Tag Archives: sadness

The God Who Finds Us

What shade of darkness is surrounding your life today? Maybe there are some severe realities from your past that have caused you to struggle to believe God's goodness for your future. Maybe you don't carry around any dark secrets or weighty tragedies from the past, but still feel like you're walking under a black cloud of mild despair and nagging doubt.

What's interesting about doubt and despair is that they cause our focus to center on the very thing that God wants us to stop focusing on: ourselves. He knows that ever since Adam and Eve shifted the desire they originally had for God over to themselves, we inherited something we'd struggle with our entire lives. Us. It's this self-consuming focus on us that ultimately casts a dark shadow of doubt over our hearts and minds. And the world tells us this is a good thing. How many times a day do we hear these lines?

I need to do what's right for me.

I deserve some more me time.

I need to focus on myself.

I need to learn to love myself.

When we as believers struggle to believe, it's not that we've misplaced hope; it's that we've misplaced God, who is our hope. We've traded the desire and affection we're supposed to have for God with a desire and affection for self. It's a repeat episode of Adam and Eve. We find ourselves unclothed, afraid, and ashamed, living in doubt of God's promises and in denial of his goodness. But God finds us and restores our hope in himself alone. When we find ourselves under cover of darkness, God doesn't just hand us flashlights so we can see our way around without tripping over everything. No, he consumes the darkness with his light! He illuminates those areas in our lives so that we aren't hidden under darkness any longer but "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). He wouldn't be our great God if he did anything less.

For you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness. (2 Sam. 22:29)

Look around and see what lamps are lighting your life. We constantly have the dim lights of careers, relationships, hobbies, kids, and homes threatening to replace the all-consuming, all-illuminating light of Christ in our lives. These dim lights ultimately burn out because they were never meant to be our ultimate source of light. In these times, our prayer needs to be like David's, when he was hiding for his life in a cave from King Saul:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (Ps. 57:1-3)

Like he did for David, God will fulfill his own purpose in us. He will transfer our selfish gaze back to his selfless ways. He will provide us with joyful reassurance in our darkest times of doubt and wondering. He will show us mercy in the dark solitude of our storms and become the great refuge for our sorrowful souls when we repent of our self-sufficiency and return to the shadow of his wings. We will once again feel the strength and security of his steadfast love and be reminded of his never-ending faithfulness. He will lighten the depths of our darkness with the lamp of his transcendent love, and we will see ever more clearly the goodness of his grace and the greatness of his glory.

We will once again have hope in Christ, our only hope.

Editors' Note: This excerpt is adapted from Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin's new book, Finding God in the Dark: Faith, Disappointment, and the Struggle to Believe (Bethany House, 2013).

The Value of a Tired Soul

If you've been in ministry for more than five minutes you know how wearisome it can be. We face the daunting daily task of helping people wrestle through crisis in a way that continues to honor God, even as we ourselves wrestle through crisis. Pastoral care can at times be exhausting. Counseling cases can fall apart. Church members can pass away. Key leaders can abandon the church. Some days I go into the office just plain tired. Tired of late nights and early mornings. Tired of phone calls and texts messages. Tired of loss and heartbreak. Tired of being tired. But I am convinced that for all Christians there is real value in a tired soul.

I can imagine how that sounds. After all, a "tired soul" sounds like a soul on the verge of giving up. Such a soul hardly seems valuable. Truth is, so many of us have been baptized into the American culture of safety and comfort that the thought of sorrow and weariness having value seems absurd. Only that which feels good is actually good, we tell ourselves. A tired soul can, however, have real value if we are willing to reflect on it and not simply run from it.

Way of Escape

Think for a moment about what a tired soul is saying. It is saying, "No more!" It is looking for a way of escape. It is looking for the nearest exit from the pain and difficulties. It's a plea for rescue. A tired soul reminds us we need to be rescued. Without a tired soul I think we would forget. I think we would become content and complacent in this world and in our own lives. But Scripture says this is not our home (Hebrews 13:14), and that this broken world needs restoring (Romans 8:18-23). Without a tired soul I am prone to ignore these realities and live in my own little bubble.

