If you have ever felt hemmed in, you would probably admit it feels like you are so confined you cannot possibly break free. You might liken the feeling to something like being placed inside an envelope which is just a little too small for the contents, but crushed to the point the edges are just about to burst - so tightly sealed in by the edges of this envelope. If you have ever tried to open one of these "too tightly packed" envelopes, you probably recognize the difficulty it is to not affect the contents when you are working to expose them. The same is true in our lives - we might just be so tightly "packed", afraid there will be damage if anyone even comes close to trying to open us up. The good news is found in understanding the purpose of the envelope.
We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5:3-5 MSG)
You see, the envelope serves the purpose of "hemming in" the contents - actually causing them to bind a little closer together than maybe they would have if not contained inside the envelope. It also serves as a means of moving the contents from one place to the next. I think troubles do much the same thing in our lives. They bring us a little closer to God and they help us to move from one place to another. Paul reminds us these troubles may have a "hemming" effect, but they have a purpose not so much to restrict us, but to ultimately get us from one spiritual position into another.
Here is the truth - those troubles you are facing today are simply God's means of developing within you something which requires some movement from where you are today to where he envisions you to be tomorrow. In the process, he allows you to feel a little "hemmed in" so as to focus you, much as the contents of the tightly packed envelope brings the contents tightly together - he is bringing you closer to him in the process. In this day of instant mail (e-mail and instant messaging), we almost have made envelopes obsolete. "Snail mail" - the traditional paper in an envelope - just isn't the vogue means of communicating these days. Yet, there is something quite treasured in receiving the handwritten note in the mail, isn't there? I don't think God accomplishes quite the same thing in our lives when it comes in the form of an "instant message" - but when it comes in the form of a tightly packed, enveloped process, we see things a little differently, don't we?
It takes time for the "snail mail" to actually reach us, doesn't it. We can go to the mailbox fifteen times an hour, but until the postman is actually sorting into those tiny boxes, the time has not arrived for its delivery. We will not short-change God's timing - he "delivers" in exactly the right time. There is something built in the anticipation of its delivery, though. We wonder at what will come - not fully knowing what the delivery will bring, but confident the box will not be empty forever. God's dealings in our lives are best when anticipated - hope is built, faith is grown, and heart becomes keenly aware of each beat of the other.
Paul tells us much about the "enveloping" process of troubles - building within us a patience which would have escaped us had we not been tightly closed in and forced together. Sometimes we need the proximity of this piece with the other to actually see how they "fit". The envelope brings the pieces into the position of "close proximity" so God can actually show us how the pieces all fit together in our lives. It also builds within us an alertness - just as you have a certain alertness to the signs of the postman having made his rounds. The condition of alertness is only there when there is anticipation. So, God builds anticipation in the time between becoming "tightly packed" inside that envelope and the exposure of its contents. The amount of anticipation actually increases as time is passing. If you don't believe me, watch a child turn a package over and over again under the tree leading up to its unveiling on Christmas morn. The anticipation builds as each day passes.
With troubles surrounding us, feeling tightly closed in, surrounded on all sides, we can feel the anticipation of "release" building. Maybe this is why God takes the time between preparing the "envelope" to the unveiling of its contents. The release is made all the greater once you have been tightly packed inside the envelope - doesn't it? But...don't lose sight of the contents. They have been affected by the envelope, haven't they? They are not only brought closer together - pieces fit together - but they are also left with a few "creases" which are evidence of their journey. Be assured of this, my friends, you don't break free of the envelope without evidence of the journey you have taken inside its confines! Just sayin!