This is graphically seen in the events of the flood recorded in Genesis six through nine, the convulsions the earth passed through as the fountains of the great deep broke up and the windows of heaven were opened were of such magnitude that only these could bring the inundation that obliterated the old, sinful creation. As this travail took place the gracious purposes of God embodied in Noah and his family were continued, that which was of faith remained, passing through the flood in the ark and so a ‘new creation’ began. In some form or other, the fact of travail unto a new birth is a constantly repeated fact in salvation history as revealed in the Bible. Although we do not think of it in these terms necessarily we have only to consider the call of Abraham and the birth of the son promised to him, it involved a lengthy period for him and Sarah as they ‘struggled’ with coming to that weakness and obedience of faith necessary to the bringing forth of Isaac. (His name means Laughter!) Yes, always it seems, the scripture is true, “weeping may endure for night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30v5)
The liberation of the children of Israel from the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt was certainly a struggle of birth. They groaned in their slavery and God heard their cry, but first the history of Moses, the man God would use to lead them to liberty itself was full of struggle, when brought to weakness his calling was made sure and he returned to Egypt and led the people through the travail of the plagues, the shed blood of the lambs and the passage through that narrow opening as the waters broke in the Red Sea and so the slave people came into new life, becoming a nation born in a day. The transition to the Kingdom under David was marked by the same struggles, a passage of time in which there were several birth pangs as we could describe them, this travail included the failure of Eli the priest and his sons, the ministry of Samuel, the collapse of the infant kingdom under the man of the flesh Saul and so at last David (in type, the man of the Spirit) took the throne of the whole nation and a new era began for the people of God, this led eventually to the coming of the David’s great Son Jesus. When we reflect upon His travail, the initial convulsions culminating in the agony of Calvary we are rebuked if we think that the ‘new creation’ can ever come easily.
Birth involves battle, it is the struggle of birth pangs and it is not by chance that the mention of “garments rolled in blood” (what a poetic expression!) are spoken of as part of the prelude to the wonderful statement “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” (Isaiah 9v5&6) When the Lord Jesus spoke of the times of the end and the events that would precede and usher in the New Creation He uses the words “birth-pangs.” (Matt 24v8) Should we be surprised that Paul, when writing to the Thessalonians, uses the same imagery? (1 Thess 5v3) These things teach us that earthquakes; tsunamis and other such phenomena increasing in both magnitude and frequency, coupled with great upheavals socially and economically amongst the nations will be the prelude to the coming of the Lord Jesus when He shall make all things new. So, we find a spiritual law being revealed in all of this and it pertains in our personal lives and church life also. Paul often, in his letters, writes of his ‘struggle’ (using the Greek word “agonizo” from which we get our English word agony) in order to see spiritual maturity emerge in the churches amongst which he had labored. (Col 1v30 & 2v1) In the letter to the Galatians he says that he is “again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ be formed in you.” (Gal 4v19) This particular verse begins with the words “my little children” which make plain the fact that these people had been born again some years earlier and Paul’s use of the word “again” shows that even at that time Paul had travailed for their birth.
Apparently the birth of those churches implied a real travail and struggle on his part and now he is travailing again because they were not maturing in Christ at all, they were becoming malformed because they had received teachers amongst them who did not bring Christ but (in their case) the legal requirements of the Old Testament emptied of the Person of the Lord Jesus in Whom all had been fulfilled. Maturity in Christ most certainly involves a struggle. Consider the rites of passage practiced in various tribal groups by which the boy or girl makes the transition to manhood or womanhood. They involve initiations that are often very demanding and taxing for those becoming mature amongst their people. There can be no doubt that there is something similar through which we must pass spiritually speaking if we are to truly put on Christ and He is to be formed in us. In Ephesians four Paul writes of his concern for that church, “that you be no longer children tossed to and fro…” and that they come to “mature manhood” in Christ. During a recent conference there was evidence of certain elements of spiritual travail. We are not strangers to attending retreats and conferences but this particular one was unusual for the sense of struggle and spiritual battle.
The deeps were being broken up in some hearts and although the conference concluded with a gladsome time of liberated praise and one of the most moving communion services I have ever been a part of, I am certain that there were some things that took place there that mystified a number of those attending. Perhaps some felt a kind of heaviness, the quietness, silence and sense of tarrying that was present at times could have been interpreted that way. Peter writes of heaviness and he knew that to those to whom he was writing it “had been necessary” for them, and that it was leading to the salvation of their souls. (1 Pet 1v3-10) There are seasons in both individuals, families and churches that scour the soul, test our faith, sometimes upheavals caused by deep sorrows are very much part of the convulsions through which we must pass to greater maturity in Christ.
There is purpose in all, it is unto deepening, broadening, stretching and enlarging and although we may be bewildered, we can trust the Lord to finish the good work He is doing. I have been told that part of the trauma of birth is caused by the fact that the infant is comfortable and secure in the womb and does not want to leave that haven, whether this is so or not I am not sure but I am certain that there is a growth that precipitates us forward into stages where we have to leave childish things and grow up into Christ in all things. (Eph 4v15) Paul spoke of his travail and in our day there are those ministers who, although very different men they share the same burden, each, in their way, travailing to see the churches come out from superficial states to a real measure of stability and spiritual depth. I am challenged as I read and sometimes hear preachers for I sense something of the heart of God as He is aching for His people through them. I will mention just two because of the contrasts in background, emphasis and style between them, yet both have a clear burden for the churches of today, they are David Wilkerson and Dallas Willard, but there are many more in many lands who in prayer and various forms of ministry share in the struggle involved in seeing Christ formed in the lives of God’s people.