The Suffering in Sacrifice

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There is a story about Charles and Susannah Spurgeon that is often held up as an example for pastors’ wives. I first read it when my husband was in grad school, and I have heard women be encouraged to heed it. But I think it’s one of the few Spurgeon stories that brings more harm than good.

The story goes like this: One time when Spurgeon was about to leave early for another time away, Susannah teared up. Charles said, “Wifey, don’t you see, you are giving me to God in letting me go to preach the gospel to poor sinners, and do you think He likes to see you cry over your sacrifice?”

The lesson for pastors’ wives and others is supposedly this: If you are sacrificing for the gospel, it is selfish to cry over it. I am not the only one who has read this story and felt guilt for feeling sad about sacrifice—tearing up when dropping my husband off at the airport and driving home with a van full of small children.

Clearly, weeping every time a spouse leaves for a meeting or being bitter about sacrifices that come with public ministry is wrong. We do need a willingness to give for the Lord and His work. But that does not mean that an understanding of the cause leaves us chipper about real sacrifice. What makes me think that? The High Priestly Prayer.

The Example of Christ

John 17 is the passage usually referenced, but we see the same scene in Matthew 26:36–42. Christ is in the garden of Gethsemane, pouring out His heart to the Father on the eve of making—being—the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. He is carrying out the will of the Trinity, agreed on before the foundation of the world. This has to happen; this is right; this will bring glory. But it is not easy, and there is no denial of the magnitude of the suffering.

Jesus is sorrowful and troubled, great drops of sweat and blood forming in His profound distress. The prayer is, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (v. 39). The deepest agony is private: in the dark and at a distance from even the dearest disciples. But it is poured out honestly to the Father.

Depending on Christ

When God calls us to sacrifice for His kingdom, He does not require us to deny the suffering that comes with it. We shouldn’t be publicizing it, but we can bring it honestly to God. In Christ, God Himself knows that voluntary giving can be extremely painful. We don’t need to pretend otherwise. What we do need is a longing for God’s will—“thy kingdom come, thy will be done”—that is greater than our natural aversion to suffering. We need a love that is willing to give when it hurts and a faith that the Good Shepherd will lead us through the valley.

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.