For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs (Jesus, Matthew 24:8, NASB).
The Scripture passage above is a familiar one to those tracking so-called “end time” prophecies, also known as the “end of the Church age” and the “last days (not to be confused with the end of the world).” Many Christians believe we are in “those times” just now.
Even non-Christians wonder: where is all this mayhem leading? If it isn’t man-made political chaos in just about every corner of the globe engendering the sharp rise in numbers of really angry people with way too much high-power ordnance at their disposal, it’s environmental and cosmic dangers (both normal, engineered, and some would say paranormal), and a seeming complete absence of wise leadership in response to much of it.
Jesus foresaw these times, too, as referenced above, and compared them to “birth pangs,” a phenomenon any mother can relate to. Having labored and delivered two times myself, I am reminded of the two very different ways I responded to the natural phenomenon of childbirth—and how I experienced the at once exciting and frightening event much better the second time around when I could add experience to the “book knowledge” I already had. All of which, taking the cue from Jesus’ metaphor, prompts some spiritual parallels.
THE NATURAL EVENT
The first time around, a mother may research, listen to health care providers, attend childbirth classes and prepare herself as best she can mentally, emotionally, and physically, but the day comes when something seems to take over her body.
She may have heard of or read about the facts of labor and delivery from books and classes; she just does not yet know the reality. As my ex-sister-in-law said, “The childbirth classes prepared me for everything but the pain!”
But it differs per mother and child. Some moms labor a little for a few hours and on the first “push” out comes Junior or Juniorette ready to meet the world with mom and babe barely breaking a sweat.
For most of us, what commences is usually more than a few hours of stage one labor (what others can relate to as, maybe, some kind of gastrointestinal disturbance of varying degrees, or perhaps, if the labor is “in the back,” intermittent bands of pain that tighten across the lower back but at increasing regularity and intensity).
Stage two introduces a labor that is decidedly NOT gastrointestinal upset or sore muscles, and each time this occurs Mom realizes fully what is taking place. It’s time.
Then comes the final, “pushing” stage, aka, “the urge to bear down” when, again, it’s not quite like it was detailed “in the books” and/or, perhaps, as related by one of the women who experiences the nice, rare kind of labor and delivery.
At this stage, the mom who may already have been at this five, ten, or fifty-three hours at that point, may feel, to put it politely, as if that focal point in the universe down under is breaking apart, centimeter by centimeter, producing pain like no other as hormonal powers beyond her ken have taken over so that baby can do his/her work, too, and emerge through that incredibly narrow, tight tunnel to life on the outside. The end result, of course, being overwhelming amazement and joy at the birth of this extraordinary CHILD while, at the same time, back to physical reality, Mom is facing the REST of the childbirth process which can involve several more unique, painful, and/or exhausting elements, some of which may take several days to fully subside. For some, more.
And I’m not even covering the ramifications of high risk pregnancy and delivery…
My own first experience was somewhere in between all the above, sans risks. Total labor: “easy” stage, about 10 hours. “Hard” stage, about 5.
For the second labor and delivery process, however, prepared with both explanations AND experience, things went more smoothly; the pain was much more bearable until the last half hour when a hospital staffing problem interfered.
Manning the maternity ward that evening was one doctor who also tended the busy emergency room three floors below and only two nurses for three of us moms in labor. I was doing very well on my own via a technique I will detail later until my concentration was thrown off in the hustle and bustle of the ward shortly before my daughter was born. Total labor: easy stage, about 8 hours. Hard stage: about 2.5—half the time as the first birth.
While I was grateful for the staff assistance, I was most grateful that I was able to successfully employ both knowledge AND experience to ease my second childbirth experience considerably.
THE SUPERNATURAL, NATURAL EVENT
Back to the (world’s) future, few in the know can deny that the planet is experiencing birth pangs of a supernatural/prophetic bent. As noted in the introduction, even non-believers can’t help but notice something is seriously awry unless they are not paying attention or choosing to party on and ignore the signs of the times that, as song writer Bob Dylan noted, are indeed “a-changin’.” At a seeming exponential rate.
How to manage labor and delivery, as it were, in this sense? Back to Jesus’ metaphor and some practical application and encouragement.
Over the gradual growth of babe in womb over nine months, though there are many changes taking place in a woman’s body, she has relatively pain-free time to absorb them, to consider the “normalcy” of pregnancy, if you will. Some women, of course, experience conditions such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney problems, or other conditions requiring special care and attention.
Spiritually speaking, there have always been the wars and rumors of same, as Jesus noted, that humanity is accustomed to hearing of and responding to; however, just as the normalcy of the first nine months of pregnancy draws to the very different and inevitable close, so, too, the normal events of the planet will draw to a very different and inevitable, in this case prophetic, close.
BEWARE THE NORMALCY BIAS
I believe we are well advised to beware the normalcy bias when it comes to spiritual matters as well as to temporal matters. There are many preachers still ignoring the obvious parallel of our times with times specified in the prophetic books of the Bible; thus, important reminders and preparations are left out of Sunday sermons. They might also disagree with the canon of Scripture on this important topic, aligning instead with other, more popular and less intense theories on the subject. Consider: despite the world’s obvious state of flux, when is the last time you heard preaching on the books of prophecy from your pulpit?
This also happens on an individual basis. Many believe we will soon return to normal, things will once again be as they were in “the good old days” (although, of course, evil has never ceased operations). Many continue to eat, drink, and be merry as usual, passing off the prophecy scholars and events-watchers as kooks. Meanwhile, Christians are admonished to “keep our lamps filled” in preparation and to remain sober and alert. Not only is the master of evil continually on the prowl to devour the unwary, He also knows the times we are in…
Another point of comparison is the fact that, again, plenty of information is available. Bible scholars inform us that a good portion of the Scriptures are prophetic in nature. Some say one-fourth, others, one-third of the entire text. And there are many other belief systems and fields of study—cultural, political, financial, scientific, technological–that verify that SOMETHING is about to change or that we are fast heading for some sort of “paradigm shift”.
