a worldview!
This is Christian Hedonism at its peak. This is the embodiment of the chief end of man which is to “…enjoy Him forever” as Westminster pens it. It’s the most relieving, therapeutic catharsis of all time- not physical but a mind and spiritual therapy.
This phrase transformed my understanding of pain, and I hope someone out there will be transformed as well. I am reminded every time I am re-exposed into it. It gives fresh meaning and insights whenever I read it again. We can never make a sacrifice. In Jesus, pleasure overpowers pain. Even in our most painful moments, the pleasure of His presence is comfort. Easy to say, but the doubt in my heart says that it is difficult to achieve.
Suffering for Christ is no longer resented, but celebrated.
Pain is now to be seen as pleasure when it is for the Lord. Change your understanding and you will have an extra flow of joy to your life.
These are his original words to Cambridge students. This is where this quote was taken from:
For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.
David Livingstone, a sinner like we are yet transformed by the Gospel, became an incarnation of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:18 “ I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Livingstone espouses the same Spirit that indwelt John Paton. When Paton expressed his interest in reaching out Vanuatu for the gospel in the 18th century, his church elder, Mr. Dickson exploded, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” But to this Paton responded,
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.
Suffering now? Tell it to pain, “you’re not even worthy to be compared to the glory that I will experience with my Savior.”
We may have not suffered what Livingstone had suffered. We may not experience the fiery trials that pierced his flesh and the additional pain from his personal and family issues, but we have someone who calls the most resentable entity in the universe as a gift, a pleasure, a joy. Prefer not to call them as “sacrifice.”
How about you? Do you prefer to call it suffering or sacrifice? What’s the difference in changing names? Will Livingstone’s words be a comfort or discomfort? Share your insights.