By Dave Zuleger, Lead Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church (south campus)
The Struggle is Real
This title is not meant to be a trite, one-liner for the season of life we find ourselves in. The world around us is different. Things are not as they were a month ago or even a week. There is a virus that is spreading and causing pain to people close to us. There is an economic crunch coming as many people we know come into the reality of unemployment. There are health care workers already feeling weary and a bit fearful of what is to come. There are empty streets, malls, restaurants, and lots of empty time – all waiting to be filled with joy, laughter, purpose, and productivity.
The world as we know it has changed and we don’t know when it will go back to the way it was (if it ever will). This has begun to reveal what we subtly hope in day in and day out as we feel our fears and frustrations from lost comforts and conveniences.
As Christians, we can admit that as we look around at an invisible, yet looming evil, and feel our helplessness we feel like King Jehoshaphat who cried out, “Lord, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
Stripped of Good to Be Satisfied in God
Yet, perhaps a not-so-subtle hidden purpose in all of this is that God means to work fresh dependence in his people. Make no mistakes, God reigns over pandemics (2 Chronicles 7:12-15) and over and over again in history when pain comes to God’s people, prayer rises from God’s people. Why? Do we pray because we suddenly believe in prayer? No. We’ve always believed in prayer. We pray because our need for our all-powerful God to meet us with his power and presence is highlighted – we believe in God and so we pray!
As God works dependence in his people and strips other things away (the world is literally shut down right now in many ways!), the beautiful surprise in the midst of suffering is the sustaining presence and power of God. God’s people realize that God really is enough. God’s people realize that all his promises to “finish the work he started,” to “never leave or forsake us,” to “not break a bruised reed or put out a smoldering wick,” and to promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” really do find their “Yes” in Jesus Christ and are applied in moment-by-moment mercies in the power of the ever-present Spirit.
When suffering and hardship hit, ultimate things come into sharper view and we find ourselves longing for more of Jesus in the Word and prayer. We find ourselves longing to gather with our blood-bought family. We find ourselves freshly stirred for ministry and calling. We find ourselves with mercies enough each day to carry us through. We find ourselves able to say, with the Apostle Paul:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
Made for Another World
God cares about us enough to never let us stand still in our pursuit of Jesus. He loves enough to continue to pursue us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives. God’s pursuit of us presses us on to pursue Jesus all the days of our lives. In other words, God’s pursuit of us empowers our pursuit of him! As God pursues us and uses providential moments of suffering and pain to strip away things that cloud our vision of him, we are reminded that those in Christ are not ultimately made for this world. C.S. Lewis says: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Losing our comforts and finding fear lurking in the background is a God-ordained means of leading us to the realization that we cannot find any ultimate comfort anywhere else but in Jesus. The conveniences that are stripped away and the frustration that comes are meant to lead us to the realization that we are not in control but we can trust the one who is. The shakeup we feel in our heart is God revealing blind spots so that he can put us back together and help us see more fully where true joy, hope, and satisfaction are found.
What do we see?
And when our eyes are opened, what do we see that settles our frustrated and fearful hearts?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
We see a merciful God who has saved us by the blood of Christ. We see a powerful God who has raised us through the resurrection of Christ. We see an unshakable kingdom where we will spend eternity with Christ. None of that is up for grabs. The world we were made for is not going anywhere.
And as we see, what kind of response does the Lord work in our hearts as he holds us close through these refining trials?
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:6-8).
We respond with unshakable, ultimate joy in the person and work of our Savior – even in the midst of trials. There is an unshakable, living hope that one day we will be in the everlasting kingdom – the world we were made for – with hearts truly satisfied in the presence of our God.