Many ignore the news, however, or don’t take it seriously.
A pregnant woman also has access to information from a variety of sources that she can take seriously or ignore that will help her process successfully through pregnancy and childbirth.
In both cases, natural and supernatural, again, knowledge is available. The wise take heed. The foolish proceed and suffer for it. But it’s additional experience that also plays a key role in success.
I believe the main reason I labored exactly half the time in the so-called “hard” stage at the birth of my second daughter is because of two things: the information I had already read and heard and heeded the first time around, and the prior experience of childbirth. Not that any of this was easy.
The first time, surprised by the pain and in particular the urgency of the final stage, when it’s time for the sudden, hormonally induced transition to “bear down,” a woman realizes she wants to push that baby out with everything in her. It’s as if something or someone else (true, in a way) has taken over her body. The pain is as intense and exquisite as is the desire to be done with the process, despite the fatigue or any other complication. Most women find the strength and courage to, somehow, cooperate as best they can with this natural urge.
Here’s the application: because I understood much better, that second time around, that as painful and at times fearful labor and delivery can be, it is a completely natural event; science and medicine underscore the sufficiency of the female body to give birth. It is engineered to do so, you might say. For those at risk due to age, genetics, or other circumstances, the world of medical innovation has also contributed greatly to help them.
But perhaps the most important fact I took with me into the second childbirth experience was put this way by a few wise moms I knew: “Let the baby do the work.”
The practical application of that was this: whereas the first go-around, what with the surprise of it all despite the instructions, this was hard to comprehend and execute, the second time around I was able to focus because I knew by experience what to expect.
As I lay on the labor table in increasing pain, every single muscle in my body wanting to constrict in resistance, I positioned myself so that the only muscles I had to “use” were those that enabled my fingertips to gently massage my swollen belly. I focused on the baby’s movements, tried to ignore the large, loud clock on the wall as it ticked through the increased frequency and duration of my contractions, and marveled at this “trick” to ease the pain. Women who labor in water express a similar kind of relief possibly perhaps because the pull of gravity is minimal.
After “fighting,” you might put it, the pain the first go around, this was amazing to me. Because I had little “interference” from the medical staff who were in short supply and very busy elsewhere (see above), I was in my own, intensely focused, pain-managed world for nearly the entire 2.5 hours I was in hard labor.
Back to the spiritual realm: no doubt we are fast approaching the “hard labor stage,” you might say, of something or other in the world just now. To all observers and certainly participants the place is a hot mess and Christians in particular are aware that we might be experiencing the stages of age-end.
We might even be well-versed in the information and ramifications; however, there are still the unknowns, the “surprises,” like the surprises in the stages of childbirth, of the exact when, where, and how it will all resolve. But although what’s ahead will be “a first” we are not without the information (prophecy) and actually some experience as well.
Just as I learned how to “relax” and “let the baby do the work” my second time giving birth, I believe Christians can take heart in their own spiritual “experiences,” by remembering when, where, and how God has assisted us in days past, and resting in them, as much as we can, as His Work on our behalf continues.
Hard to do when the world in one way or another explodes around us, granted. But consider the following examples in your own experience:
Was that “right person,” “coincidence,” rescue, or some other manifestation of answered prayer there for you just when you needed it that time? Remember this.
Did that right circumstance take shape just about the time you had given up? Remember this.
Did that word of comfort, encouragement, advice, wisdom, correction, or direction come your way through “a wise one” in your life at precisely the time of your greatest need? Remember this.
Even when no outward manifestation of answered prayer seemed to come your way, did God’s Word, the one that “stood out” among the verses you were reading, sustain you until the full revelation of the answer came to life? Remember this.
Here are a few such “words” that have helped and sustained me, perhaps you as well:
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go: I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8)
Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
I think also of a story Corrie ten Boom, of Hiding Place fame once told. She was a young girl at the time, and feeling a bit doubtful about God’s provision. She asked her father about this.
“Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam,” he began, “when do I give you your ticket?”
“Why, just before we get on the train,” she replied.
“Exactly,” he said. “And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things too. Don’t run out ahead of Him. When the time of need comes, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.”
This knowledge helped sustain, comfort, and eventually deliver Corrie from a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
At the same time, perhaps of even more significance as we consider what may come, her older sister Betsie, also incarcerated in the concentration camp, gave this testimony as she lay dying in the camp’s “infirmary”: “Tell them,” she told Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.”
When the pangs of the sort of childbirth Jesus referenced increase and become seemingly unbearable, we, too, have a Father Who has given us words of encouragement and testimonies of His timely provision through His people of old—and of now. When we focus on His works in our lives to date, we also have our own experiences for confirmation.
KEEP THE FAITH
Remember His provision of the past. Nurture and sustain faith for the future.
There may be many surprises ahead, “pangs” we had not anticipated, that we are not sure we can handle, but God is not unaware of this, nor is He at all surprised. After all, He wrote the book on it.
And He remains on the throne, offering every bit as much direction, guidance, wisdom, healing, and comfort for us as ever He has.
The “push” to the end of the age may be closer than we think.
But as my sister often reminds me, “Whatever hastens His coming.”
In short, look up, for “(our) redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).
Don’t you think?
Corrie and Betsie ten Boom’s story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrie_ten_Boom
Image from the public domain.