Sunday, October 1, 2023

Stress Testing

 At my annual check-up this year, my electrocardiogram (EKG) showed an abnormality.  Thus began a summer of medical dominoes.  Although my primary care provider did not think my EKG was especially alarming, she recommended a visit with a cardiologist.  The cardiologist was wonderful, and although she did not think the EKG was of particular concern, she made a convincing case that a thorough evaluation was appropriate.  That meant scheduling an echocardiogram, a calcium cardiac scoring test, and a stress test.  As I was arranging my day’s schedule to accommodate the stress test, one thought kept running through my head: Given the stress of my days, why did I need a formal stress test?!  


The cardiologist gave me an A+ on my stress test.  I am, of course, grateful for that result, and I don’t want to take it lightly.  But the fact remains that I do not get an A+ for the way I deal with the mental and emotional stress of days.  To be sure, being a fallen creature in a fallen world does not help.  But Jesus came to redeem us, not only for eternity in heaven but in the here and now.


There are, of course, many Bible verses that would call us to trust in the Lord, throw our cares upon Him, and walk in His peace and joy.  But as true as these passages are, they are not the whole story.  Even as Jesus talks about the peace and joy in Him, He warns His followers about trials, suffering, hardship, and persecution.  We may not be of the world, but we are in it.  We are living in the now and not yet: tastes of heaven and glimpses of redemption, now but not yet the full fruits of Christ’s victory.  


And somehow, I find this encouraging.  It is neither abnormal or shameful to find life in this broken world challenging and even painful at times.  But I am still left with the task of living in the tension of the two realities: the challenges that I encounter today even as I catch glimpses of the redemption that will have its culmination in eternity.  


It isn’t easy to live in the now and not yet.  Some believers prefer to focus on persevering through the slog of this life, and others would minimize and ignore the hardships and claim victory in Christ.  It seems to me that maintaining a “both/and” mindset, while difficult, best reflects the dual realities of our fallenness and our redemption.


King David gives us an excellent glimpse into living a life of dual realities.  In the book of I Samuel, we read of Samuel anointing David as King of Israel when David was a teenager and Saul was the reigning (but disobedient) King.  In the approximately 15 years that followed, “King” David was hunted and persecuted by Saul.  We can read about David’s distress during those times in several of his Psalms.  In those Psalms, David is not restrained in expressing his distress and resentment toward evildoers who go unpunished.  But at the same time, David repeatedly expresses his commitment to following the Lord in righteousness and declares the LORD God’s goodness and glory.  He walks in faith to the best of his ability, and he restrains himself from killing Saul on not one but two occasions when he has the opportunity.  He suffers; he waits; he perseveres; he waits.  When he is thirty years old, David—finally-- becomes King of Judah.  He becomes King of a united Israel a few years later. 


David’s life as it is recorded in the books of I Samuel and II Samuel and expressed in many of David’s Psalms is one of both struggle and faith.  David’s hardships and personal missteps cannot be missed.  But we also read how the peace, joy, and power that flowed from his faith relationship with the Lord sustained and empowered him in the hard times and took front and center in the times of triumph.  David’s life is recorded for generations of believers not merely as significant history but also as a model of what life on earth as an heir of heaven can look like. 


When we turn to the New Testament, we see John the Baptist, imprisoned for preaching the righteousness of Christ, reach out to Jesus for reassurance that Jesus is who He says he is.  Jesus has a ready answer: 


Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me. 


Jesus’s answer also reveals an important truth about suffering: while the Lord does not will or rejoice in the suffering of this sin-laden world, He uses it to reveal His goodness and grace.  Indeed, I could make a good argument that David’s earlier suffering was used to make him a wiser and wiser king.  


To be sure, none of us has been called to be a king and ancestor of the Messiah, or as a forerunner of the Messiah.  But we are nonetheless called to fulfill the glorious purposes for which we have been created, and we are, through the Messiah, princes and princesses of the King for all eternity.  We are blessed.



Jesus, of course, has the last word.  


These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.