Out of Control?

If the chaos that is 2020 has done nothing else, it has reminded me (you, too?) of how little control over life we really possess. A tiny virus arrived and brought fear the like of which I have not known in my lifetime. Thousands have died and our social structures have been turned upside down – educational, religious, economic. We came to see, anew, the unresolved issues of race in our nation and are still trying to grapple with finding solutions. And, our government – I won’t even talk about the dysfunction there! All of those things, along with my own personal issues, make me feel small, sometimes afraid, and very much ‘out of control.’

In my pastoral work I am often asked two questions these days.  The first is about the very existence of God. “How can you believe in God?”  The second is similar. “Why does God allow these kinds of problems to exist?”

The first question is answered, at least for me, by looking at the world around me.  The order, the beauty, the glimpses of love, the amazing complexity of life are enough to convince me that a Creator exists Who wills the world to continue, in spite of all that is done to destroy it! More subjectively, there is response of my heart and mind when I come before Him in worship. He comes near and that confirms my belief.  I am a Christian because I accept the revelation of God in the Holy Scripture;  believing that He came to us, making Himself known in Jesus, entered our suffering, restored the way to eternal life, and that He rose from the dead as proof positive of our hope. (Yes, those are faith issues.)

The second question is more complicated. As I wrote yesterday, God desires that we live in faith so that our lives will honor and exalt Him before the earth and the heavenly angels. Beyond that, I believe that suffering is a primary means that God uses to draw us into a deeper spiritual relationship with Himself and causes us to lean hard on Him. The awe produced by a majestic vista may cause me to say, “God is,” but suffering that reveals the fragility of my life changes my heart, inviting me pursue One greater than myself.

C. S. Lewis, the English author, famously wrote: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

We can see this illustrated in the natural world. If our toe gets infected, though a small party of our body, we act to make it better, focused by the pain! If a person grows seriously ill, friends and family turn their attention to that person, helping and caring because the suffering has brought attention. The suffering that is part of this world – sickness, poverty, injustice, oppression, discrimination – declares to us that all is not well, that there are broken things to which we must attend. When we have applied our best efforts and brightest minds to those issues (and more) without changing them, we turn to God, often in desperation.  And we discover that HE was there all the time, waiting for our return, offering not just solace but the way of transformation.

I love the story of the Lost Son that Jesus told, recorded in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15. The son demanded his inheritance, took off, lived recklessly and selfishly, until he was broke, hungry, and alone. Only then did he start to think of his father.  Finally, he turns toward home but thinks he will just exist at the fringe of his father’s care. What does he discover? Ah, this is what makes my heart overflow with emotion.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening in the pen. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” (Luke 15:20-24, NLT)  He found a Waiting Father, full of love, ready to celebrate.

The pain of life reminds us of what is lost, the Spirit inviting us, quietly and insistently, to turn around and go home. We may feel we are unworthy (and we are), we may feel we owe a debt we cannot pay (and we do), and we may feel ashamed (which we should) of the ways that we have ignored and abused God’s goodness. However, IF we will turn to Him, we will find Love and Grace, a God who will give us new life, eternal hope, and transform us into a person who loves like Jesus!

Peter, who knew the awful suffering of betraying Jesus, reminds us that our pain can serve us, bringing refining to our character and faith. “So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT)

We have a choice to make when our heart aches, when life is out of control – will we trust God and work with Him allowing the beauty of His love to shine radiantly through us or we will rage against the ‘unfairness’ of it all and sink into despair? We do not make that choice by our own strength alone. The Spirit is present, even in our times of sufferings to help to pray. Even our wordless groans and sighs are prayers. “The Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” Romans 8:26 NLT

I propose a different question for us as we experience suffering, when we cannot see through the dark. Instead of
Why are You doing this, God?” let us have the humility to ask instead,
What do you want me to do, God?”  The answer may not come in an instant. But, if we wait on Him, if we are quietly patient before Him, the dawn will replace the darkness.

The word from the Word invites faith and changed perspective. I pray it speaks life to each us in these difficult days. Paul writes of his own struggle saying, “At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, The Message)


Lord I Need You

(Pray with Chris Tomlin as he sings of our heart’s need)

Lord I come I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
And without You I fall apart
You’re the one that guides my heart

Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay

Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher © 2011 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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