This past week I have spent some time sitting by a fire watching sap boil away in a large vintage pot. Sap has to boil down to about one 40th of what it started out as before it becomes sweet syrup. Without the fire it is basically just water, water that will give you an upset stomach if you drink too much of it. It isn’t useful (to anyone but the tree), it isn’t delicious, it isn’t syrup.
I watched the surface boil away and the harsh bubbles made me think of the burning heat of suffering and how painful that heat is, not for the sap because the sap has no actual feelings, obviously, but in our lives that heat is sometimes unbearable.
I can look back at times of boiling down in my life, times when I felt that the pain was just too much to bear and just wanted it to end. It is interesting however to look back on those times now and see how crucial they were to my story. Without those times of pain I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t have some of the passions I have today and I wouldn’t be able to cry with friends (and complete strangers) who are going through similar things.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad wen his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13
Count it all joy, my brothers [sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
No one likes to suffer so it is hard to understand these verses sometimes. How do we rejoice in suffering? How do we count it as joy when it just feels like hurt. It is hard to look at the the present moment and see the big picture, especially if the present moment is painful. We only have finite little minds right now so we tend to see things pretty clearly when we look back but not necessarily right now.
Just before Jesus went to the cross he told his disciples that he was going away and they couldn’t go with him. He told them that painful changes were going to happen. I am guessing that they weren’t too impressed, thinking about it from their perspective I can completely understand. They must have been thinking about all the amazing things they had seen and all that they had learned and had hopes for more of this. They couldn’t imagine anything being better for them that walking with Jesus every day and listening to him teach. Jesus knew though that if he didn’t leave them and cause them this pain they would never become what he wanted them to be.
Without the pain they went through watching their friend go to the cross the Holy Spirit would have never come to them and they would still be the doubting, betraying, cowardly men they were.
Pain isn’t fun and suffering is definitely not pleasant but without it our lives would be pretty meaningless. Without it we would just remain like the maple sap that isn’t in the tree and hasn’t been boiled down, not useful for anything really. But when we accept the fire and continue to look to Jesus in our pain we bring him so much glory and we can be used in ways we never imagined.