The following story, told by Pastor Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle as he opened one of the chapters in his book, Fresh Power, provides a good picture of why we are foolish to make our hardships the main focus as we travel toward the eternal glory God has promised us, or to conclude they ought not happen.
Imagine, if you will, that your telephone rings one day with astonishingly good news. A pleasant voice says, “I’m a representative of Carol Joy Enterprises, and do you remember putting your name into a drawing last month in a store to win a month-long, all-expenses-paid vacation to the English countryside? Guess What—you’re the winner!”
You might begin to scream and shout and dance around the room. “Are you serious?! Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe it! I’ve never won anything in my life!”
Immediately your head would fill with images of the green, rolling hills you saw on the poster in the store…the quaint little cottages with the thatched roofs…the narrow cobblestone streets…the sheep calmly grazing in the meadows…the stone fences…the delightful shops. Now it is all to be yours: a free package of airfare, lodging, food, and activities.
“Come to our offices tomorrow at 11 o’clock, and we’ll give you the details,” the representative continues. She quotes the address and then hangs up.
That night you can hardly sleep. You’re going on a free vacation! By the next morning, your excitement is still strong.
When you sit down across the desk from the woman, she confirms the truth of the phone call the day before—yes, you’ve really won a month of leisure in England. She checks your identification and takes down essential data. Eventually she starts to explain the particulars.
“Okay, on May 17, you have a 7:40 p.m. flight out of Kennedy airport, so you’ll need to be there by 5:30,” she says.
“Kennedy airport?” you ask with a frown. “I don’t like Kennedy. It’s really hard to get there from where I live, especially in the middle of the evening rush hour. I thought you said I was getting a free vacation in England.”
“Yes—well, it all starts by catching a flight from Kennedy,” she replies. “You’ll have to wait in several lines and have your luggage checked and show your passport, and then when the plane finally takes off, you’ll be flying all night to London. You probably won’t be able to sleep very well in those little seats, but that’s just the way it is….”
“I don’t like the sound of this at all,” you complain. “What if the plane goes down in the ocean?”
The woman rolls her eyes. “Look, it’s not going to go down.”
“Well, I get nervous in an airplane.”
She ignores you. “And then when you get to Heathrow Airport in London—“
“Wait a minute! You said I was going to the English countryside.”
“Yes, well, first you have to stand in a long line at the customs checkpoint in the airport. When you finally get up to the front, they’ll ask you some questions and stamp your passport. Then you’ll have to get your luggage and haul it out to the bus, which will take you into the city to catch the train. It’s a three-hour train ride before you finally get to your hotel.”
You’re getting quite irritated now. “I don’t want to do all that,” you insist. “I just want to walk out of my house and go straight to the little English village.”
At this point the woman would probably be ready to disqualify you and pick another winner!
Have you ever known a Christian who, similar to this imaginary story, expected their trip to heaven to be all a smooth ride? Have you expected that? It is not likely to happen. As Paul and Barnabas instructed newly converted people, it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The sooner we acknowledge this the better.
If you would like help in how to navigate hardships, I encourage you to listen to the February 23, 2014 sermon I preached at the Minden Evangelical Free Church titled, “Yet I Will Rejoice: Handles To Hold When Disappointed With God,” out of the book of Habakkuk. You can find it at: mindenefree.com/audio.