Is it just me? Or is the line separating the profound from the obvious sometimes very thin?
I’ve been thinking about pleasure and pain – how both are inevitable and unavoidable in life. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on the challenge of how to live in the tension between these two realities: Is it ok to see-saw through life from times of great joy to seasons of difficulty and stress, and back again?
In my own journey, since I became a Christian, my perspective has evolved:
- In the early days, I mostly found life to be hard work. I was in a bit of a mess emotionally, and I resigned myself to a painful existence being the norm.
- Over the following years, I had a few glimpses of what I can best describe as bliss in God’s presence. These experiences were short-lived, however, and I really had no grid to understand or explain them. So I quickly forgot about them.
- Later on, I began to learn that I could experience God’s presence on a regular basis. I found that there really is joy in the presence of the Lord – a tangible reality and not just a verse in the Psalms. So naturally I set my heart on making this my normal experience!
- Then it dawned on me that joy and suffering are both necessary aspects of life with Jesus. It’s both-and, not either-or.
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
We are children of God, … fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:16-17 NASB)
This July, I attended a six-day worship school - Hillside Intensive, organised by Burn 24-7 UK. There were about twenty of us, all hungry for more of God. Early in the week, the Holy Spirit told me this was going to be a taste of heaven; He encouraged me to relax and enjoy it. So I did!
There was an incredibly affirming and encouraging atmosphere in which we all felt free to step out, be vulnerable, and do things we’d never done before. By the end of the school, I think we all felt we’d been in Paradise! However, it had been such an amazing time that I found the aftermath really hard. I didn’t feel ready to return to ‘normal everyday life;’ I wanted to stay in heaven!
I had a choice. I could keep looking back with a sense of longing; or I could look forward to the greater realities of heaven, which I had glimpsed during those six days. When I thought about it, I now had a better idea of what heaven was like. I was therefore better equipped to bring heaven to earth!
The typical British approach to life is: Keep your emotions battened down; lower your expectations, and you won't be disappointed. This stems from the belief that ’all good things must come to an end.’ But there’s a better way! If we want to be world-changers, we need a higher perspective: ‘All good things are merely a foretaste of greater glories to come!’
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9 NKJV)
Pain is unavoidable. In this life, how can we not be impacted by evil and suffering in the lives of those around us?
But pleasure is vital too – ecstatic experiences in heavenly places! How can we bring heaven to earth unless we experience its delights for ourselves – and as a regular thing? We cannot impart what we don’t have!
Jesus is our role model in all this. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV). He was also anointed with the oil of gladness more than His companions (Hebrews 1:9). And we know that, for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).
To follow in Jesus' footsteps requires courage. It’s easier to be numb than to experience heights and depths, the agony and the ecstasy. So this is our challenge: Let's embrace the tension between pleasure and pain! Let's be willing to straddle heaven and earth! And let's enjoy indescribable pleasures in the Presence of the Lord, even as we go through hardships in the earthly realm!
Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 ESV)