Quests and Challenges Before the Happily-Ever-After

The words “happily-ever-after” typically put us in mind of fairy tales, usually of the Disney variety, and stories that end with weddings. People often have a lot of complicated emotions about the idea of weddings (both in real-life and how they’re portrayed in stories). We might feel hopeful and happy, sure the couple at the end of the story really will live happily-ever-after. Or we might feel more cynical, saying that’s not how it works in real life.

Even in Disney’s fairly tales, though, the path to happily-ever-after isn’t easy. There are quests, battles, danger, and heartbreak before the end. The danger and challenges are even more pronounced in original versions of fairy tales. We see this trend in most of the oldest myths, legends, and epic tales. The best endings come to those who get there through struggle–who overcome adversity, outwit their enemies, and endure hardship to the end.

God’s love story is like that too. The story that He’s writing with our lives will end in a happily-ever-after, but there’s a lot going on before we get there. There’s love and courting, an engagement promise, then unfaithfulness on the part of the bride, wars fought over her, and then the bridegroom’s death and resurrection. Pretty dramatic stuff, and that’s all before we even enter the picture. And the story isn’t done yet. There is still coming a time when heaven will cry out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns! Let’s rejoice and be exceedingly glad, and let’s give the glory to him. For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:6-7, WEB).

That end goal is a good thing to focus on. It helps keep us on-track and hopeful during the challenging times facing the Lamb’s wife as she makes herself ready. We also need to beware of and expect those obstacles. Our journey to this wedding is full of challenges. Our Bridegroom and His Father have an adversary who’d like nothing better than to tear the bride apart and ruin this upcoming marriage.

Attacked when Looking for our Lover

I opened to my beloved;
but my beloved left, and had gone away.
My heart went out when he spoke.
I looked for him, but I didn’t find him.
I called him, but he didn’t answer.
The watchmen who go about the city found me.
They beat me.
They bruised me.
The keepers of the walls took my cloak away from me.

Song 5:6-7, WEB

There are a lot of people in today’s world who staunchly oppose those who go looking for Jesus, much as the watchmen attacked the beloved in Song of Songs when she went looking for her lover. We need to expect this sort of opposition so it doesn’t surprise us, and also keep it in perspective so that it doesn’t discourage us. We don’t want to be someone who “has no root in himself” and stumbles “when oppression or persecution arises because of the word” (Matt. 13:21, WEB). This is something that Jesus and the apostles taught first-century Christian converts, and it’s still important for us today.

They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.”

Acts 14:22, NET

The world hates people who love Jesus (John 15:19). Part of our love story involves enemies that want to keep us apart. Those enemies won’t win, though. All the opposition to the marriage of the Lamb and His Bride is motivated by the Adversary, Satan the Devil, and Jesus has already won the key victory in this battle. Our Bridegroom died for our sins and conquered death–there’s nothing that can stop Him from putting “all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:20-25).

Running Away from the One Who Loves Us

Opposition that comes from other people and external trials or challenges is pretty easy to spot. There’s also opposition that can come from within ourselves, and that’s often harder to notice. We may think we’d never be like the people of ancient Israel who forsook God over and over, running after idols like an unfaithful wife running after lovers. But Paul tells us that the things which happened with Israel are written down so we can learn from them. They’re a warning that we need because we could do the same things they did.

So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it. So then, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

1 Corinthians 10:12014, NET

All too often, we slip into patterns of disinterest or distraction. We get caught up in our own interests, worries, and goals and let our relationship with God slip into the background. There’s no such thing as leaving a relationship like this in neutral, though. Either we’re getting closer to Him, or we’re going to start slipping away. We must not let that happen. We want to make sure that we’re running away from idolatry (anything we might prioritize over God); not running away from God.

Hearing our Lover’s Voice

We need to be on guard against the common trials that all human beings face. If we lose touch with a godly perspective and start to think we’re alone in our trials they’ll quickly discourage us. The best way to counter that discouragement is to stay close to Jesus. The closer our relationship is with our Beloved, the more comfort He can give us and the better we’ll be able to recognize His voice.

“Most certainly, I tell you, one who doesn’t enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, is a thief and a robber. But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. Whenever he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. They will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him; for they don’t know the voice of strangers.”

John 4:1-5, WEB

We miss part of this picture unless we know how shepherding worked in ancient Israel. When shepherds took their sheep to water, the flocks would mingle together. It was a noisy place with lots of voices calling out for sheep to come follow them. Sheep with a good, attentive shepherd would know their shepherd so well they’d easily discern his voice and come when he called for him (Chris Tiegreen, Worship the King, p. 46). Likewise, our world is full of things that vie for our attention, including everything from pleasant-seeming distractions to the trials we’d rather not deal with. Through it all, we need to listen for the voice of our Beloved Shepherd as He leads, restores, and loves us (Ps. 23).

Faithful to the End

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2, NET). The same is true of us today. We’re all part of the affianced bride of Jesus Christ. That knowledge ought to contextualize all the stuff that happens in our lives today. We approach life differently when we know that someone wonderful loves us and that God Himself backs up the promise of a happily-ever-after in our future.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. … For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us.

Romans 8:12-13, 18, NET

We belong to God the Father and Jesus Christ. Jesus ransomed us with His own blood (1 Cor 6:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:9). That places us “under obligation” to live a certain way. There’s so much love wrapped up in all this that it doesn’t burden us the way we typically think of “obligations” doing. People getting married don’t (usually) make vows because they have to, but because they want to. Same with us and Jesus. When we love Him, we’ll want to commit to Him like He’s committed to us. We’ll want to stick with Him to the end, no matter how many dragons try to keep us apart and spoil our happily-ever-after.

Featured image by Pexels from Pixabay

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