Friday, October 20, 2006

Thoughts Following This Week

One of the things I love about the Bible, and one of the reasons that it grips me, is the brutal honesty I find expressed in the lives of those described. I mean really - would any sane person trying to sell a new philosophy or religion actually have put some of the stuff in the Bible in their religious writings?

Let me be more specific: This last month has been awful. (Just be thankful you can skip over it here, and not hear me whine about it!) Anyway, especially this last week, we've been on a roller-coaster of emotion... I'd like to say that "I'm experiencing blissful happiness and tranquility" in the midst of life's difficulty, but I'm not. I've gone to bed at night feeling like I'm not going to wake up. My wife and kids are tired of hearing me say that I'm having chest pains... each day has felt like a different, more painful hit than the day before.

And I know I've said this before (somewhere), but the problem for me is that I want to be in control - and the difficulties I wrestle with are all totally beyond that. Sometimes I wish I could trade difficulties with someone who's having them directly (like a personal illness, business failure or other pressure), because I'd be able to do something about that! But God seems to know precisely where I need breaking, and off to the land of "beyond-my-control" I find myself.

We're thrilled with the news today about our son, and I don't want to take anything away from that. The same person who called me today with good news called my wife last week with very confusing and disturbing news. So it's hard to feel like "its over" - you just never really know. (It's always that way, isn't it? The calm of "ordinary" life can be disturbed - no, shattered - by a thousand things we can't -or won't - begin to comprehend.)

Back to the Bible, though. That "overly-honest" stuff? One example that caught me this evening was the book of Lamentations. I really feel like posting all of it. Here's a guy who most churches would send off for therapy (or at least to a men's accountability group) quickly, just to get him to shut up! But he captures the feelings I have had, sometimes expressed wandering the house in the middle of the night, when he says this (in Lamentations 3)

"I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long..." (v1-3) "He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked..." (v.7-9) "my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD'. Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me." (v.17-20)

Ok, that's not too "celebratory." And in our hearts, we all know that place - and that it's a lonely place to be. Even though we've all been there, evangelicals "aren't supposed" to feel that way. We're supposed to be up, happy and smiley. "Doesn't Jesus want you happy, healthy and fulfilled?"

Actually, I don't think so. At least not the way that it's generally described to me.

It's possible to feel down, depressed, even crushed... and still be walking in God's plan and purpose. Maybe that's what the writer of Lamentations (Jeremiah?) was confident of when - even in the midst of that level of discouragement and pain, he could follow immediately with this thought:

"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (v.21-23).

In the ups and downs of life, I love the FACT that regardless of my circumstances - regardless of anything, even the crushing weight of life's darkest days or problems, God's love and mercy are both immeasurable and unending. He sustains even when you're dying inside. What a mystery... but what a promise and a truth.

Many people have seen difficulty beyond anything I've known, so I'm not the expert. But no matter, I've got to decide daily whether I'm trusting in God's faithfulness or in my circumstances. And like the author of Lamentations, those two things sometimes seem very much at odds in my life.

A.W. Tozer wrote about seasons of life like this in his book "That Incredible Christian"... he said this:

"To do His supreme work of grace within you He will take from your heart everything you love most. Everything you trust in will go from you. Piles of ashes will lie where your most precious treasures used to be.

This is not to teach the sanctifying power of poverty. If to be poor made man holy every tramp on a park bench would be a saint. But God knows the secret of removing things from our hearts while they still remain to us... now under the careful treatment of the Holy Spirit your life may become dry, tasteless and to some degree a burden to you...

While you life in this state you will exist by a kind of blind will to live; you will find none of the inward sweetness you had enjoyed before. The smile of God will be for the time withdrawn, or at least hidden from your eyes. Then you will learn what faith is; you will find out the hard way, but the only way open to you, that true faith lies in the will... And you will learn, probably to your astonishment, that it is possible to live in all good conscience before men and God and still feel nothing of the "peace and joy" you hear talked about so much by immature Christians...

Slowly you will discover God's love in your suffering. Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing. You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you - the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death and, what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life." (emphasis added)

Tozer goes on to warn his generation - soaked in the promise of wealth and prosperity - about the timeless truth of this thought. It is honest, real and - in my life, sustaining... through ups and downs. It's also a message sorely needed to be proclaimed in a world full of "Joel Olsteen-type" religious blather.

For us, today's crisis has passed. While we're grateful (even celebrating!), the next one may be waiting in hours, or delayed indefinitely. But for me, whatever comes, I'll choose to seek to echo the author of Lamentations when he said - in an act of "willful" faith during a period of crushing defeat:

"'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him." The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD." (3:25-26)

It is. So I will.

1 comment:

Shiloh Guy said...

We both watched my wife live with death for many years. She moved steadily toward her end with faith and courage. She had many opportunities to speak at conferences and retreats and he theme passage was Lamentations 3:21-24. Don't miss the key to living with all the pain and loss that is found in v.24, "I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'" If we have God, everything else pales in comparison. If we have God, we can endure. The question I keep asking myself is, who or what am I looking to as my portion in this life? If it is not God, God will surely take it from me, just as Tozer said.