I sucked my thumb. There, I said it. My deep, dark secret is now out. I loved that thumb. It gave me security and pleasure. But my mother had a different opinion. She knew that my thumb-sucking needed to stop and she took it upon herself to end my habit. She got a product called “Thum” and coated my thumb with it. That stuff tasted bad – I mean really bad. I guess it wasn’t poison, but it sure tasted like it. It took all the fun out of sucking my thumb. The pleasure gone, I gave up a habit I loved.
“Do not love the world, or anything in the world.”
John, in his first epistle, gave us this command. It is not a hard command to understand. Do not love the world and the things that are in it. The pleasures, the thrills, the challenges, the joys of this world are not to capture my heart. Jesus told us we could have only one master. He demanded that we love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind. Doesn’t leave much to the imagination, does it? As the Bride of Christ we are called to fidelity and a single-hearted passion for the Bridegroom and his kingdom.
But I have a problem. I like this world. I have a wonderful family, a great job, a nice house; I have a great life. I have never had to miss a meal (it shows). I am (moderately) healthy. There are things going on in this world that I don’t like, but all in all, I have it pretty good. It is was too easy for me to fall in love with the joys, pleasures and rewards that are offered by our world.
I hate that word “all.” It messes everything up. If you ask me whether I love the Lord, I will look you in the eye and say yes. Do I love him with my mind? Absolutely. With my soul? With my heart? An unequivocal yes. But Jesus didn’t leave it there. He demanded that I love God with ALL my heart. Honestly, I cannot look at you and tell you that I love God with my whole heart, that no other passion enters my soul. There are too many things going on in this world that tempt my heart away!
So, I have an “all” problem
Perhaps this is one of the great blessings that comes our way during times of suffering and pain. Last year I waded through some very deep waters of discouragement. I wanted to run away and hide. I remember a time about 25 years ago when I would look through the classified ads every Saturday trying to figure out how I could feed my family if I threw in the towel on this whole preaching gig. The joy was gone from life in this world.
But an interesting thing happened during that time of suffering and discouragement. I found myself longing for heaven, truly desiring to see the Lord face to face. It is not that I was contemplating suicide; it was just that when the thrill was gone from this world it became much easier to focus on the one to come.
Suffering has many purposes in our lives, too many to list. But could it be that suffering often acts as God’s Thum? To those of us who have that bad habit of loving a world God told us not to love, God puts the Thum of hardship on our lives to break our attraction to this world and the things in it. When hardships come, this world seems less inviting and it is easy to look to the power and grace that God brings to sustain us and the glory that lies ahead.
Romans 8:18 gives a great word of hope to suffering believers.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
The redeemed have a glorious future awaiting, so glorious that it makes the worst of our suffering seem inconsequential. It is when our suffering on earth magnifies that we begin to contemplate the glories that await us. Heaven looks so much better to a suffering believer.
God gains no pleasure from inflicting pain on his children, but is willing to allow suffering in our lives to accomplish his sovereign redemptive purpose. We seldom know for certain why God allows any particular trial to come our way. But maybe, sometimes, the pain comes so that we will remember the words of the old song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.”
Jesus went to cross to “prepare a place” for us in heaven. One day he will come to glorify us and bring us to our eternal rest. Here and now, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God and Ambassadors of Christ in this world.
Don’t be seduced by the things of this world into forgetting the source of real joy.