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Wearied

Photo by Jen Boucher

 

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore; 

Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power. 

Come ye, weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; 

If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all. 

-Joseph Hart, Come, Ye Sinners, Poor And Needy

Maybe a few times a lifetime there comes a special friend. They’re the ones who bring out your best and forbear your worst and faithfully share the rest. Jen entered mine at a Valentine’s dance in drafty old town hall almost twenty years ago. This post is by my friend Jen.
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We hobbled into church Sunday morning; husband in a neck brace, toddler in the stroller with a cast on her foot, and me on crutches.

“How beat up we must look; how wearied I feel!” was my thought as I crutch-stepped into worship. 

We almost stayed home. It would have been easier. But I kept hearing the still small voice, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

It has been a challenging few months. 

Last December, my husband had disc replacement surgery on his neck. The recovery has taken much longer than the expected six weeks, and in the midst of it, he was let go from his job. We have been blessed to see the body of Christ functioning in a wonderful way to care for our family. 
Just last week, I made a foolish decision to jump on our new trampoline. My knee reminded me in a painful way that I am not as young, thin or in shape as I think I am. Now I am on crutches for at least 2 weeks. Then, Saturday, my sweet year-and-a-half old daughter, tipped a dining chair over while she was standing on it, breaking a bone in her foot. Three weeks in a (pink!) cast for her.
That is how we ended up so beaten up as we entered church Sunday morning. 
 

Jesus, Wearied As He Was

After worshipping in song, a visiting missionary got up to teach from God’s Word. He opened to John 4, the familiar teaching of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well.  I listened to his French accent read until he came to verse 6, 

“…Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey,…” This caught my attention as never before; Jesus was wearied. He was wearied, so He understands my weariness.

“This is how you should always come to Me.” 

It wasn’t an audible voice, but I do think it was from God. 

Why? Why should we come to him broken, bruised, wearied? 

This was the question running through my head Sunday afternoon. Why? Because His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect in weakness. Then we can boast. Boast in our weakness so the power of Christ may rest upon us. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) 
As I considered that more, I realized that there are so many weary Christians who show up every Sunday morning. And they worship. Hands raised, voices lifted in worship of the One who understands their weariness.
The single mom.
The parents of prodigal children.
The woman wading through the pain of infertility. 
The unemployed man.
The woman who recently buried her mother.
The woman newly widowed.
The woman who just miscarried.
The parents of a child who has to have another surgery.
The parents of an autistic child.
I see them every Sunday morning. Why? Because they too know that His grace is sufficient.
Our church does a church-wide memory verse, a new one every two weeks. Right now we are memorizing Lamentations 3:32-33. I like John Piper’s explanation of it in “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God,”
…Jeremiah gives us a glimpse into the mysterious complexity of the mind of God in Lamentations 3:32-33, “Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Literally: “He does not from his heart afflict or grieve the children of men.” He ordains that suffering come — “though he cause grief” —but his delight is not in the suffering, but in the great purpose of creation: the display of the glory of the grace of God in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of sinners.
There is suffering in this world. Some suffering is temporary, like crutches for a few weeks. Some is more painful and lifelong. And, I realize I have not even talked about terrible injustices and real suffering that is happening all over the world. 

All of it is in God’s control. He ordains it. For His glory. And, in the midst of it, we will continue to hobble into worship. Beaten, bruised, wearied. As well as joyful, glorifying God, and grateful for His grace.

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[B]ut, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;  for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.

Lamentations 3:32-33

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Beware Solitude

Solitude produces melancholy. 

When we are alone, the worst and saddest things come to mind. We reflect in detail upon all sorts of evils. And if we have encountered adversity in our lives, we dwell upon it as much as possible, magnify it, think that no one is so unhappy as we are, and imagine the worst possible consequences. 

Martin Luther

Luther wrote more than 95 Theses and Chambers wrote more than his Utmost. Four centuries separated the two, but truth is truth and they landed square on it. Then, 50 years ago, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones came along and his  Spiritual Depression punctuated their warning: Beware of solitude.


Especially, they all said: Beware when you are suffering. Be wary of separating yourself. Be especially careful when you’re lonely. Because when a certain temperament and tough circumstances are mixed in, it’s a mighty dangerous cocktail.

These three wise men provide three compelling reasons why.

1. “More And Graver Sins”

“More and graver sins are committed in solitude than in the society of one’s fellow men. The devil deceived Eve in paradise when she was alone. Murder, robbery, theft, fornication, and adultery are committed in solitude, for solitude provides the devil with occasion and opportunity. On the other hand, a person who is with others and in the society of his fellow men is either ashamed to commit a crime or does not have the occasion and opportunity to do so. Christ was alone when the devil tempted Him. David was alone and idle when he slipped into adultery and murder. I too have discovered that I am never so likely to fall into sins as when I am by myself. 

God created man for society and not for solitude. This may be supported by the argument that He created two sexes, male and female. Likewise God founded the Christian Church, the communion of saints, instituted the Sacraments, preaching, and consolations in the Church. 

Solitude produces melancholy. When we are alone, the worst and saddest things come to mind. We reflect in detail upon all sorts of evils. And if we have encountered adversity in our lives, we dwell upon it as much as possible, magnify it, think that no one is so unhappy as we are, and imagine the worst possible consequences

In short, when we are alone, we think of one thing and another, we leap to conclusions, and we interpret everything in the worst light. On the other hand, we imagine that other people are very happy, and it distresses us that things go well with them and evil with us.” -Martin Luther, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, 95.  

My most melancholic, self-pitying thoughts have met me in solitude. My darkest night of the soul found me alone the most. When my melancholic temperament met nine years of infertility, my lack was magnified, and-to my shame- other’s good news distressed me.

Man is born to suffer as sure as sparks fly, a friend told Job. Suffering will come to us all. 

But each of us face it in different ways. 

2. “The Most Dangerous Isolation, Pride”

“Men and women betray their suffering in different ways–by threatening and evil doing; by sullenness and quietism; or by active well doing. Suffering is the heritage of the bad, of the penitent, and of the Son of God. Each one ends on the cross. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. By these signs we know the widespread heritage of suffering.

[A] sign of suffering among men is characterized by sullenness and quietism. There is a luxury of suffering that fosters the growth of the most dangerous isolation of pride, and produces a kind of human sphinx, shrouded in mystery, which seems more profound than it is. This luxury of suffering is pre-eminently cowardly as well as proud, its habit of the cloister or nunnery…the Apostle Paul uses a significant phrase, but worldly sorrow produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10b).  -Oswald Chambers, Christian Discipline, Volume 1, pp. 76-78

Suffering can be sublime when, as Chambers writes, there comes greater friendship with God and closer fellowship with Christ. Suffering can help us plumb the depths of God’s love-to touch the bottom and know it’s sound– and to rely on his friendship more fully. 

But pain can get proud. We can exalt in bearing our sorrow alone. 

Sometimes I still respond to a hug with a body as stiff as a board. But this, I know, is clinging to a worthless idol. It is exalting in my pain-shrouded, sphinx-like. When we seek solitude for self-pity and pull away from the God of all comfort and the Body he equips to bind our wounds, we stiff arm His Body. That’s dangerous.

But there’s another reason to be wary of too much (or the wrong kind) of solitude. 

3. “The Impression Being Made Upon Others”

We live to make God look good.  To magnify and glorify him and to adorn the doctrine of our saving God.

“It is quite clear we can divide human beings into two main groups. There are the so-called introverts and the extroverts…There is a type of person who is particularly prone to spiritual depression. That does not mean that they are any worse than others. Indeed, I could make a good case for saying that quite often the people who stand out most gloriously in the history of the Church are people of the very type we are now considering. Some of the greatest saints belong to the introverts…

[But] we are living in a pragmatic age. The one question they ask is: Does it work? They are frantically seeking and searching for something that can help them…Nothing is more important, therefore, than that we should be delivered from a condition which gives other people, looking at us, the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid…

It behoves us, therefore, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the glory of the Christ in Whom we believe, to represent Him and His cause, His message and His power in such a way that men and women…will be drawn and attracted as they observe us, whatever our circumstances or condition. We must so live that they will be compelled to say: Would to God I could be like that. 

