Happily Ever After

“… And they lived happily ever after.” Stop for just a moment, and let it be true. They lived happily ever after. These may be the most beautiful and haunting words in the entire collection of stories. Why does the end of a great story leave us with a lump in our throats and an ache in our hearts?

If we haven’t become entirely cynical, some of the best endings can even bring us to tears. Every story we tell is our attempt to put into words and images what God has written there, on our hearts. Think of the stories that you love. Remember how they end.

Then Aslan turned to them and said, “You do not look so happy as I mean you to be.”

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan.

“Have you not guessed?” Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead.

The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful I cannot write them.

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

If a story has been true to life in all its sorrow and hardness and longing, to life as we know it, and if it also offers that turn at the end in hope beyond hope, then our eyes swell with tears and we get a glimpse of Joy.

What if this was our ending? What would it be like to have a wild hope rise within you? This is written on the human heart, this longing for happily ever after.

You see, every story has an ending. Every story. Including yours.

Have you ever faced this? Even if you do manage to find a little taste of Eden in this life, even if you are one of the fortunate souls who finds some love and happiness in the world, you cannot hang on to it. You know this. Your health cannot hold out forever. Age will conquer you. One by one your friends and loved ones will slip from your hand. Your work will remain unfinished. Your time on this stage will come to an end. Like every other person gone before you, you will breathe your last breath. And then what? Is that the end of the Story?

If that is the end, this Story is a tragedy. Macbeth was right. Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Sooner or later, life will break your heart. Or rather, death will break your heart. Perhaps you have to lose someone you love to be shaken from denial. The final enemy is death. It will come. Is there no way out? Do we have a future?

Very few of us live with hope. To those without faith, he has whispered, “Your story ends with an accident, and then . . . there is nothing. This is as good as it gets.”

We have dreamed better dreams than God can dream? We have written stories that have a better ending than God has provided? It cannot be.

I have some really good news for you: that’s not the so-called Good News. Not even close. God has set eternity in our hearts. We’ve been trying to express it in the stories that we tell. Or rather, it has been trying to express itself, this eternity written on our hearts. And the Scripture bears witness that, in fact, the best of those stories are very close indeed to what is about to happen in our Story.

Picture in your mind the final scene from Titanic. Jack is dead, some eighty years past. Rose is now an old, old woman, her life behind her, fading like the photographs on her nightstand. We see the once great ocean liner, “the ship of dreams,” crushed and rotting at the bottom of the sea. A place in each of us feels as though all stories will eventually end this way, try as we might to avoid it. All is lost.

Then something begins to happen.

Down in the darkness of the Titanic a light begins to break through, light as fresh and pure as the first morning of Creation. It streams in through every portal, races through every haunted place. The glorious light cleanses and restores the grandeur and beauty of the great ship before our very eyes. The rubble is swept away; the deck glistens as it did on the day it was made.

In the twinkling of an eye, the ship is restored. The magnificent ballroom doors swing open, and we discover all the great hearts of the story, gathered together again. Lover and Beloved are reunited; a grand party is under way.

This happy ending is borrowed right out of the Scripture. An immortal life. The restoration of all things. A wedding feast. In hope beyond hope, Paradise is regained. This is what God has been trying to say to us all along: Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. (Isaiah 65: 17)

When Jesus touched the blind, they could see; all the beauty of the world opened before them. When he touched the deaf, they were able to hear; for the first time in their lives they heard laughter and music and their children’s voices. He touched the lame, and they jumped to their feet and began to dance. And he called the dead back to life and gave them to their families.

Do you see? Wherever humanity was broken, Jesus restored it. He is giving us an illustration here, and there, and there again. The coming of the kingdom of God restores the world he made.

God has been whispering this secret to us through creation itself, every year, at springtime, ever since we left the Garden. Sure, winter has its certain set of joys. But if winter ever came for good and never left, we would be desolate. Every tree leafless, every flower gone, the grasses on the hillsides dry and brittle. The world forever cold, silent, bleak.

Behold—look at this!—I am giving Paradise back to you. This is the breathtaking surprise at the end of Titanic. And at the end of The Lion King—the evil one is cast down, and creation is regained, made new. So at the end of Gladiator we see Maximus, very much alive and healed from his many wounds, walking through the golden fields of Spain to be reunited with his wife and son. Dorothy arrives safe at home at the end of The Wizard of Oz, and Middle Earth is restored at the end of The Lord of the Rings. It is the happy end of The Chronicles of Narnia: The world in all its beauty shall be ours again—forever.

TOGETHER AGAIN – This is our future.

And it’s the word ours that pierces me. As I think again of the happiest endings to the best stories, I realize that what brings me to tears is the recovery of the relationships—the ones we have come to love are brought home again.

