Saturday, July 31, 2010

Life Hurts

For a list of reasons, life has been feeling a tad more difficult lately; a little darker. But as I‘ve thought about it, that makes sense. Consider what the Scriptures say.

First, there’s this: ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ What do you suppose self-denial should feel like? Is it something light and carefree? Is telling some of your lifelong desires, many of which are just fine and good, ‘No!’ – is saying that something that should feel good? And what do you suppose cross bearing is about? It’s marching off to death. Is that supposed to produce happy feelings? This is how Jesus invited people to follow Him. It’s Jesus’ description of the Christian life.

And so, Jesus also said, ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.’ What is ‘now’ to be like? It’s a sense of not being satisfied, of feeling a hunger that goes way beyond food, a hunger for life as it was meant to be but is not. And because of that, ‘now’ is the time to weep. It gets so hard at times that that’s about all you can do. And feeling such things is good. They are prerequisites for Jesus’ blessing.

And yet, ironical though it may seem, this does not lead to despair – though it feels like it should. ‘We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.’ How would you like to have lived Paul’s life? Afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings and more. Much more. Most of us could not bear anything close to this kind of life. It would crush us and that quickly. But Paul does not give in to despair. ‘… as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…’ He practiced what he preached. ‘Rejoice in the Lord, always. Again, I say, rejoice.’ Words of joy written from prison.

Bottom line: It’s fine to be happy and to enjoy the good things of this life. But there is to be more than just that. We also need to feel the weight of a broken life lived in a broken place among broken people. That weight does not crush the Christian – but he feels it. The solution is not to try to run from this by being distracted by all the toys at our disposal. We need to feel the weight and to even groan a bit under it. That’s just being honest about life. But we do this following Jesus who felt that weight – even before the Cross – more than we ever will. We do this trusting Him to keep His promise to us. ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ We do this knowing that our suffering is part of the plan to create a renewed world with renewed people, a place where no one is broken but all are satisfied to overflowing. There is a purpose to our sighs and tears. We do not see it now, but we will.

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