The Old Deal:
In Exodus, God led the nation of Israel through the desert as a guiding beacon – cloud by day, pillar of fire by night – protecting them from the pursuing Egyptian army overnight before they could cross the parted sea, providing food and water for their journey, and propelling them forward when they complained.
Protecting, providing, propelling…
The New Deal
In Acts 20:23-24, the apostle Paul tells us that God, the Holy Spirit, does two things – compels him, leading him to his next church planting assignment, and warns him of imprisonment and hardship to come. Propelling Paul into danger? Sounds like a different god at the helm, doesn’t it? Did God forget to proofread the email He sent to Paul and the church? Hasn’t He read “Your Best Life Now”?!
Assignment: the Linchpin
Yet, the promise made to Israel was a very different promise than what was made to the apostles. Israel was on a different assignment than the church. God was leading them to a temporal victory.
Jesus told his disciples that they (and by extension, we) would have troubles. While we have been given promise of immediate freedom from sin – we are no longer obligated to walk by the flesh – this is not the endgame. The freedom we experience “in Christ” is more a by product of God’s ultimate gift: eternity to enjoy and worship Him.
In other words, the road to eternity may be marked by hardship, prison, falling out of favor with those who hate God, persecution, etc. But, the true prosperity we are promised is not a “now” land of milk and honey nor riches and pleasures in this world. Just as our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), our victory is not entirely in flesh, blood, or the “now”.
The joy of the Christian life is not in the material pleasures that often confuse, elude, or intoxicate us. The God we serve who leads us on this dangerous mission is the same God who led Israel to material prosperity and safety – He just promises us those things in eternity rather than in this age.
Three Things You Have To Gain Through the Pain
If pursuit of God’s purposes and assignments for our lives will necessarily bring difficulty, why would we want to say “yes” to such a thing?
- To follow Christ comes at the prompting of God, who draws us to Him – and we gain Him, from whom we are otherwise eternally separated. Not to mention we gain our souls. (See Matthew 16:26)
- When we fully grasp how nastyrottenfithyawful sin really is, how holy God really is, and how utterly incompatible sinners are with Him (apart from Christ), our response can only be “I’ll do whatever, whenever, no matter the cost!”
- God promises that we will be rewarded for our struggle both by temporal maturity and effectiveness (Romans 5:3-4, James 1:2-4, 2 Peter 1:5-8) and in eternal rewards at the judgment seat where He will reward those “in Christ” for everything done in the body whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10)
During trials, loss, pain, etc., are you asking God “why me?” or “how will this mature me, Lord”?
Off to Work
Begin with the end in mind. God’s endgame is to prepare us and train us for kingdom living – in mature love and full submission to Him. The pain, struggle, and hardship given to us here is designed to stretch us and build us up stronger, much as any athlete preparing for a professional sports career. If trials truly build us up, look forward to the trials. If the Lord is truly our prize, look forward to the Lord. If hindsight is truly 20/20, when you look in your rear view mirror, you may well see He has orchestrated the trials, the pain, the stretching toward maturity all for good. Not painless… but worth it.
Walk in agape, by the Spirit,