I learned a valuable lesson yesterday from my shop radio. I had moved the radio over to another area of the shop where I was working and plugged it into the outlet. At least I tried to. The dumb plug was wrong, or the way I was holding it was wrong, or maybe the outlet was wrong. At any rate, I had to turn the plug over so the finicky wide plug went into the dumb wide slot. Then it worked. Now I have had this experience before; in fact I have had it many times. So I began thinking… “Why is it that the majority of times I attempt to plug in an electrical appliance, I do it wrong? Couldn’t it just as easily be right a majority of the time? How about 50/50? Why is it usually wrong?” I think I finally found the answer in an obscure text in the Bible: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). DID YOU HEAR THAT? Futility. That’s what we have had ever since Adam and Eve ate that futile fruit.
So what does futility mean to us? It means that we are subjected to futility & frustration (“Yeah, I read that, Gerry”). But, what does it mean to us today? It means that things don’t always work out the way that we wish they would. In fact, very many times they do not.
For instance: If you are changing the oil in your truck out in the driveway, it can be a perfectly calm day until you bend over and crawl under the truck, leaving your vulnerable backside as a target. The formerly nonexistent wind will choose that moment to inflate your shirt like the sail on a British schooner, and at the same time turn the steady oil stream into a dribble of black mist that creates a large stain on the concrete (gravel if you are lucky). Futility is what we’re talking about here. Or, frustration. How can we cope with it as we wait for Jesus to return?
We are not alone
It should take some of the sting out of life to discover that the Apostle Paul was frustrated at times too. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he writes about a real tough time he was experiencing. “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8). In other words “We didn’t think we were going to live...”
Now most of us have not feared for our lives, but we know what it means to be frustrated at times by jobs, children, marriages, neighbors and maybe even our faith. We don’t all struggle alike, but alike we all struggle. Can Anyone help us? Enter Jesus. When He spiraled down into a human cell, He subjected Himself to humanity with all of its frustrations. According to Hebrews, He did this so that He might have a behind-the-scenes bond with our condition and lift us above it (Hebrews 2:14-18). Paul understands what frustration is; an entire line of chosen witnesses in Hebrews 11 understood, and most importantly Jesus understands. We are not alone in this grand existential struggle.
Prayer makes a difference
In his letter to the believers at Corinth (2 Cor. 1:11) Paul reveals a special antidote to the shivers of futility that we experience. Prayer. How many people have prayed for you during some low time in your life? More than we know. How many times have we prayed for others? When we ask others to pray for us, two things happen. We humble ourselves (very important in my life–perhaps yours too) and we give others an opportunity to share in the rejoicing. As our trials pass, they often reveal that some good has come from the experience. This gives way to gratitude, and those who prayed for us can share in that rejoicing. As Paul wrote: “You helped us by your prayers” (v. 11a) and now many will give thanks for the gracious favor granted in this answered prayer” (v.11b). This is how the Church is designed to function. Are you concerned about someone? Pray for them. Do you love someone? Pray for them. Do you despise someone? Pray for them, and ask others to pray for you. Prayer messes up futility.
The trials that we face have a purpose. God never wastes pain in our lives. He has promised to use it to bring good into our lives (2 Cor. 1:10; 4:17). In 2007, I spoke with a family in Idaho who had endured many frustrations. In tears, they shared some of the pain that life had brought them. After listening, I asked them, “What good has come out of this experience?” That one question turned the direction of the whole conversation toward God. They spoke of finding God through the trial and learning to love each other more deeply. The experience gave them something they hadn’t possessed before. Hope! As Jeremiah said, “God has a desire to give us hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). God cares about your future enough to have already secured your place in it (John 14:3). There is hope. We may still have red traffic lights, property tax, cemeteries and hospitals to temporarily endure, but there is a better land coming if we remain faithful. So the next time you go to plug in your blender to make a smoothie, remember… you may try to plug it in the wrong way at first.
That’s okay. God, in His goodness, has plugged us into His family, into His future and into His heart, and the enemy is the only one frustrated with God's goodness.