For the Joy That’s Coming

Image by Cory Bouthillette on Unsplash

I’m not a fan of long car rides filled with squished and soggy sandwiches that fell to the bottom of our cooler. I never enjoyed listening to our daughter ask, a thousand times: “Are we there yet?” And I don’t like traffic or long stretches of highway with no rest areas in sight.

And yet, our family has intentionally engaged in numerous road trips. The most memorable, and miserable, was when our daughter was twelve. The day before we left, I took her to the orthodontist to receive braces and a contraption called a mara designed to help her lower jaw, which wasn’t growing, catch up with her upper jaw.

The orthodontist warned us she’d be uncomfortable for a day or two, but nothing she couldn’t handle with a steady dose of Motrin. And perhaps that would’ve been true, had she not made a face-plant into the asphalt during recess that very afternoon.

I cleaned her up, gave her some Motrin and a smoothie, and sent her to bed.

The next morning, hours before the sun rose, I loaded our van with snacks, drinks, suitcases, and water toys—everything we’d need for a wonderful Florida vacation. Then, ready to embark on a long-anticipated trip, I dashed inside and upstairs to wake our daughter. (My husband was meeting us there by plane.)

Leaning over her bed, I gentle nudged her. “Sweetie, it’s time,” I said in that sing-songy voice every parent gets when waking their child for their first ever Disney World vacation.

She moaned and rolled over.

And I blinked and stepped back.

Her face! It was swollen, her lips, also swollen, were horribly scabbed, and I hated to think what the inside of her cheeks might look like.

It was obvious she was in pain, and we had a 1,237-mile drive ahead of us—with nothing to distract her from her throbbing face. Stuck in a vehicle for twenty-four hours, not including stops, would be difficult for any fifth grader. But one with a swollen, sore, and bloodied mouth?

And yet, neither of us considered, for an instant, not going.

Why? Because we knew the fun that awaited her would make all her discomfort worth it. Would perhaps even make her forget her pain entirely.

I believe this was the same understanding Paul, the author of Philippians, had, as he sat in a prison cell, waiting to learn, post-trial, whether he’d be allowed to live or die. He knew the glorious future that lay ahead, not just for himself, but for all who believed in Christ. This is why he could say, without hypocrisy, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1, ESV).

A young girl’s trip to Disneyland, sore mouth or not, might seem an insufficient comparison to the persecution Paul suffered and his hope of heaven. And yet, to a child, Disneyland is about as big as it gets, and the pain our daughter endured was significant enough.

But not so significant that it hindered her joy and anticipation of what was to come.

Life is full of frustrations, disappointments, and difficulties. Sometimes our pain is transient, like my daughter’s was. But for others, like those dealing with chronic illness or depression, it can feel like the darkness will never end.

And yet, Disneyland is coming. That is where our hope lies, when we stand before our Savior, enveloped in His love—in heaven, when He’s made all things right and all pain nonexistent.

On our darkest nights, when the road ahead feels steep and long, may we intentionally turn our eyes off of the struggle and instead onto what we know lies ahead.

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For the Joy That’s Coming

car stuck in trafficI’m not a fan of long car rides filled with squished and soggy sandwiches that fell to the bottom of our cooler. I never enjoyed listening to our daughter ask, a thousand times: “Are we there yet?” And I don’t like traffic or long stretches of highway with no rest areas in sight.

And yet, our family has intentionally engaged in numerous road trips. The most memorable, and miserable, was when our daughter was twelve. The day before we left, I took her to the orthodontist to receive braces and a contraption called a mara designed to help her lower jaw, which wasn’t growing, catch up with her upper jaw.

The orthodontist warned us she’d be uncomfortable for a day or two, but nothing she couldn’t handle with a steady dose of Motrin. And perhaps that would’ve been true, had she not made a face-plant into the asphalt during recess that very afternoon.

I cleaned her up, gave her some Motrin and a smoothie, and sent her to bed.

The next morning, hours before the sun rose, I loaded our van with snacks, drinks, suitcases, and water toys—everything we’d need for a wonderful Florida vacation. Then, ready to embark on a long-anticipated trip, I dashed inside and upstairs to wake our daughter. (My husband was meeting us there by plane.)

Leaning over her bed, I gentle nudged her. “Sweetie, it’s time,” I said in that sing-songy voice every parent gets when waking their child for their first ever Disney World vacation.

She moaned and rolled over.

And I blinked and stepped back.

Her face! It was swollen, her lips, also swollen, were horribly scabbed, and I hated to think what the inside of her cheeks might look like.

It was obvious she was in pain, and we had a 1,237-mile drive ahead of us—with nothing to distract her from her throbbing face. Stuck in a vehicle for twenty-four hours, not including stops, would be difficult for any fifth grader. But one with a swollen, sore, and bloodied mouth?

And yet, neither of us considered, for an instant, not going.

Why? Because we knew the fun that awaited her would make all her discomfort worth it. Would perhaps even make her forget her pain entirely.

