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Suffering And Death Are Never God’s Last Word

Sometimes life brings harsh winds. Sometimes you feel pressed beyond measure. Sometimes your journey includes the process of pain. But through those harsh winds, the pressing, and the process of pain, a greater purpose emerges.

Yesterday I spoke with one of our dear church members who is weathering a lot of harsh winds right now. She described feeling pressed beyond measure, and she currently is wrestling through the process of great pain.

Words alone are inadequate to bring strength and comfort, save the Word that became flesh (John 1:14). God did not verbalize a response to the struggles of life. He embraced the struggles and endured the pain (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Jesus awaited His arrest as He agonized at the base of the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39). He ascended after His resurrection from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-12). And one day He will return first to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4). Man of Sorrows and King of Kings—both witnessed by a hillside of trees.

Why the attention given to this particular location? Speculations abound, but I like the conclusion drawn by Christian author and speaker, Lysa Terkeurst. Lysa describes how the Mount of Olives is normally associated with Jesus’s suffering, but it is also a place of Jesus’s victory and celebration. And so it is with life—suffering doesn’t have to be the final word.

The olive trees from which that hill derived its name also teach us lessons about gaining victory out of suffering. One lesson is that olive trees grow through harsh winds from the east and cool winds from the south. Both are needed to produce olives. Also, the olive itself is not the most valued commodity. Only when the olive is pressed does it yield its oil, which is then used for greater purposes. Finally, the olive is not edible coming straight from the tree. It receives a thorough process to rid the fruit of its hardness and bitterness.

Likewise, we grow through harsh winds as well as more favorable conditions. When we feel pressed beyond measure, God can actually produce something greater in our lives. And ridding ourselves of hardness and bitterness often includes enduring a process of pain.

You may be “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Why? Because you are carrying with you (and being carried by) the very One who faced the harsh winds, was pressed beyond measure, and endured the process of pain. Jesus “bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Your life may be marked by these lessons from the Mount of Olives. And your mount of sorrow can one day become a mount of great rejoicing.

Give the Gift of Your Presence

Do you ever find it difficult to be fully present? To be “in the moment” and not dwell on the past or worry about the future?

I was talking with my mentor yesterday, and he told me he spent 45 minutes with his grandkids the other day pushing them on a swing set. He said it was the first time in a long time where he was completely engaged in the moment, and he had no regrets about the past or worries about the future. He simply . . . was.

How many times have you been in a conversation, but while the other person is talking, your mind is wandering? You’re thinking about what you need to do next, where you need to go, and with whom you need to meet. It’s hard to disengage from the past or the future in order to be in the present.

Likewise, many of us face the challenge of always wanting to be somewhere we’re not. While we live in one house, we dream about another. While we’re in our current job, we wish we had a different one. While we’re married to one person . . . You get the point.

When Laura and I first got married, her mom crocheted a small fabric that said, “Grow where you’re planted.” She knew her daughter would be moving away, and she wanted her to dwell in the present and not always long for the past.

She’s a wise woman.

In the words of Mark Batterson, “Wherever you are, there you are!” (Chase the Lion, 94). But you can be physically present and mentally absent. When I zone out in conversation with my wife, she looks at me, snaps her fingers and says, “Where are you right now?” Or as the saying goes from my generation, “Earth to McFly!”

Like so much of life, being fully present in the moment is a choice. We discipline our minds and hearts to focus on the person sitting across the table. We honor them as they honor us with the gift of listening. We choose to be content in our circumstances and not long for days gone by or fantasize about days yet to come.

Memories are beautiful unless they cast a shadow over the present. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). And what is the secret? “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

 

Don’t let your past cloud your present, and don’t let the uncertainty of tomorrow cause anxiety for today. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Give Him your past. Let Him handle your future. And be free to live in the present.

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