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Wasting Away, Preparing Glory

Thinking Rumpelstiltskin When All Goes Wrong

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.  

2 Corinthians 4:16-17

The Longest Foot

When Christians are beheaded on beaches and terror bursts into San Bernardino, twelve inches can be a Grand Canyon chasm. When friendships won’t mend and wombs won’t carry and kids won’t come back, it’s a huge span, the distance from head to heart. 
We who are in Christ know we should not lose heart. We know we ought not to despair. But that knowledge won’t sink down and we give way, and lose heart. We all suffer and waste away. We need, how we need, to be renewed.
I think now, but it can be hard to think then, that we even know not to lose heart when the same besetting sins bring us low, when anxiety rules or envy rots, when anger blows and pride shouts.
And when Brother A just puts up more fight than he used to and discs bulge and joints throb and veins ache, we know. But it’s mighty long foot. 
The twelves inches from head knowledge to heart felt might as well be a million miles.

Mercy Matches

We know, too, that renewal comes day by day. Trouble’s not taken up in one fell swoop, and manna’s not divvied up for the week. We know this. 
We know Jesus said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34) and “The mercies of the Lord are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). Trouble matched with mercy. Day by day. We fade today. We’re renewed tomorrow. 
We know this. I know this. I knew this last week when a longing stayed longer and my frustration left a destructive wake. And when after my four hours with tech support and its own trip from WI to TX my laptop came back unhealed. 
And the night after when son took violent ill and lost his lunch on the new hall carpet. And when after I scrubbed that out for an hour the old lavender Bed Buddy didn’t dull my aches. Wasting away, and the alarm would go off too soon.
But I knew I would be renewed. Joy would come soon. And still I lost heart a little. 

Necessary Not Sufficient

Being renewed begins with what we put in our heads. God made us so that the condition of our hearts is profoundly influenced by the content of our heads. A mind focused rightly determines whether we lose heart.
But knowledge alone is not sufficient for inward renewal. The Pharisees are proof. But knowledge of truth is necessary to be renewed. Paul uses the same word for “being renewed” one other time in the New Testament and it’s got the same link to knowledge. We are being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:9-10).

So what knowledge can keep us from losing heart? What truth renews Jan whose illness keeps her alone at home and Dawn whose skin color keeps her from landing a job, and Ann whose Down syndrome son delays her dreams of life in a different stage-what renews them? 

What truth must need travel down from head to heart? It’s 2 Corinthians 4:16, knowing by faith that what seems heavy and long is really light and short in light of heaven’s glory. That earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal. 

Yes. It is that for sure. But more. 


Why We Don’t Light Up

What more rock-solid, take-it-to-God’s-bank truth is there to keep us from losing heart? It’s in 2 Corinthians 4:17, too. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Matthew Henry knew the twin truths in this take-heart verse, too. He knew the great weight of future glory that helps us calibrate present pain. And he knew that the very affliction we endure now-that is itself producing that future glory.

The worth and weight of the crown of glory, as they are exceedingly great in themselves, so they are esteemed to be by the believing soul; and it will be a special support in our sufferings when we can perceive them appointed as the way; preparing us for the enjoyment of the future glory.

So why don’t we latch on to this truth? That, as John Piper put it, every single moment of our affliction in the path of obedience-whether from sickness or slander- fallen nature or fallen people-all of it is meaningful. That all of it-unseen to our eyes-is producing something, preparing something, for us in eternity. 

Why doesn’t this talk of productive, meaningful suffering light us up and help us take heart?

Maybe preparing a weight of glory sounds about as cool as middle-aged me wearing my medal-laden letter jacket or lining my walls with neon lights. That fame, that those lights don’t excite me.

And so the weight of glory doesn’t travel down. Glory, the word, gets stuck in our brains and we don’t consider this present suffering not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed. The truth doesn’t go low enough, sink deep enough to penetrate the heart and renew us inside. 

The Weight of Well Done

Light and momentary prepares eternal and weighty. Prepares future glory. But if that hearing that word, glory, sounds either wicked or ridiculous, like fame or luminosity you’re in good company.

It did to C.S. Lewis at one time, too: For the first, since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?

But Lewis didn’t stop there. He dug deep and shared his treasure in “The Weight of Glory*,”

I was stocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation’ by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” 

With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards. I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years prevented me from understanding the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator…

I thought I could detect a moment—a very, very short moment—during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure. And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please…With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be… Perfect humility dispenses with modesty. If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself; “it is not for her to bandy compliments with her Sovereign.” 

I can imagine someone saying that he dislikes my idea of heaven as a place where we are patted on the back. But proud misunderstanding is behind that dislike. In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.

It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us…shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

Weaving Straw To Gold: Because, Not Despite

We see the scale: visible, tangible pile of trouble on one side and invisible, intangible pile of glory on the other. And we see our suffering drip, drip, dropping onto the scale and we know that as it does it weighs the glory down. It is preparing and working and producing this splendid glory.

When you see this way, writes Joni Eareckson Tada, you’re a Rumpelstiltskin weaving straw into gold; like a divine spinning wheel, your affliction works a far exceeding and eternal weight of glory (When God Weeps, p. 210)Glory will be so glorious not in spite of our pain, but because of it.

Our suffering is doing something. It’s working for us. Suffering serves us.

When we finally set foot in heaven we’ll drop to our knees in gratitude to God. And then,

The Man of Sorrows walks from his throne and approaches you. He has absolutely no doubt of your appreciation, for he knows what you’ve suffered. He reaches toward you with his nail-scarred hands, and when you feel your hands in his, you are not embarrassed…Your suffering, like nothing else, has prepared you to meet God– for what proof could you have brought of your love if this life left you totally unscarred. You have something eternally precious in common with Christ-suffering! But this fellowship of sharing in suffering has faded…Now it is a fellowship of sharing in his joy and pleasure. Pleasure made wonderful by suffering. (When God Weeps, p. 213)

Let this blessed thought control: not a drop of your pain need be wasted. Your broken dreams and barren womb, your bad back and cancer all have meaning.

Let this knowledge sink deep: that we-mortal sin-tainted, fading flesh-can by patiently bearing our burdens and taking our blows can know and please the Holy Creator of Heaven and Earth, who also bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.

Let this thought take the tough as nails journey from head to heart.

Because it is so.

That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 
that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10-11

*“The Weight of Glory,” by C.S. Lewis was preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942: published in THEOLOGY, November, 1941, and by the S.P.C.K, 1942. 
Paragraphing and bolding added by me.