I posted the following prayer in a previous post, and wanted to comment on one portion of the passage.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner…
It seems as if I am standing on one side of a huge canyon and see how I should grow toward you, live in your presence and serve you, but cannot reach the other side of the canyon where you are. I can speak and write, preach, and argue about the beauty and goodness of the life I see on the other side, but how, O Lord, can I get there? Sometime I even have the painful feeling that the clearer the vision, the more aware I am of the depth of the canyon…
I can only keep trying to be faithful, even though I feel faithless most of the time. What else can I do but keep praying to you, even when I feel numb; to keep speaking in your name, even when I feel alone. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.
– A Cry for Mercy by Henri Nouwen
Did you catch what Nouwen wrote in the last quoted paragraph? He wrote that he tried to be faithful despite his inclinations of faithlessness.
Have you ever tried to be faithful?
Perhaps you tried to be patient, or kind, or gentle, or pure, or selfless? To be blunt how’d that work out?
I don’t know about you, but I fail. I fail way more than I would like! Even in those times I do succeed, I step away from the situation utterly exhausted. Thanks to the work in books like Willpower, we now know that humans have a limited amount of willpower that becomes depleted throughout the day. While Baumeister and Tierney offer helpful suggestions on the subject of willpower in everyday life, when it comes to the willpower of faith Nouwen is discussing, I am afraid it just cannot be implemented in the same capacity.
When I try faithfulness, I end up with moments of great success and failures. However, the God revealed in the Bible does not measure our lives on an average or curve. He measures it compared to his holiness, and we come up woefully short.
Fortunately, the great message of Jesus the Messiah, is that God himself reconciles the world through Jesus. We are saved through his faithfulness and are justified through his salvific work (see II Timothy 2:13 and II Corinthians 5:19).
Reader, don’t be burnt out through your own strength. Instead, trust in Jesus and his faithfulness. Everything else will be added to you through his Spirit who lives and dwells in you.
As mentioned in my previous post, waiting can be tough, but it can also have an unexpected upside to it. Here are a few other things I have begun to notice in this season of waiting:
Waiting creates an opportunity for us to get brutally honest with God. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s OK to tell God how it is or how you feel. But in our honesty, it’s important to know that grumbling behind his back is not the best idea. Just as in other relationships, the healthy way of dealing with conflict is directly to the person, not talking trash about someone to other people.
Waiting also unearths what’s going on under the façade of success. When pillars of health, wealth, family, and social networks are shaken or erode quickly, we suddenly are left with the inner monologue. There is a clarity that emerges, affording us the opportunity to see what drives us, for better or for worse. This monologue can tell you that you are worthless or you are loved. I hope you discover the latter— that you are loved in Jesus.
Waiting helps to prioritize our lives and offers the space to contemplate what matters. It’s gut check time—what is important in your life? Take time to wrestle with this profound, fundamental question.
Waiting nudges us into the direction of recalling what God has done for us in the past. As the ancient people of Israel did long ago, they frequently reminded themselves of what God did for them through festivals and altars. Waiting in the middle of the uncertainty can lead us to remember how God lead us in the darkness in the past, and it might remind us that he very well could be at work in our lives today.
Yet, with the upside of waiting, there also is a downside. As the Book of Proverbs states so simply, “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Waiting can give us a heavy heart.
In all of this, please understand that waiting is not passive, it’s a call to action and a new way of being. Waiting is a heavy burden borne alone and can create hurt, especially when our expectations are off. For example, if we expect God to give us “the one” to marry, yet we sit alone in our house all day, then we will more than likely be hurt down the road without “the one” (which doesn’t exist, but that’s another topic for another day). If we expect God to give us a job when we are unemployed and are not actively seeking new opportunities, then we will likely end up crushed because we thought that God was like Santa and drops unexpected opportunities with little effort on our part.
Friends, the only thing that comes freely to us is grace and God’s salvation. For other things, I think he wants us to just do something already. Wait on him, get angry at him, talk to him, listen for him, but for God’s sake, get moving. As Mordecai told Esther, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Who knows, maybe God wants you to wait for him and get going. Who knows, perhaps he will guide your steps and lead you as you walk ahead. As St Augustine once said, “Love God and do as you please.”
In my previous career, I attended a lot of groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies. What I found in those momentous events was an abundance of speeches, veggie trays, and watered down fruit punch, yet the hosting parties anticipated the great reveal of what could be and what something will become. However, rarely do we find people celebrating the murky middle, the time in between the pouring of the foundation and the unveiling of a completed project. For most of the project, these people just wait.
Currently, I find myself in a similar situation: I’m waiting.
Waiting for the birth of our son. Waiting for the completion of a total loss accident claim with our car insurance company. Waiting for answers to big career questions that will mean whether or not we move. Waiting for God to act in pretty sizable ways.
As I wait, I cannot help but think about the way Jesus must have felt as he waited. Waited in a womb for 9 months. Waited to walk. Waited to potty train. Waited to take up the family trade of carpentry. Waited for 30 years to start his public ministry. Waited through a trial, execution, and burial all while knowing who he was and that he will be seated at the right hand of the Father.
During this season, I take comfort in the words of Psalm 40,
I waited and waited and waited for God.
At last he looked; finally he listened…
Soften up, God, and intervene;
hurry and get me some help,
So those who are trying to kidnap my soul
will be embarrassed and lose face,
So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable
will be heckled and disgraced,
So those who pray for my ruin
will be booed and jeered without mercy.
But all who are hunting for you—
oh, let them sing and be happy.
Let those who know what you’re all about
tell the world you’re great and not quitting.
And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing:
make something of me.
You can do it; you’ve got what it takes—
but God, don’t put it off.
For me, this is how I feel while in this season of waiting: I sit on the edge of my seat, waiting for God to act, waiting for him to show up and intervene. But does that always happen? Is there an unexpected benefit to waiting on God? Let me tell you about that in my next post.
What are you waiting on?
Have you ever taken a corner too quickly and feel the center of gravity inch you ever so closer to tipping over your car? Have you ever went too fast over a hill with a steep grade and you catch a little bit of air off the hill? How about when you hit an unexpected speed bump and the coffee cup flies out of the drink holder and the bag flips over in the frontseat of the car? Hopefully I’m not the only one here.
How about when your life hits something unexpected like a pothole or a deer? Sometimes we don’t know if a good week will turn into a mediocre week or if an OK week will descend into the pit of hell. That knowledge is simply outside of our range of vision. Regardless, life is relentless and things happen.
I am reminded of the psalmist who wrote,
By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembers Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” (Ps 137:1-2)
Can you imagine yourself in captivity and being mocked by people? Can you imagine yourself crying over the destruction of your home and feeling deep anger over the violence done to you and your loved ones?
The psalmist ends the writing with incredible anger and a shocking amount of raw emotion.
Perhaps you have been there, in the pit of despair and anger, cursing both God and others (it really is an easy place to end up). Perhaps you’ve been in a personal nightmare, and it leaves you in near hopelessness.
When injustice happens, plans fail, and sharp elbows are tossed at your nose, I want you to know that it’s OK to lash out at God and tell him everything that’s on your mind. Tell him off, because through this courage you can encounter intimacy with the One who formed you in your mother’s womb. God meets you in your emotional wrestling match (dive into the Psalms and see for yourself). Through this brutal honesty, God will meet you in the valley of despair. Through your honesty, healing can finally begin.
I wanted to share a quote from Biblical scholar D.A. Carson on the all too real topic of suffering:
In the darkest night of the soul, Christians have something to hold onto that Job never knew. We know Christ crucified. Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross. ‘He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things.’ (Romans 8:32)…When we suffer there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith? Yes. If our attention is focused more on the cross and on the God of the cross than on the suffering itself.
How Long, O Lord?
When all is lost, and it looks like God is asleep on the beach somewhere, we still have the cross. We still see the extent of his love– even when there seems to be radio silence.
Thanks be to God!
Have you ever had an expectation that did not take shape in reality? You know, the type that was all too real in your mind, but it simply was never birthed into your life.
I have been thinking a lot about what was and what could have been, what is and could become in my own life. In my train of thought, something new came into mind. I wondered if Jesus suffered and experienced a whole host of human emotions, did he ever experience my emotions?
After giving it some thought, I think he did.
The passage that came to mind is found in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus was at the end of his life. He lamented over Jerusalem and you can read between the lines to see the turmoil he was in over the city. He said,
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
If you are new to the Bible, it’s important to see that throughout the story of Israel, there were triumphs and failures. There were moments of rejoicing and rejecting the same God who delivered his people. And here in the story of Jesus, we have the all too real desire of God in the flesh who wanted to protect his people as a hen protects her chicks, but they are not willing. These people turn and reject the one who preserves and protects, often times violently rejecting people who spoke on God’s behalf.