The devil’s one object is so to depress God’s people that he can go to the man of the world and say: There are God’s people. Do you want to be like that?”  -Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, pp. 11-12, 14

So beware. Take heed. We must watch ourselves in solitude. We must know where we’re prone to stumble. The essence of wisdom is to realize this fundamental thing about ourselves. If I am naturally an introvert I must always be careful about it, and warn myself against it lest I slip.

Yes, but- I hear my introvert friends ask…

Didn’t Jesus often withdraw to lonely places? 

Aye, but he did (Luke 5:16, 9:18, Mark 1:35). And Scripture tells us why. Jesus went away to pray. 

Christ didn’t slink to the mountain to sulk, or come to the garden alone to whine. He withdrew to commune with his FatherWitness his darkest night-all mankind’s darkest night. Did Jesus retreat alone? 

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. He said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” (Mark 14:32-34)

The Surest Cure For The Sullen Soul

We must not be content in solitude to sympathize with ourselves and sit and watch the water. We must, says Lloyd-Jones, take ourselves in hand. 

We must talk to ourselves, instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you not realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You must say to your soul, preach to yourself, questions yourself “Why are you so downcast?” Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: I will hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Spiritual Depression, p. 20)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are so in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. 

Psalm 42:5

 

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Post-Mortem on a Pillow War

He can put on his own pillowcases, I fumed, fumbling to fit my own maroon pillowcase over bulging queen-sized bulk. 

And if anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar… 

Oh! but his words hurt me so, I said in my head as I slammed two clean cases-as hard as fabric can possibly be slammed-on the bed. On his side of the bed. 

For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 

But I’ve done his laundry week after week, month after month, year after year. What’s two pillowcases? They’re clean anyhow. 

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 

But he hurt me. And I’m mad. I’m very, very mad. And sad. 

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 

Well, maybe I’ll just put one of ’em on. He can do the other one.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

I s’pse I am hard to handle sometimes, he’s right about that. I can be harsh and proud and provoking. 

For if you live by the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 

And when brother-husband came to bed, I said, 

G’night, Hon. Enjoy them fresh pillowcases.  

I didn’t break down the bedroom fight-how Spirit KO’d flesh. I didn’t explain how the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, came to my rescue and defeated pouty, self-pitying me. 

I didn’t tell him how-all glory to God-love won this pillow fight. 

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Fight the good fight of faith.

1 Timothy 6:11b-12a




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Windows In Heaven

Eyes can miss what’s really there and ears can fear what’s not.

Deceived By Our Senses

Sometimes we focus on bad things not really there. Witness: the bogeyman under the bed, the boss who seems like he’s out to get you, the catastrophe ahead if you miss this chance. A loud- and phantom-sound of enemy chariots that could make a mighty army flee. 

And sometimes we miss good things that really are there. Witness: the cloud of friends waiting in the wings to surprise you, the stern boss who’s really got your back, the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. A mountain full of horses with chariots of fire to fight for you.

I had a week last week.

I saw my run through that gauntlet coming. Hard-hitting meetings Monday through Thursday. Book club Monday, visitation Tuesday, AWANA Wednesday and conferences Thursday. Back to back, after-work meetings meant scrambling for boy care, scrounging up dinners, and scrimping on sleep.

Then Friday. Friday was firstborn’s birthday. And boy’s birthday means party at our house. And the thought of that was almost enough to make me feign the flu. And ponder frozen pizza and bake your own cake.

I’m not a panicky person. But a glance at that row-full of margin-less days was enough to take my breath away.

Yes, I needed stamina. But my heart needed strength, too, for the would-be-stay-at-home mom in me to fight the surging self-pity and resentment at having to work long hours away.

I needed endurance and energy, and equally, strength to comprehend, and see. And my week was infinitesimally light and momentary compared to the chronic suffering and and struggle pressing on some of you now.