Think too of what a tired soul allows you to say to others. Death makes people awkward. Well-intentioned people, thinking they must say something, end up saying unhelpful things. Like the lady who, shaking my hand in the receiving line at my grandfather's funeral, pointed at me and said to her husband, "His dad's dead too." It was an innocent statement. It was a dumb statement. And, of course, suffering brings out the host of clichés like no other event. They are legion at funerals. "All things work together for good." "There's a reason for everything." "Death has lost its sting." "Time heals all wounds."

Don't get me wrong, I really do believe in the sovereignty of God over all events. I also believe in tact and sensitivity. A tired soul knows the difference. A tired soul allows us to sympathize with one another, cry with one another. A tired soul understands another person's hurt and pain, and doesn't question the enduring sorrow. A tired soul never expects someone to just "get over" loss. It never assumes that someone's theology is bad because he grieves and aches. A tired soul is tired for a reason: because it has been through heartbreak, too. It understands.

Think about how we can share our heartbreaks. That may seem like a strange value, but a tired soul learns to appreciate the shared aches we experience. A deep bond connects people who share suffering and sorrow. The band Sleeping At Last sings, "Remember who we are: unconditionally loved by those who share our broken hearts." I recall with surprising joy the tears my wife and I shared as we waited for our 2-year old to go through spinal surgery. It's the same way I feel when I remember clutching my kid brother in the back of a van after learning of our father's death. These scenes, and countless others, break my heart afresh each time I dwell on them. Yet, with each one, I think of the deep love I feel for those who have shared my broken heart.

We Need Each Other

I am tired, tired of so much. There are days where I just want to give up and crawl back in to bed. People in our church die, or abandon the faith. I am tired. A friend succumbs to meth addiction. Another is diagnosed with a brain tumor. A family member dies. I am tired. But of course thinking about all of this reminds me of others. It reminds me of what my family has endured. It reminds me of the people at my church and the losses they've suffered. I am not the only one tired. I see it on the faces of the people I counsel, the people I pray with, the people I kiss in the morning before I leave for work. So I get out of bed every morning. The floor is cold. I am tired. I can't give up; it's not because they need me—at least not in the sense that I am a pastor and have all the answers. The need is much more mutual. We need each other.

Paul tells the church at Rome, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15).  I suspect that in much of the church we aren't good at following this command. At least I'm not. But my tired soul is helping me to change. There's some value in a tired soul, if we're willing to look for it.

Born to Raise the Sons of Earth

There's a line in the carol, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" that caught my attention this year that I don't think I've noticed before. The line immediately prior, "Born that man no more may die," has long been meaningful to me as one touched by the pain of death. Its truth has given me perspective in the midst of great sadness in the Christmas season by reminding me that what began in a manger will culminate on a cross where Jesus will "destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14). Yet here we are, living in this world where there is still so much death. We keep thinking that if God were good he would sweep into this world and our lives and protect us from all this loss and pain, that he would put an end to disasters and disease and death.

And one day he will.

That's the solid hope found in the next line of the song, which says, "Born to raise the sons of earth." The good news about this baby is not that he will keep those who love him from suffering physical death. And the good news is not just that when we die, we will go to be with him---as good as that is. This Christmas carol is pointing us to the solid foundation and substance of our hope---the resurrection of all who are in Christ to an endless life with him.

The apostle Paul wrote, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13). This passage draws a distinction between those who grieve with no hope and those who grieve with hope; and we want to be people who grieve with hope. So what is the nature or substance of the hope held out to us in this passage?

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with rhese words. (1 Thess. 4:14-18)

Notice that Paul didn't command us to comfort one another with the truth that deceased Christians are in heaven, though we know that to be "away from the body" is to be "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:6-8). Rather, the apostle tells us to comfort one another with the promise of a day of resurrection to come. The substance of our hope is not merely a spirit-with-no-body existence in the presence of God. The substance of our hope is our spirits being reunited with our resurrected bodies fit for eternal enjoyment in the new heavens and new earth.

Our great hope is not just going to heaven when we die, though that is so wondrously good. But God has much grander plans. Our great hope is that Christ will come again, not as a helpless baby in a manger, but as a magnificent king on a throne---a king who will be close enough, and gentle enough, to wipe every tear from our eyes. He will personally put an end to everything that has brought his people pain. He will "raise the sons of earth" by transforming "our lowly body to be like his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21) to live with him forever on a gloriously renewed earth.

The wonder of it made the herald angels want to sing. And as the wonder of it begins to sink in, it makes us want to sing, too.