Nope. This is not an error. Yep. I am still here, still on John 16:33. Here I am, still drilling in this message. “In Me and Me alone, you have peace. In Me and Me alone you are made whole and complete and everything fits together. Only in Me are you one and everything is right.”
So now, spiritually I am in You but physically I am in the world. I mean, there’s no way around it right now. I am in You and I am in the world at the same time…but fortunately not in the same way. And “in the world [I] will have tribulation.” I wish that Your words had just ended with “in Me you have peace.” But they didn’t because You were preparing me and making me ready for reality.
The world is full of tribulation. So what is tribulation really? The Greek word is “thlipsis.” It seems only appropriate for a word so filled with difficulty to be difficult to say. Strong’s Concordance defines it as “pressure,” as “persecution, affliction, distress, tribulation.” It’s explained as “properly, pressure (what constricts or rubs together), used of a narrow place that ‘hems someone in’; tribulation especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, ‘without options’).” (HELPS Word Studies). They continue to define it as “(compression, tribulation’) carries the challenge of coping with the internal pressure of a tribulation, especially when feeling there is ‘no way of escape’ (‘hemmed in’).” It’s not just about coping with the “external pressure exerted by circumstance.” The external has caused or moved to an internal pressure, an internal constriction, and that’s the part we have to be watchful of.
I need to share a little more about “thlipsis” because this is really tough stuff. This is what I’ve been going through for a while. Maybe you are going through this now. Maybe you have. And if not, Jesus is saying, “You will go through this.” And my first response is, “Why?!” But not any more. I already learned why. But then my second response is more like an adamant, “No!” because I just don’t like it at all; who would? Give me the peace and leave off the tribulation. But the real peace in You comes through the process of handling “thlipsis” correctly and seeing that it is orchestrated by You for my benefit. Does that make it hurt less? No. But it makes me look at it differently and gives me not only a reason to handle it differently and to look at it differently, but You give me the power to handle it correctly.
So, I want to look at “thlipsis” some more. If I am going to be brought up against a strong army, I want to know fully what I am going to be up against. “Thlipsis is a strong term which does not refer to minor inconveniences, but to real hardships….It is a pressing together as of grapes. It conveys the idea of being squeezed or placed under pressure or crushed beneath a weight. When, according to the ancient law of England, those who willfully refused to plead guilty, had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and were pressed and crushed to death, this was literally thlipsis…Thlipsis thus refers not to mild discomfort but to great difficulty…In Scripture the thlipsis is most often used of outward difficulties, but it is also used of emotional stress and sorrows which “weighs down” a man’s spirit like the sorrows and burden his heart. Thlipsis then includes the disappointments which can “crush the life” out of the one who is afflicted…The English word “tribulation” is derived from the Latin word tribulum (literally a thing with teeth that tears), which was a heavy piece of timber with spikes in it, used for threshing the corn or grain. The tribulum was drawn over the grain and it separated the wheat from the chaff.” (Precept Austin) Yes, this is tough stuff and I will experience this because this is what is in the world. So, what am I to do about it?
I don’t like this. But I don’t have to like it. It’s designed for me not to like it. I think it’s designed for me to want to run the other way but to refuse myself and stay. What?! I think that tribulation is designed to teach me to die to self. I think that You, Lord, put these things in my life to wean me from my natural responses. But it only works if I am in You. In You, You change my thinking which changes my response. A Bible commentator by the name of Morris noted, ” No one likes troubles of this kind, but they may be seen as difficulties to be overcome, as ways of opening up new possibilities. One who sees them in this light glories in them.”
In Hebrew this idea for tribulation or “distress” is “tsarar.” Read Psalm 102 and you’ll get the idea. The ESV begins with “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.” Have you felt like that? I have. “Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline Your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!” I read it. And this afflicted one came to the same conclusion as this afflicted one here is coming to, or rather has been brought to this conclusion by You. That this stuff that makes my days seem meaningless and futile, this stuff that burns me up inside, that strikes down my heart and wants to whither it, that makes me lose my appetite, that causes me to groan from within, and lose sleep, that sets up enemies against me and makes me feel miserable, that makes me feel like You’ve picked me up and thrown me down, that shakes my whole world upside down…is in the process of bringing me to know that You are in control of me and ALL things and everyone. And that will bring me, at Your appointed time, to really see and know and experience Your glory. And then You will have created me, yes, fragile me, broken me, to really praise You. Because You are just waiting until it comes to that point where I stop moaning about the stuff and start moaning for You. When the stuff stops mattering and You become everything, You will set Your captive free. Then I will be declaring You; then I will know what it is to worship You. But first, You have to break my strength so I depend on Yours.
