Circumstances. They bring joy or sorrow. They are fleeting or constant. They change and can threaten to undo us emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually. We can be laughing one minute; wringing our hands the next. We can feel peace and turmoil all within the same hour. We are told not to worry, but how do we steady ourselves? How do we maintain our joy? I have often spent time in the Word of God, talking to Him and asking just those questions.
For God has indeed created us to “glorify Him and enjoy Him forever,” but He also created us to be relational people living between the “now and the not yet.” And when, in the course of being human, pain comes either from a broken relationship, a frightening medical diagnosis, a wait that takes longer than we would choose, our own choices or choices of ones we love that cause heartache, or other scenarios that lead to sorrow, we often ask how we can glorify Him and enjoy Him in the midst. But it is in laying that hurt bare, unashamed before our God who sees, in total need of His grace, that we begin that journey to joy regardless of the circumstances.
At times, I am able to rest well in the arms of my Savior, to lay myself and the burdens and idols of my heart on the altar as a living sacrifice and say, “They are yours, Lord; I give them and my striving to ‘fix’ the situation up to You.” But there are other times I find myself either trying to “crawl off the altar,” as Pastor Randy Pope has said, or pull back those loved ones or circumstances I have given over to the King of my heart as if I can make something good happen in fashioning them according to my design!
No, there is only One who, by His grace, can make something beautiful of stifling situations or bone wearying loss and, it is when I find my joy in the hope of Christ in me, of Christ working “all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” that I can, once again, let it go into the hands of the One who can do immeasurably more than I can think or ask – each time a little longer than the last.
And that is growing in grace; when we rest a little better, strive a little less, and trust a little more with each situation. We are growing more and more into the likeness of the Son! Scripture abounds! While it is good and helpful to have the Word of God set before our eyes so we can commit it to your hearts, they are not simply nice little sayings to put on a Pinterest craft. They are the very words of God “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12), “ God breathed…useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
When I focus on the circumstances around me instead of focusing on the “joy set before me,” I tremble much; and fear and worry threaten to strangle my joy and hope in Christ! God doesn’t mind our wrestling, but He longs to hear His children humbly cry out our deepest longings, fears, and pain; for He knows our hearts better than we ourselves do. He longs to hear us say, “I believe; help my unbelief, Lord.” (Mark 9:24) He is not surprised by our humanness and our lack of “wholeness.” But, ultimately, He desires for us to grow in that wholeness, to grow in that holiness. He desires to take us in His arms and bring comfort even when He chooses not to settle the storm that rages, when He calls us to wait and then wait a little longer, or when He allows things we don’t understand to continue or to find their conclusion in a way we would not have chosen.
God does not call us to deny that pain exists or to stuff our emotions. But that pain and those emotions are often His way of driving us to our knees, breaking through our self reliance to send us before the throne of grace, humbly but also boldly because of the work of Christ on the cross and our relationship with Him! “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Paul gives us the example of one who cared deeply, even agonized over the people he loved; and then He left them and the events swirlings around him in the hands of the One who alone can change hearts and circumstances. “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:31, 32) “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4)
It’s often a matter of where I allow my heart to dwell – on my circumstances or on my Savior. If I hear the promises of God yet continue to say, “I get that, but…” I am never satisfied, which leads to a deeper heartache. But if I keep reminding myself of the truth God has given me and made known time and again, I may not “get it,” but I can say with confidence, “I may not ‘feel’ your presence or understand your ways, but give me a heart of wisdom, a heart that trusts You more, Lord, even if I cannot ‘see’ what You are doing in the middle of it all.”
Richard Rohr says it well. “To pray and actually mean ‘thy Kingdom come,’ we must also be able to say ‘my kingdoms go.’” My hands are open, Lord. Help me let my kingdoms go so Yours can fully come. I wait in expectation!
“But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan.” C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle