I'd be thrilled if the entire movie was set either in Rivendell or The Shire, but alas neither Tolkein nor Peter Jackson agree with me. Off the characters feel compelled to go through trial and torment and battle. The whole movie is suspense and orcs. Fun. Oh, and don't forget the most frustrating of wizards, Gandalf. I want to like him. I really do. He's kind and funny and makes fireworks. What's not to like? I just can't get beyond the fact that here you have this powerful, wise wizard who keeps his power tucked in his pocket until circumstances couldn't get much worse. In The Hobbit, he waits until the dwarfs are dangling from a tree suspended over the edge of a cliff before he sends his little moth friend off to tell the giant eagle birds to come to the rescue. And as I squirm in my seat longing for a cup of tea and a glimpse at Mr. Darcy, I can't help but irritatedly wonder why he didn't just save everyone the trouble and call in the eagle birds an hour ago. They could have swooped in and transported the dwarf party from peaceful Rivendell directly to their mountain. Why deal with all the heartache and danger in between? Why indeed.
Recently, God asked a good friend and me to organize a Mother/Daughter tea for our church. This was the second year we had felt God directing us to orchestrate the event. We work well together, carry a similar burden for women and mothers, and share a heart's desire to be surrendered to the Lord's will. On the surface it looked like things should come together easily. However, as we prayed and planned, the going got tough. Opposition seemed to rise from every side to the point one night I told God to never ask me to do anything again. Extreme? Yes. Dramatic? Definitely. But I was weary of the flinging arrows, weary of fighting, weary of struggling to keep my eyes on Him and the prize He set before me. We begged for more prayer support and pressed on. While God supplied brief respites from the attacks, the arrows continued to fly. Often we found our spirits buoyed and strengthened rather than the storm quieted.
As the day of the tea grew closer, I was reflecting on the challenging journey during a conversation with my dad. I mentioned wondering how evangelists and teachers like Billy Graham and Beth Moore, people whose audiences number in the thousands, withstand the spiritual opposition. After all, if I was coming under such attack for a little tea, what must it be like for one preaching to filled stadiums? Dad's reply still lingers. "I don't know why attack comes stronger at some times than others. Perhaps God allows it more for our benefit than anything else." Ah.
In retrospect I can see that all the trials we went through were, in a way, God answering our prayer that He receive all the glory. That the tea be about Him and not about us. That He be in every detail. I felt stripped bare. By the day of the tea, I was exhausted to the point of feeling sick, literally emptied of everything "me," left only with a humble surrender and a hopeful expectation to see God become strength in my weakness.
What if He had eliminated the difficult journey? If, like I so wish Gandalf would do, He sent in the reinforcements before the battle even began? I would have been spared the struggle, the tears, the heartache. And I would have missed seeing God work. My arsenal of circumstances in which God proved Himself and His faithfulness would be lacking. Would I choose the trials? Not exactly. And yet through them, I am reminded of their value. I have never experienced the intimacy with God in easy times that I've felt when things were tough. I'm learning, slowly, that pain is a privilege. As Ann Voskamp calls it, a hard eucharisteo.
Ravi Zacharias states, "if in a human material existence, pain is an indicator of something that is wrong and needs to be righted, isn't it possible for an infinite God to somehow have a purpose for the pain in your heart and mine so that we will ultimately turn to Him and realize that in Him alone [we] have [our] ultimate dependence and strength?"
He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as the labors increase,
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials His multiplied peace.
His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His power has no boundary known unto men.
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Annie Johnson Flint