We walked beside a lake the other day. The air was still, not a ripple on the surface to break the glass. From the grey wooden jetty we looked down through the quiet water to view broken branches, last year’s fallen leaves, an old bottle, a rusted can, rocks, and other foliage. What was usually hidden at the bottom of this watery grave rose in the quiet stillness – magnified and beautiful in shape and form to the one with eyes to see.
Most of us are not used to this long quiet period of isolation and a somewhat solitary lifestyle. It’s easy to brood over the still water of time, look down through our lives at all the ‘stuff’ that’s usually hidden, and be tempted to dive in ‘down there’. And it’s also unsettling to give too much airtime to the past and present (in the negative) and suddenly discover fear and apprehension have jumped like monkeys on our backs.
Perhaps I’m merely writing to myself (which is what I often do). Identifying the dark and hidden vulnerability and embarrassing inconsistency of being human. Even more, so awkward when faith, God, and Christian is our identity and public persona. The good news is that the one doesn’t discount the other. We’re not seeking an airbrushed spiritual image that maintains enough ‘action’ on the surface to hide what lies below. Instead we’re celebrating that – as it’s all part of the lake, so it’s all part of life.
In these challenging times what do we do with how we feel, what we see in the shadows, and where we go when fear, panic, and maybe uncertainty ride our backs? The short answer I think is simply to embrace it, the whole lot! And for those with faith in God it’s an opportunity to discover more of His kindness and character. Paul used to write about how he’d been flogged, shipwrecked, rejected, cold, naked, and imprisoned. The list is extensive, hard to read let alone to have lived. God knows, he had plenty of time to reflect and contemplate deep during his times in prison.
Paul’s conclusion, or better still, his revelation? Perhaps for us it’s not our persecution so much as our regrets and failures that could rival Paul’s lengthy list of hardships. No matter, his conclusion and revelation is ours as well.
The greatest news is a huge relief, counter cultural and ‘unchurchy’! God doesn’t care (in the wrong way)! He’s not the slightest bit religious. He never offers relationship and love as rewards for behavior, pedigree, or reputation. His answer is the same yesterday for Paul, as it is today for us, and will be tomorrow for our children. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul’s list of hardships is recorded in the previous chapter).
It’s a hard but revolutionary truth to understand that the key to overcoming anything in this life, small and large, is rooted in faith and belief. Our identity and meaning are either rooted on earth with ourselves, our perceptions, our history, our circumstances, our successes, our failures, our reputation, our thinking. Or, they’re rooted in heaven with the revelation of God the Father’s character, love, mercy, kindness, grace, promises, perspective… and this list is endless. Evil whispers in our ear from earth, God speaks to our whole being from heaven. Who do we listen to? Why?
I spent much of my life engaged in life-long learning. I acquired degrees from prestigious universities, traveled, built a library of books I read, attended conferences, and generally consumed information and learning. And while all of those things are not ‘bad’, I’d have to agree with Paul again, that in the end they amount to a hill of crap (that’s his phrase). The Passion Bible says: To truly know him meant letting go of everything from my past and throwing all my boasting on the garbage heap. It’s all like a pile of manure to me now, so that I may be enriched in the reality of knowing Jesus Christ and embrace him as Lord in all of his greatness (Philippians 3:8).
Why’s that relevant? Because in times like we’re navigating today knowledge and theory is being tested. Who we really are, and what we truly believe will be evident to us, probably whether we like it or not. And it’s important to understand that when we are face to face with the worst version of ourselves that’s when God brings us the best version of Himself.
What Paul’s affirming is that life itself is ultimately our best teacher; where lessons learned transform and go deep and are lasting. It’s when what we know about in our heads is experienced in our hearts. And the most profound lesson is that God’s love and faithfulness is far superior, stronger, and better than our head knowledge. Our faith has no root on earth in the frailty of us, but is better totally rooted in heaven and the fountainhead, who is God our Father.
The disciples learned the same lesson as they followed Jesus. In His presence their worst attitudes, unbelief, and failures were constantly being exposed. When Jesus told them to feed the five thousand they responded with incredulity, “We don’t have resources, what are you thinking even making the suggestion?” (Mark 6:30-44).
The first lesson to us in our present situation perhaps…. Jesus wasn’t angry with them. Instead He showed them another way. The disciples were looking to find an answer within themselves and their meager resources. Jesus was in the same boat as they were. Yet he looked for a little boy’s lunch. He gave thanks to His Father for the few fish and a sandwich, and the miracle was provided. Let’s give thanks for what we have today and confidently look to our Father for provision for the rest. There’s maybe a miracle or two coming in disguise.
I used to wake up in a panic because I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough during a particularly dark season that lasted some years. I’d get up and busy myself in the workshop to calm down. Eventually God showed me the extent of His love, acceptance and faithfulness in a manner that released faith for what I couldn’t yet see. That lesson was far more life-changing than the university material in my head. Or perhaps it’s better to say it was the catalyst that made the theory and principles real (and some others proven false). Graham Cooke teaches that in every negative situation ask God to reveal His provision specifically for you at this time. What can He be for you today that He couldn’t be at any other time? The provision will always be positive and life-giving.
The disciples became the mighty men and women we know them to be today by learning on the road with Jesus where their faith and hope were rooted. Wherever we find ourselves today, in this time, it will either lead us to fear and despair – or into peace, trust, and a quiet confidence. The former is the natural outcome of dwelling on ourselves, the latter is the supernatural fruit of trusting God the Father with all of who we are.
That fruit springs from faith (believing what we do not yet see). Fruitless fear comes from seeing and believing what we experience on earth as our ultimate source of truth. From Mary asking the angel who told her she’d be pregnant, “How can this be?” to Peter shaking his head and protesting when Jesus headed to a brutal death in Jerusalem; the love, purpose and faithfulness of God has seldom been plain and obvious given the circumstances.
In these reflective times believe…. ask for eyes to see. God is good, He is faithful, He has not lost control, He isn’t upset or disappointed with you. He calls you by name, He will supply your every need (over time), and He will strengthen your faith to do more than survive. He’s not depending upon you for anything, even faith. He’s offering you a helping hand with an invitation to depend on Him – even for faith to grow.
What better week to be refreshed in faith than this week between Palm Sunday (Joyful Hosannas), Good Friday Crucify Him!), and Easter Sunday (He is Risen!). All about our fickleness and God’s faithfulness.
Beware of being passive. Jesus invited us to ask, seek, and knock – from Him first; and He’ll always respond. Then expand and don’t be proud or shy. Ask help from God and from others. Seek insight and understanding from God and others. Knock on doors, take opportunities, don’t discount small beginnings… pull on the flimsiest of threads (Matthew 7:7-12).
I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ! (Philippians 1:6)
Receive this blessing as a gift from the Father – today – with your name written large!!!