I believe this was the same understanding Paul, the author of Philippians, had, as he sat in a prison cell, waiting to learn, post-trial, whether he’d be allowed to live or die. He knew the glorious future that lay ahead, not just for himself, but for all who believed in Christ. This is why he could say, without hypocrisy, “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1, NLT).

A young girl’s trip to Disneyland, sore mouth or not, might seem an insufficient comparison to the persecution Paul suffered and his hope of heaven. And yet, to a child, Disneyland is about as big as it gets, and the pain our daughter endured was significant enough.

But not so significant that it hindered her joy and anticipation of what was to come.

Life is full of frustrations, disappointments, and difficulties. Sometimes our pain is transient, like my daughter’s was. But for others, like those dealing with chronic illness or depression, it can feel like the darkness will never end.

And yet, Disneyland is coming. That is where our hope lies, when we stand before our Savior, enveloped in His love—in heaven, when He’s made all things right and all pain nonexistent.

On our darkest nights, when the road ahead feels steep and long, may we intentionally turn our eyes off of the struggle and instead onto what we know lies ahead.

Let’s talk about this! What are you struggling with right now? How might focusing on the hope that awaits us in Christ help you grab hold of joy in the journey? What are some things you do to center your mind and heart in the joy of Christ? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

image of cover for study based on 1 TimothyAnd if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter! You’ll receive great, inspirational content sent directly to your inbox, and as an added bonus, subscribers also receive a free 36-lesson study (ebook, sent separately). You can sign up HERE!

What Is To Come

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Iris Peters, faithful daughter of Christ, 1973-2012

As death grew closer for my sweet friend, Iris Peters, a woman who valiantly battled brain cancer, our conversations turned increasingly toward heaven. She had so many questions, and as she and I wrestled with this heavy and pressing topic, we realized it wasn’t often addressed in the evangelical community.

Why is that? It can be hard to have an eternal perspective when our longing is never fed. But if we truly understood what awaits us, what God has prepared for us, our every breath would be, “Come Lord Jesus, come.”

This, my friend, is why I consider my chronic illness and pain a blessing–because it daily reminds me, as Mary Bowen, my guest proclaims, that “The Best is Yet to Be.” As you read her post, pause to rest in God’s presence this morning. And dream with me about the day when there will be no more sadness, no more sin and destruction, and no more pain.

The Best is Yet to Be
by Mary Bowen

We’ve all felt it, a “quiet but throbbing ache,” as Joni Eareckson Tada calls it in Heaven, Your Real Home. Inside we can sense a restless yearning for more and better. The relentless alarm-clock-590383_640ticking of the clock often seems like an enemy, snatching away our pleasant moments all too soon. Time makes us feel as if we’re caught in a strong current rushing downstream towards the waterfall of death.

Why do we long for permanent peace and love? Because we were created for them. “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men. . .” (Eccl. 3:11). God made us for heaven: “. . .so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose. . .” (2 Cor. 5:4, 5). In the Trinity God enjoys such wonderful fellowship that He created us for this same intimate communion with Himself and one another. (The Sacred Romance).

Last summer I reveled in my “happy place” on the patio with the purple, yellow, orange and fuchsia of our flowers. But I don’t want to just see beauty, I want to experience it, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “. . . to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it” (The Weight of Glory, 1949).  We’ll do that in heaven.

Our happiest times with family and friends seem to pull back heaven’s mysterious curtain, revealing a glimpse of our life to come.  In his comprehensive book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn landscape-1590888_640tantalizes with descriptions of rich fellowship, incredible beauty and joy, and adventures. We’ll each have exciting assignments from God.

So it’s not just floating around on clouds playing a harp and enduring endless worship services? I sighed with relief when I discovered that heaven won’t be boring, because God isn’t. We are “destined for unlimited pleasure at the deepest level,” writes Joni (Heaven. . . Your Real Home, 1995). The famous poet Robert Browning affirmed, “There’s a further good conceivable beyond the utmost earth can realize” (“Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau,” 1871).

As we set our hearts and minds on things above (Col. 3:1,2), we are pleasing God. Life on earth will never satisfy us completely. Disappointments and heartaches make us long for heaven. Yet our trials are not wasted, but actually count for something. A godly response to them will be rewarded in heaven. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, person-371015_640but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Appearances are everything in our society; an athlete’s ability, a model’s figure are all admired. But their strength and beauty diminish with time, finally pushing them to the outside as younger ones step in to take their place. How we all fear aging! Yet for the Christian, each day brings us closer to heaven. We can accept what others fear, because we know that our time on earth is not the end of the story. C. S. Lewis wrote that this life is like only the title page of a book, and chapter one starts in heaven. Then, each successive chapter will be better than the last. . .”The [school] term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning!” (The Last Battle, 1956).

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dscn1905Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

 

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: Mary shared such a joyful post on our life to come! Do you experience joy at the thought of being with Jesus? What are you looking forward to most? Do you feel fear when you consider death? If so, I would love to pray for you.