Compared to an enemy army surrounding, it was a gentle spring breeze.

Enter Elisha 

The prophet Elisha had a high price on his head. So high, in fact, in 2 Kings 6:13-14 we read the king of Syria sent horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

So when Elisha’s servant rolled off his mat next morning and strolled out to look around, Behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. So, alarmed, he questioned Elisha, Alas, my master! What shall we do? 

Elisha answered his anxious servant, Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them. That’s not all, though.

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)

God gave his servant strength to see what did not appear to the naked eye. Heavenly armies were in the wings, waiting to do battle with Israel’s enemies. But it took righteous man’s prayer in order for a servant to see.

God lets his servants see what help is really there. And lets his enemies hear what is not.

Sandwiched between Elisha’s praying that his servant see the chariots that were and Israel’s besieging enemy fleeing at the sound of the chariots that were not, Elisha announces that Israel’s famine would end in dramatic fashion:

Thus says the LORD, “Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel.”

The captain of the king is incredulous, faithless, blind and asks,

 If the LORD himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?

The entire Syrian enemy army was besieging Samaria- starving Israel out. The captain saw that. But then God worked his wonders. He messed with the enemies’ senses and made windows in heaven. 

The Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. (2 Kings 7:6-7)

But there were no chariots or horses this time. The entire army fled at phantom sounds. And their stockpiles of food, their seahs of barley and wheat, were sold for measly shekels.

Things are not always what they seem. There are truer realities than what senses tell. But sometimes need help to believe.

God could just put a windows in heaven, but he uses another means to help dull our eyes see.

How We See

Each day we get out of bed we can walk by faith in the Son of God or stagger about in the here and now. We can see the thorns and miss the brilliant horizon beyond. We can live overwhelmed with earthly circumstances and focused on overfull schedules.

Or we can pray for eyes to see.

That’s the means God so often uses to open our eyes to see. Elisha did. Paul did too. He prayed for the Ephesians to have spiritual eyes to see God’s love and know rock-bottom reality (Ephesians 1:17-19).

We can pray for ourselves and our friends like Paul prayed for his. We can pray,

  • That we will know the hope to which God has called us (1:18) and know when our hope is false.
  • That we will know the riches of the glorious inheritance God gives in the saints (1:18) and not settle for sinful pleasures now.
  • That we will know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe (1:19) and not fear the enemy. 
  • That we will know the love of God that surpasses knowledge (3:19) and let this love drive bitterness out. 

Paul calls it walking by faith, not by sight. And that’s not a solo job. When the world’s bearing down and hope’s losing ground, we need boots on the ground help seeing. Ed Welch says,

This is when we call out for help from the body of Christ. Spiritual battles should not be fought without the aid of other people who can join us in prayer, encourage us with their presence, and offer apt words of truth. We could ask them to pray for us as Elisha prayed for his servant. When surrounded by an army that was sworn to kill the two men, Elisha prayed that his servant would see by faith. “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see” (2 Kings 6:17). 

We need friends to pray that our spiritual eyes would be wide-open; that we’d have strength to see.

Seeing Opportunity

They knew my week was chock-full and so three dear sisters prayed for me. Texts and mid-week check-ins came to let me know they prayed. Sure enough, my heart was helped and my soul made strong. Self-pity was stifled and energy was enough. As the week went by and deadlines were met and boys were fed, I started seeing opportunity. 

Michael Youssef says the difference between seeing opportunity or impossibility is in the connection. When we’re connected by faith, by prayer, to God’s power, we see opportunity. Dead wires are disconnected, filled with dread. They see impossibility.

But live-wires see opportunity for God to look big in our smallness and to showcase His strength in our weakness. And God likes looking big like that.

God looked extra-big to me last week. He looked big when he let none of my words fall to the ground in intense meeting. Big when He gave me words to encourage friends much more weary that me. Big when a critical report arrived not a second too soon.

But God looked huge Friday night when I finally kicked back in our house-full of guests. And the pizza that night-our third night in five- tasted better than I can ever remember.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might…

Ephesians 1:16-19