We live in a time and a century where it has almost become the norm for us to lose sight of the many blessings we have. Society and culture haven’t helped…it is the age of instant, the age of throw-away – we expect things now, immediately, if not yesterday and we throw away or undervalue so many things. We so easily spend tomorrow’s money today. We live in an age of rights where people so easily shout from the highest rooftops about the rights they have even if expressing their rights is at the cost of other people’s, and even if in expressing those rights there is a reluctance to take on the responsibility that goes with it.
But the wise amongst us seem to recognise that actually the things we do value or appreciate the most in life are the things we have to work the hardest for. I remember my parents saying to me as a child “all good things come to those who wait”. They wanted me to stick at those chores I did to get spending money so I would be able to save up for what I wanted. That is the tension that we live with. And if we profess a faith we realise what is called an eschatological tension – the tension of living in the now but not yet…the tension of living with this present suffering of God’s creation of which we are part and the future glory into which we are called. And one of the problems with living with that tension is it tends to cause us to bring our eyes downwards and focus on the ‘here and now’ to such an extent that we all too easily begin to lose sight of what Paul calls the “glory of what will be revealed in us.” We become consumed with worry and anxiety of what the future may have in store because we allow our future to be defined by the ‘here and now’ rather than working backwards from that future glory. We all too easily begin to lose sight of eternity, an eternity into which we are called.
An example of that tension bringing our eyes downwards is in times of bereavement. I have had the privilege of conducting many funeral services and I think on reflection without exception every person who is broken by grief that I have encountered is in some way and at a very deep level very aware of the wrongness of death. In 1 Samuel 25:31, the word translated ‘grief’ literally means a ‘stumbling block’, derived from the primitive root (‘פּוּק’) which means to stumble, reel or totter. The response we naturally show to the brokenness of this world in manifesting grief can seem like stumbling. At a time of bereavement especially we recognise deep down that God “has also set eternity in the human heart”; we recognise that it was never God’s intention for us to be destined for death. We begin to question the purpose and meaning of life. In many encounters with people experiencing bereavement, whether they were people of faith or people of no faith, the ‘wrongness’ of the event is like an unspoken sentiment that shouts out in the silence and people rarely have the capacity or language with which to vocalise this sentiment. I am not in any way saying bereavement is easy. It is at a time of bereavement that the brokenness of this world perhaps shouts its loudest. Even if we in faith express a hope that our loved one is with our heavenly Father, and that one glorious day we might in God’s grace be reunited, we can still profoundly mourn their passing because we desperately miss their presence. But we are not created for death…we are created for eternal life. Do we know that? Do we realise the implications of that?
It isn’t just humanity that is subconsciously aware of and lives with that tension; the whole of creation is also aware and is subject to frustration. The root word for frustration here is futility, uselessness, or lack of purpose or result. But we must not lose sight of the hope, the glorious and eternal hope into which we as God’s children are called. And creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay that came about through the fall and be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. And for those of you who are mothers out there, you will really get this…the whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
We need a wake-up call to realise the hope into which we are called. We are redeemed, being redeemed, and will be redeemed. We are saved, being saved, and will be saved. And as we persevere, as we run the race, as we journey through the refiner’s fire…oh how we will appreciate the fullness of our salvation and not take it for granted. Hope that is seen is no hope at all.
Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
My dear friends, as we enter into Lent I encourage you to take time to take stock of your lives and to use Lent as a time to give thanks. Give thanks to God, give thanks to your family, give thanks to your friends. As C S Lewis said “It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts civilizations- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, word with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
Know the value of what you have now, but also know the value of that which you are called to – that glorious eternal inheritance. Allow that tension to fuel your prayers…revisit the Lord’s prayer and pray with all your heart “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done”. Hold that hope, that eternal hope, and cast all your cares upon God in faith that he will sustain you. He can and will bring you through this.