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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

God's Glory in the Storm

I love this song by Lifehouse:

How long have I been in this storm? So overwhelmed by the ocean's shapeless form. Water's getting harder to tread, with these waves crashing over my head.

If I could just see you, everything would be all right. If I'd see you, this darkness would turn to light.

And I will walk on water. And you will catch me if I fall. And I will get lost into your eyes. I know everything will be alright. I know everything is alright.

I know you didn't bring me out here to drown. So why am I ten feet under and upside down? Barely surviving has become my purpose, cause I'm so used to living underneath the surface.

If I could just see you, everything would be all right. If I'd see you, this darkness would turn to light.

And I will walk on water, and you will catch me if I fall. And I will get lost into your eyes, and everything will be alright. And I will walk on water. You will catch me if I fall. And I will get lost into your eyes. I know everything will be alright. I know everything is alright. Everything is alright. Everything is alright.

I have been known to play this song on "repeat" over and over and over again. People around me often think it is depressing. While the tune is hauntingly somber, the words are humbly honest yet filled with hope. This song is about faith in the midst of darkness. Hebrews 11:1 tells us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Jesus calls us to faith that is more than just a “head knowledge” of and assent to who He is. He wants us to trust Him and to live like we do no matter what the circumstance! The book of James goes into great detail about how true faith is evidenced by our actions, and even goes as far as saying, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).

I am ashamed to say that my daily actions too often demonstrate a greater faith in gravity than in Jesus. Like the hope of glory, gravity is also “unseen”. Yet, my confidence in gravity is evidenced in many things I do and don’t do everyday, such as stepping out of bed with every expectation of hitting the floor, or not stepping off of a balcony because I have every expectation of plummeting to the ground below, etc. I “trust” gravity without giving it much thought because I have experienced many instances where it has worked. In my life as a Christian, I have experienced many instances of God’s faithfulness to me and many others. In Scripture I read countless accounts of God’s character and His faithfulness. Yet, I often fail to live like I trust Him- especially when my loved ones suffer, my dreams are crushed, my friends betray me, my health fails, my finances crumble, etc. Instead of running to God in faith in the midst of these circumstances, I often find myself running away from God and drowning in my emotions and circumstances.

There are so many characters in Scripture with whom I can relate. Most of them have faced circumstances far more bleak than I have, but they too struggled with trusting God in the darkness. I think of John the Baptist sitting in prison, soon to be beheaded. He sends a message to Jesus asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” This is the same John the Baptist who baptized Jesus himself and witnessed the Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove and the Father speak from heaven saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." I think of Peter who drew his sword to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest who came to lead Jesus away to His execution, not understanding why the Messiah who was supposed to save the world would instead willingly submit to his arrest and certain death without putting up a fight. I think of all of the disciples who watched the arrest and death and seeming failure of the Lord Jesus- the One for whom they sacrificed time, treasure, relationships, reputation, and everything they had. I think of Mary and Martha when they consider that Jesus showed up too late to save their dear brother. I think of Peter who stepped out of the boat in faith to walk on the water toward Jesus, only to find himself soon sinking in the midst of the wind and waves. I think of Abraham and Sarah who took matters into their own hands when they found themselves old and beyond hope of bearing a child even though they were promised a child from the Lord.

Scripture tells us that there is something that God does in Christians by getting them to (and through) the place where their circumstances are seemingly beyond hope. God actively brings Christians to the darkness because He wants us to believe! That is a funny thing to say since we are only Christians by our belief! We see this in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Jesus actually goes out of His way to not be there when Lazarus dies! John 11:5-6 tells us “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” Lazarus’ sister Martha knew that Jesus could have saved her brother as in verse 21 she said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Yet Jesus did not keep Lazarus from dying.

Throughout the story, Jesus gives us some clues as to why He did not save Lazarus from death and why He did not spare His loved ones from heartbreak. In verse 4, Jesus explains why by saying, “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." In verse 13, Jesus tells the disciples, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." It is strange that Jesus would tell his disciples that they needed to believe. Surely they already believed in Him, as they were the ones who left everything to follow Him in faith. Yet we see this theme continued in Jesus’ dialogue with Martha in verses 23-27: Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 27She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." In verse 40, Jesus again reveals His purpose behind allowing Lazarus to die and allowing his loved ones to suffer the heartache of that loss. When Martha protests against the removal of the stone that would reveal her brother’s dead and decaying body, Jesus says to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" He then proceeds to pray to the Father in verses 41 and 42: "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." After this, we see Jesus, the Living God, simply command Lazarus to “come out.” At His word, the once dead Lazarus obeys!

In this story, we see that Jesus actively orchestrates heartache for His loved ones so that they would “believe” and that God the Father and God the Son would be glorified. We see that belief is not just something we experience at justification so that we might be saved from eternal damnation, but it is also an ongoing process for Christians in our sanctification as we learn to grow in our assurance of the gospel and our joy in the glory of God. In the story of Lazarus, we see that Jesus’ loved ones are better off for the heartache they endured because their belief was fortified and they saw a glimpse of the glory of God! We know this brought them great joy, as evidenced by other Scriptures as well. For instance, Romans 5:2 links the hope of the glory of God to rejoicing. 1 Peter 1:6-9 also makes this link between suffering, glory, and joy: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

There is purpose in the darkness for Christians! That purpose is God’s glory and our joy in God’s glory! When my loved ones suffer, my dreams are crushed, my friends betray me, my health fails, and my finances crumble there is purpose in each bit of pain these things cause me. God is still in control. He is leading me to and through the darkness to accomplish my tested belief so that He might be glorified and I might have inexpressible joy in Him!

Oh, Dear Father, I pray that my suffering would lead to endurance, and that endurance would lead to character and that character would lead to hope in your glory! (Romans 5:1-5). I know that my hope will not put me to shame, as your love is poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit! Help me to live this! Help me to remember that my trials are only “light and momentary” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that lies ahead! God as you wept with those who suffered the heartbreak of losing Lazarus, I know you weep with me as I stumble through hardship in this life. I thank you for your tremendous love. I thank you that you love me enough to bring me to and through suffering for the surpassing joy that is ahead! Help me to have hope and joy even in the midst of suffering, as I have tasted your glory and I know you will bring me to greater assurance in the hope of glory. Help me to suffer well. Forgive me as I know there are many ways in which I do not suffer well. Help me not to keep my eyes on my troubles, or on myself, but help me to keep my eyes on You! I need your help with this, as I often find myself sinking in the water like Peter because of my lack of faith! May the supernatural scandalous love that you have poured into my heart through the Spirit flow out of me to others always, whether or not I am suffering! You are worthy of my suffering, sacrifice, joy, and praise! May You be glorified in all of my life! I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

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