I wonder what Jesus thought of the possible outcome of Israel if they simply followed after God. Later on in Jesus’ life, we see him in deep turmoil and prayer over what was to come—his violent, atoning death. Nevertheless, he followed after God’s will. Let’s never forget this final point though, because in the face of unmet expectations, he followed something greater.
When expectations come and go, it’s natural to find yourself mourning over what could have been. I would urge you to come and bring those expectations to Jesus, for he knows what you are going through. He knows what it feels like to not have those expectations met.
Come to Jesus, and find life in the middle of unmet expectations.
You know what really bothers me? All this talk about suffering in the Bible. How suffering is necessary to conform us into the image of Jesus. How suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5). Quite honestly, I want to go all Thomas Jefferson on this and cut these passages out of the Bible.
Am I the only one here?
But here’s the thing guys and gals— I believe that the Bible is God’s Word. No, not in the sense where it was dictated word for word. No, no, not that way at all. Instead, it is a revealing of who God is through many authors and genres. While Jesus definitively reveals who God is (since he’s God in the flesh), the other books of the Bible also paint portraits of God. And the Bible speaks to suffering in a completely different way from other world religions and worldviews.
Suffering is not some esoteric debate topic— it’s a very real thing. We all suffer in life, while some might suffer greater than others, all cannot escape . However, the way we handle suffering is quite different.
Christianity is different because God himself suffered. He knows what it’s like to suffer, both in want and in hurt. Not only did the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, suffer a brutal death through crucifixion, he also encountered separation from the Father.* The Christian faith makes the claim that God understands suffering and he is not indifferent to it. There is coming a time when wrongs will be righted and a Kingdom of Righteousness will be implemented—when the world is put to rights.
Until that day, we live in a broken world. The sunshine and rain alike will fall both on those who follow Jesus and those who reject him. And for this we wait in profound assurance that God hears our prayers in the middle of suffering.
*The second person of the Trinity experienced separation from the first person of the Trinity on the cross. If we understand that God is Trinitarian (3 in 1 and 1 in 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then this separation can be seen as incredibly painful. The eternal relationship within the Trinitarian God had an incredible strain, since Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross.
One of the reasons I love the Psalms is that they capture raw emotions. Everything from the exuberance of a wedding to the desolate feelings when the proverbial excrement hits the fan. For me, Psalm 77 is currently my Psalm, as if Asaph penned it just for me. (Thanks to Tremper Longman III for unpacking this in “Getting Brutally Honest With God” at Christianity Today)
I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help.
You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”
But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
When the Red Sea saw you, O God,
its waters looked and trembled!
The sea quaked to its very depths.
The clouds poured down rain;
the thunder rumbled in the sky.
Your arrows of lightning flashed.
Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;
the lightning lit up the world!
The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.
What is your Psalm?
Photo Credit: Amsterdam City pictures & photo, urban photography via Compfight cc
I heard a sermon this past Advent centered on the angel’s message to Joseph and it stuck with me. See, Joseph was a good man, very kind and just. When he found out about Mary’s pregnancy and he decided to cut ties with her quietly, otherwise she could have been seriously damaged within that society. Regardless of his character, Joseph was in deep personal crisis.
In the middle of his crisis though, his world was forever altered. While the narrative played out within his house, the music seemed to stop and everything changed. The whole narrative was life altering for him as he discovered that he was called into being part of God’s rescue plan on earth and his good name would be dragged through the mud.
Have you ever had a change in your narrative, when all becomes flipped over on its head?
Have you ever had a moment when God calls you to put your name, talent, treasure, and time on the line?
Take heart, for you are in the same family as Mary and Joseph, if you, in fact, follow Jesus. He calls you to take a risk. Take a risk and follow him, even if the costs are high.
Life is like a marathon.
It’s a long, grueling race, and within Christian thought, it is a race with a prize waiting for us at the finish line. It’s a tough mudder, a long adventure of both pain and eventual glory that will often leave you exhausted. Exhausted yet still moving toward the finish line.
There are no quick fixes to this race, not even if you prefer sprinting. There is pain but no instant pain relief and obstacles but no easy fix to hurdle over them. Sure, there are straight paths with sunshine and water stations, but there is also that grueling hill at mile 7 and bottleneck when you’re almost halfway there.
The Christian life is a race with an imperishable prize of glory that will neither fade nor disappoint. The marathon of the Christian faith is one that follows after Jesus, even in exhaustion and frustration (when will this mile be over with?!).
Keep running, even if it hurts.
The founder of our faith, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, ran this race with the joy set before him. He endured the cross with you in mind and ultimately we can draw strength from his own perfect account.