Sometimes life seems so hard. You look around, and everybody is going through something. Death, or sickness, or poverty, or loss of someone or something precious or important to them. The prayer list at church seems to grow by the week. How can this be right? How can God expect us to withstand the onslaught of trouble that threatens to plow us over and bury us? Does he even know we're here? Does he even care that we're drowning?
Do you know that God is there? I mean, do you really know? Or, as my pastor says, do you know, that you know, that you know, that God really is there watching over you? Can you be sure?
There is a way. We can know. We are not all that we seem, just as our situation is not all that we can see. Many times we go through life in only one plane. The present. The here-and-now. The visible world. But the Bible teaches us that there is more. We are more. The physical, time-bound life that we experience with our five senses is only a tiny part of reality. In Ephesians 6, Paul tells us that we are not fighting against "flesh and blood," in this physical world, but against "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." There is a whole battle going on around us that we can't see, feel, taste, hear, or smell.
We are not simply intelligent animals, as some would have us believe. God gave human beings a spirit, not just a body and a mind. That is the part that is "in His image." (Gen. 1:26) And as spiritual beings, we are alive in a way we can never experience fully in these mortal bodies. We experience our bodies as finite things, having an inside and an outside, able to be hurt, sickened, and finally killed. And we are right. That is exactly what our flesh is. Mortal, temporary, and imperfect. But the rest of us - the spirit part - ah, that is something altogether different. Our spirits are not mortal, but eternal. They are not bound to this world, the world of touch and see, but are free. They can soar to the heights of Heaven, or plunge to the depths of Hell. And amazingly, our creator gave us the choice of which direction we wanted to go.
The truth is, that we are in a battle. And it is bigger than politics or money or health. It is bigger than starvation or homelessness or disease. It is cosmic. It is a battle for souls. A battle for eternity. A battle for ultimate power. And the good news is, we know what happens at the end. People are fond of predicting when the end will come. I don't pretend to know. But I know what will happen. The book of Revelation tells me that there will be a great battle, but at the end, God will win. One of my favorite passages of the Bible is Revelation 21:1-5: - Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Did you get that? God wins. The second and third chapters of Revelation consist of letters to seven churches. Each letter includes a warning, but each one also contains a promise. The promise is always to "him who overcomes." The promises are amazing. The right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. To not be hurt at all by the second death. Some of the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it. Authority over the nations, and the morning star. White clothing and a permanent inscription in the book of life, along with acknowledgement to God and the angels. To be made a pillar in the temple of God. The right to sit with Jesus on his throne! Wow. What promises. But how, oh, how, do we overcome?
Jesus told us how to overcome. Much of the book of John consists of Jesus' last instructions to his disciples. John 15:10-12 reads "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." Later, in John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
We are in this world. We will have trouble. When trouble comes, we should understand that it is temporary, for a moment, and our Savior knew that it would happen. We need to go through it in order to overcome it. And how do we overcome? Only with love. Love enables us to do the right thing. Love enables us to endure the pain without becoming angry or abusive. Love enables us to look beyond our sadness to help those around us who are dealing with it too. Love enables us to see the needs around us and to live sacrificially to make life better for someone else. Love enables us to pray into the night when we are tired and long for sleep. And love enables us to keep our eyes on God, instead of on our troubles.
I know how easy it is to wallow in misery. I am an old pro at throwing pity parties for myself. Balloons, streamers, and cake all around! But I know this is not what God wants for me. When I'm focusing on my troubles, I'm trapped in this world. I'm not experiencing the freedom that I know I have in Jesus, in my spirit. So I'm going to have to change my party plans. I am going to live in the joy of the Lord. And I am going to overcome.