Do you want to know something I’m confident of while having no personal experience of? Birth pains hurt. Do you want to know how I know that? Because a person would have to be out of their minds, quite literally, to have ever even heard whispers of what child-birth entails and not have deep respect for any woman who has ever been graced with such an experience.
The other day, I was reading in Mark 13 when Jesus was sitting with His disciples across from the temple. Jesus had just predicted the destruction of the temple, which would have been quite the shock to any first century Jew, and some of his closest followers asked Him privately when they should plan for this all to occur. What follows is a weighty explanation from Jesus of signs that will accompany the end of the age, along with persecution for Christians and a great tribulation.
Do you want to know something else that I’m confident of? Conversations about the end times are generally loaded with anxiety and dread. And I mean real dread. The kind of dread that causes people to shrink back from their Bibles, scour the news stations for enemies to counter, and to prepare to use any means necessary in avoiding such immense discomfort. These end times are so panic-inducing, full of deceptions, false messiahs, false prophets, trials, betrayals, natural disasters, wars, and any number of other threats that might come to us that aren’t laid out in detail in Scripture.
We are often left to read these passages with restless anticipation of the worst our imaginations can conjure, like a young woman who has grown up, hearing about all that she will go through in child-birth. This, among other things, has caused its fair share of people to avoid having children in the first place because the fear and angst are not worth dealing with.
In Romans 8:22-23, we reflect on the fact that “the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains” and that we, as Christians, “also groan within ourselves” while we see all of the heartbreak and burdens that come with life in this broken world. At times, we read through these passages and we feel a sense of hopelessness because there’s just so much junk happening to and around us all the time.
Other times, we simply look around as we seek to grow spiritually and we feel such disappointment in ourselves as we stumble time and time again. We know what we should do and we don’t do it, and yet, we also know what we should not do and we continue to do it (Romans 7:14-25)! We know what habits God is asking us to take up to walk more closely with Him or what sins we should put away in order to understand His heart for us more clearly, but we continue to make our mistakes. How frustrating spiritual growth can be…
What are we supposed to do when facing all of these things that make us so uncomfortable? Where are we meant to take all of our dread and fear? How should we process our struggles and inability to follow Jesus with single-minded devotion?
I would pose that we do as Jesus does and continue the line of thinking beyond what discomfort labor pains bring. In John 16:21, He explains that, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” In other words, what comes after the necessary struggle of child-birth? A child! And in spiritual terms, what are we looking at after the struggle of our burdens? We look forward to life. Not just life, but the abundance of life (John 10:10).
On the other side of struggle is flourishing. As we see in Jeremiah 17:7-8, the person who trusts in and has confidence in the Lord will be like a tree planted by water and whose roots are sent out into the stream. Sounds like an easy life, right? Absolutely not. Heat will come. Drought will threaten. And yet, they will have no fear. They will not worry. Nor will they cease producing fruit.
Life is so hard. Growth into the likeness of Christ is tremendously challenging. Even anticipating the end times might be anxiety inducing. And yet our focus is meant to be on what comes on the other side of it all. Are you experiencing struggles? It’s ok because Jesus still came to bring you abundance of Life! Are you racked with guilt or shame over how hard it is to grow spiritually or overcome obstacles in your faith? Not only is God’s grace that’s received far more powerful than your sins, but the walk in sanctification (or growth in your relationship to God) is actually established in perseverance through difficulties and tests (Romans 5:3-5). Do you struggle at times with a sense of hopelessness because of everything you or others around you have been through? Know this – God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away (Revelation 21:4). On the other side of all struggles, burdens, obstacles, trials, sufferings, and persecutions (like labor pains) for those who seek the Truth of the Gospel is Life and flourishing. Be sure of that.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff