Nov 26, 2012
I have become aware of the condition of a friend who has experienced some trials lately. None of the experiences are, perhaps, unusual in themselves, but their almost simultaneous visitations might test anyone’s spirit. He is trying, not to make sense of these sorts of life-happenings – because everything makes sense or nothing makes sense; and “time and chance happen to all men,” as Proverbs says – but to cope, simply to cope. Have you ever been there?
In less than a calendar year his special-needs niece died; his nine-day-old granddaughter died; his wife, after multiple long-term illnesses, is to choose between dialysis and hospice; and his sister, who lost her home in Hurricane Sandy, is losing a battle with HIV that was long held at bay. My friend says he keeps fighting the seduction to moan about his own condition, his own emotions and reactions to these matters.
But he knows – that is, he too infrequently remembers – that it is not about him. It is about these loved ones. And about God. Usually, when nothing makes sense to us, and God seems to be somewhere in the story, it means that God is EVERYWHERE in the story. The man’s wife, for instance, has been cited by many, many people through the decades as an inspiration: encouraging people to faith and endurance as her faith helped her to endure. And his sister, after years of rebellion, has come to know Jesus, drawing closer to God.
Why do we find it so hard to see the silver linings to the dark clouds? Why are we always surprised at the grace that infuses every “crisis”? Why do we forget that the sun shines, not only after the storm clouds pass – but all the time, even when the storm clouds temporarily are overhead and blot the sun from view?
Just like the natural tendency to be sad when a loved one dies, such emotions are a brand of selfishness. Not the nasty schoolyard selfishness, but self-ish focus on one’s own condition. Rather, or I should say in addition to the unavoidable, we should direct all the emotions we can toward the loved ones in their difficulties, and to God on their behalf.
We should not believe that God is in control only when the course of events magically follows our own scripts. God wants us, more than anything else, to trust in Him. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is not summoning patience until God does what we want. Faith is, sometimes, stopping our obsession to understand everything.
And faith is humility. Obey His commands, trust in His love, accept His plan. My sister, newly a friend of God, is blessed not just by the power and balm of the act of praying, but of praying on her knees, specifically. There is a language of prayer, in some gifted circumstances; and, surely, there is also an attitude of prayer.
And sometimes, my friend has discovered anew, there is the biblical concept of the “sacrifice of praise” – when you don’t feel like praying, and even less feel like praising, is when to do it. Loudly and confidently, or softly and tenderly, do it.
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If you never have clicked on a music video after one of these messages, please do watch this one, the completion of this message. The classic hymn “Softly and Tenderly” was written a century and a quarter ago by Will L. Thompson on similar reflections, and among its verses, “Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, Passing from you and from me; Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, Coming for you and for me.” But followed by: “Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised, Promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon, Pardon for you and for me.” And the promise in the chorus: “Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!” Sung by RoseAngela Merritt of NewSpring Church, Anderson, S.C.
Click: Softly and Tenderly