After He laid down his life for us, Jesus of Nazareth was laid in a tomb. He was buried just like any other dead person. His family and friends mourned. His enemies rejoiced. And most of the world went on with business as usual, clueless to the Epic around them. Then, after three days, also at dawn, his story took a sudden and dramatic turn.

Jesus came back. He showed up again. He was restored to them. He walked into the house where they had gathered to comfort one another in their grief and asked if they had anything to eat. It was the most stunning, unbelievable, happiest ending to a story you could possibly imagine.

And it is also ours. The resurrection of Jesus was the first of many, the forerunner of our own. He paved the way, as the saying goes. Creation will be restored, and we will be restored. And we shall share it together.

You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” John 11: 25-27 THE MESSAGE

“Today,” Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23: 43). Imagine that. Imagine being reunited with the ones you love, and with all the great and noble hearts of this Story, in paradise.

All that has ever stood between us will be swept away, and our hearts will be released to real loving. It begins with a great party, just as in “The Great Gatsby”

Imagine the stories that you’ll hear. And all the questions that shall finally have answers. And the answers won’t be one-word answers, but story after story, a feast of wonder and laughter and glad tears.

WILL WE MAKE IT?

We have a future, but this tale is not over yet—not by a long shot. We now live between the battle the beaches of Normandy and the end of the war. Between Paradise lost and Paradise regained.

We live in a far more dramatic, far more dangerous Story than we ever imagined. The reason we love The Chronicles of Narnia or Star Wars or The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings is because they are telling us something about our lives that we never, ever get on the evening news. Or from most pulpits. They are reminding us of what we are created for.

It might be good to pause and do that right now.

Look, the winter is past, and the rains are over and gone. … the season of singing has come, and the cooing of turtledoves is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11

Sometimes it seems that a vast ocean separates men and women: You stand on one shore trying desperately to reach your partner who is thousands of miles away on another. In an effort to navigate this immense ocean, you climb into an inflatable raft. Suddenly, a storm blows in out of nowhere. It takes all your strength just to stay afloat. The waves crash around you, and you fear you will drown! Just when you think there is no hope, you hear the blast of a cruise ship’s horn signaling that the ship is coming to help. The captain of the “MS Faith” throws you a rope. As you hoist yourself up onto the deck, you realize your raft never would have made it across the ocean. But on this ship, you can sail safely to the other shore. Faith is vital to your survival.

When I am battling my fears and anxieties, I will call out to Jehovah-Magen (The LORD our Shield) “How blessed you are, O Israel! Who else is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your protecting shield and your triumphant sword!” Deuteronomy 33:29 “But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head.” Psalm 3:3

What you see in front of you today isn’t the end of the story. God gives the gifts of strength, stability, protection, support, and guidance, but first, we must walk forward in faith, allowing him to be our guide and to train us for the journey.

Friend, spend time today thanking God for what He already done and allow your faith to grow. The path in front of you that looks broken, God has already made perfect. He can’t be taken by surprise. Realize that your understanding of your situation is incomplete. Have faith in knowing that God will guide you and arm you for what’s ahead if you stand on the promises in His word. Instead of doubting God in the face of contrary circumstances we chose to move towards Him, to trust Him and to hold on to Him even more tightly.

Perhaps the first lesson I learned is how our expectations impact us, that I was expecting something different–something more positive. I was looking for a real turnaround in the my waiting and my expectations may have moved into the realm of a sense of demandingness. When we focus on our expectations and make the results we want the source of our happiness, security, or significance, we end up in the Elijah syndrome–fearful, ready to run away, and engulfed in feelings of failure and depression or fear and frustration.

If I am not extremely careful, those expectations will derail me as they become demands of my heart. It is not wrong for us to hope for the best and to look to the Lord for that. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says “love . . . believes all things, hopes all things.” The same is true for faith according to Heb. 11:1. But 1 Corinthians 13:7 also says, “love bears all things, . . . endures all things.” Please note, believing and hoping is sandwiched between bearing and enduring.

God holds us responsible for trusting in Him, for obedience, for love, for endurance, and for faithfulness to do what He has called us to do. He does not hold us responsible for the results. The results are in His hands, not ours. We can’t change people, and we often can’t change our circumstances, only God can.

At first it felt unfair. And purposeless. But as I looked and studied Abraham’s life in Genesis 11-22, Abraham’s faith wasn’t in the promise alone. His faith was rooted in the Promiser. Because his faith was not in what God would do for him, but in God himself, Abraham was willing to risk. He could do whatever God asked. He wasn’t holding on to a particular outcome. He was holding on to God. Abraham’s waiting strengthened his faith. Taught him God’s ways. Showed him God’s faithfulness. Abraham knew that God would provide everything he needed. I have the same assurance that Abraham did — that God will provide everything I need. As I let that promise sink in, I see my circumstances and waiting differently.

Nothing is beyond God’s control and timing.  He is faithful to the end.

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