Thursday, February 09, 2012

FACING LIFE'S TRIALS

The apostle Peter began his first epistle with some wonderful news about the “living hope” that is the possession of every child of God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). This hope looks to a future described as “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (verse 4). That may sound too good to be true, but it isn't, and the best part of this inheritance is the knowledge that it never ends and contains promises which no one can presently comprehend: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). While this presents a picture of a glorious time that awaits all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the present day in which we live is not so glorious. We do not live in a world that is incorruptible or undefiled. It is in fact "wasting away" with each passing moment and will eventually face a cataclysmic end (2 Peter 3:10). I recently finished reading the book, Be Still My Soul, which contains classic and contemporary readings on the problem of pain. One of the contributors was Tim Keller, who cited 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17: “...we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (NIV). In commenting on the word for “wasting away” in verse 16, Keller states: “Greek scholars will tell you Paul was not just talking about the body as wasting away, but about all of life in this visible world. He was saying that everything in this world is wearing away. Everything is steadily, irreversibly falling apart. Our bodies are wearing away. Our hearts are like wind-up clocks with a finite number of clicks that are clicking away. Our physical appearance and attractiveness are wearing away, and we can't stop it. Our relationships are wearing away. Get a group of friends around you, and time and circumstance will eventually pull you apart. Our families are wearing away, dying off one at a time. Our skills are wearing away. You can't stay on top of your game forever. Everything is like a wave on the sand. You can't pin it down; it starts to recede from you.”

Keller is undeniably correct. We know this to be true, and Peter, who lived at the time of Christ, would wholeheartedly agree. Yet he told those whom he called pilgrims of the dispersion to greatly rejoice even though they were experiencing grief through many different kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:6). How could this be? Because heaven is for real, and Paul was correct when he said that our earthly troubles are just for a brief period of time—momentary-- in the light of eternity and will be immediately forgotten when the Christian enters into the glory of God's presence. This is indeed a living hope that can fill our hearts with a sense of peace and joy even in life’s darkest hours. Verse 18 of 2 Corinthians 4 puts it into the proper perspective, telling us that we must “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (NIV). Personally speaking, I can face all of life's trials knowing that they will eventually come to an end and give way to something beautiful and majestic which will make those trials appear as nothing. Suppose you suffered for the whole of your earthly life: What would that amount to in comparison with endless joy afterwards? It wouldn’t amount to a speck of sand on the shore or a speck of ash emitted from a volcanic eruption. We have all seen pictures of such an eruption. Just think of your present suffering or trial of faith as one of those specks of ash ascending upward into the sky, eventually to be dispersed by the wind, never to be seen again. I know that is hard to do in the midst of the trial when the weight of it seems unbearable, but don’t give in to despair. The future may not be ours to see with human eyes, but we can see it with the eyes of faith, trusting that Jesus has prepared a special place for us according to His promise: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).

So, weary pilgrims, let us run the race of life bravely, setting our sights on the finish line, not the obstacles before us. As we seek the Lord day by day, He will give us the strength and perseverance to press on: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

May the Lord give you His perfect peace,

Pastor Tom

[1] Be Still My Soul, (Inter-Varsity Press, 2010) 15,16