Yesterday we talked about how You give peace. Today we are talking about tribulation, distress. But we need to look at them together, as You intended. Skip Moen shared, “the Hebrew word for “distress” is tsarar. It means being wrapped up, bound, constricted to a tight place, tied or restrained. The Hebrew idea of peace carries the imagery of a wide space, a lush and open grazing land, while distress means being cramped, constrained on all sides…Most of us quickly turn to the Lord when we perceive things that we consider threats, but it seems to me that few of us cry out to God when we face what He perceives as threats. Oh, He warns us, no doubt. But we hear the voice of our Mother as she contemplated the suggestion of the serpent. ‘It looks perfectly good to me. Why would God ask me to avoid what is pleasant to the eyes, good for knowledge and nourishing for my well-being?’ Instead of red flashing lights, we see green permissions…What’s the lesson? Maybe it’s this. Measure distress according to biblical standards, not yours and mine. Threat assessment will change.”
Am I looking at this trial through Your standards? Or am I looking at it through mine? Am I so focussed on the end product where I know You are taking me that I am not responding correctly in the here and now? What makes this situation so tough? It all goes against me and against my wishes and against my plans, even if I am following Your plans. So I get bossy. I lift up my “complaint” just like in the Psalm. I don’t like it. “Stop this ‘speedily’!” But if You are using this pressure for my good, then shouldn’t I be asking, “Lord, how do I respond appropriately like You and in You in the midst of this?” Shouldn’t I be asking, “Lord, how can I respond so that soon, I have a glorious testimony to share of You?” “Lord, how can I respond and what do I need to learn about me and about everything and about You that will draw me closer to You?”
Because if I choose to complain, what happens? My thoughts are drawn away from You and onto the circumstances or onto the people. Complaining changes my focus. Complaining turns to bitterness and regrets. Complaining digs in deeper. But focussing on You breaks the chains. Looking for the goodness of You in the people causing the bad, changes them by setting me free. Looking for the goodness of You in the tough circumstances changes them by setting me free. And the problem is, I am naturally a captive with a captive mentallity. You have to retrain me to realize that I am ALWAYS FREE in You! You have to retrain my thinking and perceptions and teach me to continually pray and be in communion with You.
And that’s the rest of the good news here. “But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” In You I have peace; in You I am an overcomer. It’s a done deal if I would only look at it and live in it that way. I need to change my thinking. I need to change my responding. I need to “Be of good cheer,” “Be of good comfort,” “Be of good courage,” Be confident,” “Take heart!”, and “Cheer up!” And this is not a suggestion. This is a command. In the midst of the hardest times of my life, I am to be “full of encouragement, to be joyful, expectant, confident…” (Precept Austin) “‘Having the deposit of the Spirit, therefore we are confident.’ This confidence is not mere temporary feeling due to some transient excitement, but a permanent state of mind.” (Hodges) O.K., Lord, You are in the process of changing my way of thinking, teaching me to take every thought captive to You, teaching me to continually come to You and rely on You.
Spurgeon continues that line of reasoning. “What, then, is the way to maintain peace when there are changes in the soul; when we are sometimes taken up to heaven and are anon cast down? Why, the only way is never to unduly be elated by prosperity without or within, and never to be unduly depressed by adversity or by doubts and fears, because you have learned to live neither upon the things without nor upon things within, but upon things above, which are the true food for a new-born spirit.” And what are those things above? They are all summed up in You, Jesus. When my focus is not just on You but in You in the here and now, that this moment is Your moment and I am here to serve You right now, right here in the midst of all of this. Then I can become an overcomer in You.
It’s all about me learning to live out Your message in every moment of my life. I’ve accepted Your invitation, and Your invitation has been continuous since before the beginning of time. And that means something really important here. You gave out the same message of invitation in the good times and the bad times. You didn’t stop inviting while You were on the cross. As a matter of fact, that became Your greatest and most gentle invitation. So what about me? What about my life message? What does my invitation to You look like to others when I have to carry my cross? Is my life message about You, “Leave me alone! You people are getting in my way and God’s way!” Wow! That hurts. That hurts big time. What is my character and life saying? Is it attracting or pushing away? Am I intimidating, repulsing, or drawing gently?
Lord, now that I know and You have shown me, what will I do with tribulation and distress and the pressures in my life? I mean, they’re still here. Keep me from being caught up in them, from becoming captive to them. Ever remind me that I am free in You, so keep me in You. Keep me relying fully on You. Keep me in Your Word because I need to be continually reminded. I need to be continually refilled. Give me a right focus on and in You. Keep me constantly close to You in prayer, listening for You. Let me be obedient and be of good cheer. May my hope and wholeness be in You right now. I know I have a good future because You’ve planned it all out. But You’ve planned out my now, my present also, and it’s for my good, no matter what it seems. Make that truth reality in my life and in my mind. May I look at every circumstance as an opportunity to learn how to glorify You and to be drawn closer to You in worship. Not my will, but Your will be done. Use it all to make my life a glorious gentle reflection of You. I’m far from there, but You aren’t finished with me yet. Oh, that I would always be pliable in Your precious hands!