by Alan Stewart
Without question, the most frightening experience of my life was the birth of my son Seth.
In a matter of five minutes, Jeanne dilated from 3 to 10 centimeters. The doctors and nurses were not prepared. The delivery room was not ready. Seth was coming whether the world was ready for him or not. Never have I ever been so overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness. With each scream from the pain, a knife was twisted deeper in my heart.
However, at just the right moment, the man-cub entered the world and took his first breath. That joy overtook the memories of the difficulties encountered prior to the birth.
As I think of where our church is today spiritually, some words of Jesus come to mind. In John 16, Jesus said, "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come." After digging deeper into this subject, I have been amazed to find the Scriptures often compare certain spiritual situations to a woman in the travail of childbirth.
In that moment for a woman, there is pressure, pain, and panic. Medical doctors tell us that it is the closest a woman will come to death without actually dying. And to think, a woman will endure all of that for just one thing: the birth of a new life.
As the Lord prepares us for days of joy unspeakable, are we prepared for what it will cost us? Can we endure the possibility of spiritual pressure, spiritual pain, and spiritual panic unlike anything we have ever known? I want you to meditate on this process with me as to what we can expect as we draw closer to the Lord's presence.
It is a sudden experience. In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul compared the day of the Lord to a woman who found herself suddenly in travail. A woman can go from total peace and contentment, to anguish and pain in matter of seconds. There is typically little notice or warning; it just hits. The word "travail" means to "bring forth." A life or church that expects to "bring forth" for the glory of the Lord is one on watch for the sudden moment. A woman will say, "it could be any day now." She anticipates, looks, and longs for the moment. During that time, what feeds the anticipation is the curiosity as to who (or what!) they will look like, whether it is a boy or a girl, and the hope of his or her potential in life.
But there is one thing we all see when a child is born: the hand of God has been at work. If you are seeking to bring God glory in your life, expect, anticipate a sudden travail in your life. At that moment, let the curiosity of what God will "bring forth" from your life captivate your attention.
It is a sorrowful experience. The joy of a child being born will NEVER come without sorrowful pain. When you see a person to whom God has given a powerful anointing, what do you think? Some wish it could be theirs, while others think it is given away like a gift given at an athletic event to the first 100 who enter. However, I wonder what it is they have been through to get it. The anointing is not free nor easy. The wheat must be sifted and pulverized to get flour. A grape must be crushed to bring juice. An olive must be pressed to give its oil. Paul added in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, " and they shall not escape." A mother in travail wants to get out of the experience. However, as the spiritual womb contracts, the only way out is to go through it.
It is a separating experience. In Genesis 35, the unthinkable occurs with a woman in travail. Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin. In giving birth, she gave up herself! So few of us will ever know abundant spiritual life because we cannot part with ourselves. When a woman gives birth, there are some things altered that will never be the same again. Is not that what the new birth is all about? In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus met travail that pressed out submissive courage. On the cross, Jesus met travail that crushed sin. But, on resurrection morning, the image of God was seen in all His glory. Sadly, the "labor" rooms of God remain empty, while the playgrounds are crowded.
When our moment of travail comes, I wonder what we will "bring forth." I wonder who we will look like. It is my prayer that we see the image of God. If so, then the words of Jesus will be true, "but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish" because joy will have overtaken us!
© 2003 Alan Stewart
Alan Stewart pastors Rechoboth Baptist Church in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee