Monday, November 26, 2007

For the joy set before me . . .

A young mother in our church had a long first labor. Her baby, as small as it seems, was nearly nine pounds. She told me that giving birth was painful, but she would do it again. The joy of being a mother and of having this new life in her arms made the painful part a thing of the past.

I remember that same thing. When my children were born, the ouch of it was quickly replaced by delight. Pain, as soon as it is gone, is forgotten. I can remember that it hurt, but I cannot remember exactly what that hurt felt like.

The psalmist says, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made” and that is so true. God knew when He wired us that bringing pain back to our memories would not be a good thing. We have enough stress in our lives without that added to it.

I’m reading 1 Peter this morning and stopped at verses six and seven. Peter writes about the “living hope” we have “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” and about our “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away” that is “reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith.” Peter affirms that one day I will see the full salvation God has promised me.

Then he says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Yesterday, one of the women in my Bible class said how much we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from suffering. The class reluctantly discussed suffering for a few minutes. We agreed that we learn through it, but no one likes it or wants it, or even wants to talk about the purposes God might have in allowing it.

Thoughts from that class come back to me as I read these verses. Peter says that I may have to suffer and experience trials. Not everyone does, at least not all the time, but God has a purpose; He can use them to test and refine my faith. How would anyone, God, me or others, know that I trust Him if my faith was never put to the test?

But I’m learning something else that is hinted at in these verses. One of my commentaries says that in Greek, the part about suffering grief is past tense, whereas “you greatly rejoice” is present tense. This is significant because the grief is current and the joy is future. What does he mean by using these verb tenses?

Then I’m remembering that whole thing about forgetting pain after having a baby. Because this joy Peter talks about is based on God’s promise of a full deliverance and salvation, he seems to suggest that the present trial or affliction that gives me grief now can seem like a thing of the past, but God doesn’t wait to remove the grief and give the joy after the trial is over—He gives a joy that is so intense that it makes the trial seem like it is over even while it is still happening.

At the first shock of any affliction I am grieved, but God says by anticipation in what is coming, I can rejoice even in my sorrow. I’m thinking of a present grief; my husband’s medical condition. He is experiencing problems from a heart-related medication. It is doing its job, but the side-effects of this prescription are damaging his immune system. This has a negative effect on his CLL, so he is now off that medication. What is next? We are not sure.

I’m anxious for him, yet at the same time both of us know that this life is not all there is. Some day we will be with Jesus—no more pain or suffering, nothing to be anxious about forever.

Those joyful thoughts run alongside the stressful concerns. I can’t say that I’m quite there yet as far as what Peter hints at. I’m not seeing current events as a thing of the past, but I am given a well of calm that bubbles up inside me, a deep joy that has no other explanation than God is its source. I can sob in sorrow and feel joy even as I do it, a strange combination that has no explanation other than God is doing exactly what Peter said He would, and for that I am grateful.

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