Leave your thoughts–and encouragement!–in the comments below or over on Living By Grace on Facebook. We can learn so much from one another!

 

Stuck in the Interim

The Bible tells us life is but a wafer, our time on earth is short, and this world is not our home, and yet, we rarely speak of heaven. Most Christians don’t even have a clue what heaven is like. Perhaps our biggest deception, our biggest distraction, is the here and now. It’s like we’re all stuck in an airport terminal dining on stale ham and cheese sandwiches, fighting for access to the vending machine and the seat closest to the window, not realizing the Bahamas are only a short flight away. Yet Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before Him.” And He told us to do the same.

According to John C. Hutchison, part of our inability to grasp eternity is due to our need for instant gratification. With instant messaging, texting, and high speed internet, we’re trained to think of the here and now. Tomorrow is a long way away. Eternity even longer…so long we consider it almost insignificant. Yet, the Bible tells us this world stinks. It’s plagued by sin, disease and death. (Genesis 3, Romans 8:22-28) One of the most oft quoted Scripture passages is Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We use this verse to comfort ourselves when we lose a job, determining that God must have a better job waiting for us. We use it in the context of today–the here and now–but when we read the entire passage, I don’t think that’s what this verse is talking about. According to Romans 8, our world is under a curse. It groans, like a woman in childbirth. The hope is not in this life, but in the life to come.

Romans 8:20-28 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Here’s the problem with misquoting or misunderstanding the Romans 8:28 verse. If we’re looking for our rewards in the here and now, we won’t know how to handle it when difficulties come. We’ll be blind sighted. And even worse, we’ll lose hope, because what we hoped for may not come to pass. But our hope is not in this sin-plagued world. Our hope lies in eternity where God will wipe away ever tear from our eyes, where disease will be non-existent and our joy will be inexpressible. And God will reward His children for every trial endured here on earth.

Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.”

Speaking of earthly trials, John C. Hutchinson says, “These dark moments actually have eternal significance!…Our lives are part of a bigger story, a drama that is unfolding in the heavenlies. When we understand this, it allows us to see every situation in life, especially the difficult ones, as faith opportunities that carry eternal significance.”

A Fish Out of Water, I mean, A Siberian Husky in the South

Before I introduce you to today’s devo, I’m going to route you over to Reflections. Elaine Cooper, author of The Road To Deer Run, shared a very touching story with us today, one that for me was like a heart-exposing microscope. I don’t want to sound callus, or belittle the intense pain she went through, but I do want to point to a deeper truth. There is one reason and one reason alone that Elaine and her husband were able to stand–because Christ held them together. I have seen tragedy hit both the Christian and non. From my experience, without Christ, humans become increasingly angry, cynical and bitter as they age. While the Christians I know become increasingly joyful and loving. I cannot speak outside of my personal experience, but year after year, life after life, this is what I’ve seen.

Now to jump off my heart-wrenching soap box (because that is how I feel watching the non-believers around me spiral into increased anger and distrust, knowing the way to the ladder, but being powerless to take that step for them), let me introduce you, once again, to Sheila Hollinghead. The following article was first posted on Sheila Hollinghead’s blog, Clearing Skies.

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Here in south Alabama, almost everyone loved the snow we received Friday. After all, it had been seventeen years since our last real accumulation of snow. So when huge flakes fluttered from the sky, we pulled out gloves, scarves and thick coats for the grandkids. Outside, the eight-month-old reached to touch the snow and looked at me in amazement when he felt its coldness. His brother and sister threw snowballs and built snowmen while I drank in the happy sight.

No one was more excited about the falling snow than our Siberian Husky, Satchel. He pulled against his chain, eager to join in the fun. We released him and a new-found energy, some secret connection between his snowy-white fur and the snow flakes, had him frolicking, prancing and jumping in excitement. His face broke out into a dog smile. We joined in his fun, laughing at his display of pure, unbridled joy.

But inside I felt a little sad. He is a Siberian Husky, made for the snow, for the cold, and he relished in it. Yet he lived here, in the south with our hot, muggy summers, so far away from his true home.

Yet can’t the same be said of us? “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” We were made for heaven and unbridled joy awaits us there. This world with its disappointments, sorrows, pains and tears is to us like the hot, muggy south is to Satchel. But one day Jesus will say, “Enter in, faithful servant” and we will be happiness personified, like Satchel in the snow.

Sheila has a B.S. in biology from Alabama’s Troy University and did post-graduate work at Auburn University and Columbus College. At Southern Junior High in Columbus, Georgia, she taught middle-school science for five years. After moving to Opp, Alabama, she continued teaching science and math for fourteen more years at Fleeta Junior High. In 1995 she retired and has since devoted much of her time to the study of the Bible and to her writing. Her blog is the inspirational Clearing Skies.

As always, if you loved today’s devotion, fb share it, tweet it, or leave a comment. (Apparently my “like” button isn’t working. I’d try to fix it, but I’m off to meet my mentor. grin.)