Have you ever noticed how frequently you’re engulfed in misery?
Have you ever taken a step back and seen how much of the goo and the gunk of life you walk through? Or that you might be sitting in right now?
This is for my friends who are stuck in or near seemingly endless cycles of destruction. Over here, it’s credit card debt. Over there, it’s relationship suicide. On Tuesdays, it’s empty cupboards and broken families. On Thursdays, broken pipes and a leaking roof. On Friday, your realize you have to write a sermon, or lead a Sunday School class in a few days and the only area of immediate expertise seems to be an abundance of misery.
This is for my friends who silently ask…”Is this really ministry? Is this really what I was called to? Is this really what God wants for me?”
So many people answer with endurance. Not the kind it takes to run a marathon, but the kind that says, “no matter how bad it gets, I’ll survive.” You fall into bed exhausted, barely a kiss to the kids or the significant other if you happen to have either, with little thought given to tomorrow beyond a clean pair of underwear…maybe. And as your eyes close, the alarm goes off and it’s time to start the cycle again.
“Is this it?”
I think that, for many of us, it all amounts to being experts in suffering for Christ. So much so, in fact, that sometimes we suffer greatly whether or not Jesus is even in the picture.
Let me be clear about suffering for a moment, friends. What I’m talking about is not starvation. It’s not slavery. It’s not living in the cold with a penny to your name. Certainly, there are worse ways to face the days of being human…and many do. These words are not intended to minimize suffering. We all suffer in some way. Many of us do so in secret, all the while going about our life of service.
We’re good in the trenches. We’re great in the crucible of ministry. We live in the valleys and the shadows, because that’s where we’re needed. But we tend to remain there. We spend so much time in the valleys, we begin to think that the valley is all there is. We may even get to the point where if there’s no blood, sweat or tears, we must not be doing it right.
We’re not so good at the Life Abundant part.
We’re not good at being on the mountain. We tend to rush the whole thing. We tend to feel guilty for being up there too long or for enjoying it too much.
So we only have half a picture of the kingdom. We only have half an understanding. The soul needs both the valley AND the mountain. For Abram, it was a journey of struggle within promise. For Jacob, it was wrestling all the way through the blessing. It’s slavery in Egypt AND it’s the milk and honey of Canaan. It’s Sinai AND Babylon. It’s the stench of death AND the transfiguration. It’s the crucifixion AND the resurrection. The true journey of the soul is adequate time in both.
So we’ve got to walk with blisters into the promises. We have to ask for the blessing while we writhe in pain. If we want to experience the fullness of the kingdom, and we ARE called to experience it, it’s in the word “AND” that we begin to find that fullness. It’s in the joy of the journey, not just the desperation of the first step or the reward of the destination. It’s the service AND the smile. Ours is great, but the smile of another soul is even sweeter.
We don’t pray away the suffering we face, we pray into it. We pray to get through it. We pray not because we have no other solutions, but because any other solution we have is somehow made better through prayer. We do not pray instead of serving. We pray while we serve. We pray after we serve. We pray until we may serve again.
We don’t hide from the suffering. We don’t pretend we’ve got it together. Look around you. The richest among us are those with scars. The wealthiest around us are those that limp. The most whole are not those who have never been broken, but those who know their brokenness and can share it with others.
Finally, we look for the “AND,” my friends. If you’re wrestling, don’t let go and give up. Push harder and look God in the eye AND ask for the blessing. If you’re exhausted, don’t push to the next task thinking you can sleep in January. Stop moving AND wait for the whisper that carries you back into blessing. If you’re all alone, walking from this relationship wreckage to that, do not maintain the exasperating patterns of control or denial any longer. Look up AND take the hand that is in front of you.
God calls us to sacrifice, but not to misery. He calls us to loss and to grieve, but not to be alone. He sends you to work the fields of this world, so that you can live AND bring life, so that you can feed AND be fed, so that you can bless AND be blessed.
I’m praying for your “AND.”