Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seeing What is There

Let's be real. Most of us are dead. I know that most of the time I am. We see our problems and little more. We see red lights, the slow person in front of us, the traffic, and the clock and how much time is running out before our next "thing." We see the fresh stain on our shirt, the brakes that need to be fixed, the dishes that need to be done, and the bills that are piling up. We see the difficulties in our relationships, how we screwed up here or there today, and how our kids are just pulling on us when all we want is a few minutes to unwind.

In chapter 38 of Job, God gives Job an answer to his suffering complaints. When all of Job's suffering first came upon him, he handled it well ("the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord"), but as the pain and suffering lingered for some months, Job began to crack. He started to feel like a) God was his enemy, somehow, for bringing all this suffering, and b) there was some injustice in this, since Job knew (perhaps too well) that he was a godly man. After Elihu told Job and his misguided friends that they were both wrong in their understanding of the purpose of suffering, God entered the scene to address Job directly.

The dark, booming thunder clouds rolled in, and suddenly God spoke to Job from the whirlwind. The questions God aks Job are rhetorical -He is obviously not really asking Job for answers. He is declaring His "Godness" in the face of a tiny creature... Job. I love this one particularly:

"Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? (Job 38:12-13)

God commands the morning. The dawn is an act of God. Amazing? When is the last time you thought of it that way? How often do you even notice the dawn, much less let it point you to the personal hand of God? God declares His "Godness" every day in bringing the dawn. Yet, so often we look at the things around us as though we are naturalists... atheists. Has our sense of wonder and awe at the hand of the One who made it and still, to this day, sustains and commands it, gone away?

I'm not a tree-hugger type at all, but this is something worth repenting of. We tend to think of sin in terms of bad things we do, often consciously, but some of the most deadly sin is simply forgetting God. You don't even see it happening. Everything else just becomes bigger as He becomes smaller. Our relationship with Him becomes mechanical, even non-existent, and as that does, so does the rest of life. The things, cares, and worries of the world become imminently more real, and they swallow us, they obscure His face.

I want to make a regular habit of taking a moment to quietly gaze at His creation and allow it to declare God's "Godness" to me. More importantly, I ask Him to give me that faith of a child which never gets bored with the wonders my Father does. I want to see His hand wherever I go. "Do it again, Daddy! Do it again, Daddy!"

O God, open my eyes, that I may be amazed at the works of your hands and the ways you daily, moment-by-moment, work your might and power to sustain and order it. May it be a delight to my soul as it points me to You, my Father, and Your beauty and superlativeness. May I never dishonor you by looking at the things around me like a naturalist viewing a mechanical, impersonal creation.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

God, I Want More

At some point in your life, the things of this world will truly disappoint you and make you feel empty. It is then that you will say, "God, I want more." Your marriage is on the rocks -it is cold and lifeless. "I want more." Your job is unsatisfying. "I want more." Your children are undisciplined, in spite of your best, most prayerful efforts. "I want more." All of those things you hoped in to make your life happy and meaningful are now rusty, delapidated, and falling apart. "I want more, God. God?"

This is where where we need to walk carefully. There isn't anything wrong with wanting God to bless us or bring restoration to brokenness in our lives, but there is a danger found in wanting more of the right now. The danger is that our hearts are incorrigibly prone to seeking ultimate satisfaction in the things of this life.

We are prone to live as though this life is all there is, even if we believe differently in our minds. We may say to ourselves, "Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be added...," but our hearts betray a different story. Our sight is focused and set upon the things of this life and our taste of the things of the age to come, no matter how utterly they are ours right now in Christ, is dull and small and overlooked. Our heart essentially is saying, "Yes, God... it is wonderful that things will be so nice some day," out of some sense of joyless, uninterested obligation, "but I want this thing right now."

With this, we are prone to forget God, at least functionally. We may have God for our times of prayer and for Sundays, but look at where our hearts are. What fills our prayers? Are they merely petitions to make our life go better, to make the things of this life more comfortable? That isn't all bad, but if that is the main pulse of our heart then we have somewhere forgotten God and the hope we have before us, and we are now asking God to serve the idols we worship, instead. It is, as the Puritan Stephen Charnock put it, "practical atheism."

In some ways, it may actually be more dangerous to have your life be perfectly happy and contented because the circumstances around you are just so. It is then that we are perhaps the most blind to how much we look to things in this world as our "god" and provoke the Lord to jealousy. At least when trials come we are forced to face what it is we really want, what our hearts truly cling to, and where our treasure really is.

As said above, it isn't bad, necessarily, to want more, and when things go awry it truly hurts -always. But ultimately the things in this world, as good as they are, or as broken as they can be, are meant to be appetizers to the main course... and nothing more. They are meant to be shadows, foretastes of what is to come. They are, in some ways, like manna from heaven as we tread through the wilderness on our journey to the promised land. They are temporary and point forward to the land flowing with milk and honey that is just around the bend.

Marriage problems or marital bliss? Remember that marriage is a temporary picture of a greater reality that is ours now, in taste, and to come in fulfillment when the Lord returns. Remember that it is a picture of the union between Christ and His Bride, us. That union will always be more glorious, more satisfying, more awesome than anything found on earth. Let the good times in our marriages remind us of that, and let that truth console us during the bad.

This does not mean we don't feel pain. Bad circumstances are not things we can shrug off stoicly. If we could, I would wonder if we love at all (the only way to avoid pain, that I am aware of, is to harden your heart and lock it up so tight that it will never love). But in the midst of the pain, in the midst of the loss and sorrow, let us be reminded of the temporary nature of this life and the hope that is ours, that everything in our life points to in some way. Let this truth console us in the midst of the trial we face. Rather than causing us to cling more tightly to the things here in this life, let suffering and loss cause us to set our eyes and hearts above (Col 3:5), where our true treasure is (Mat 6:21). The Lord endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy set before Him. (Heb 12:2-3) We will enter into that joy, one day, the joy of our Master (Mat 25:21), and we taste of it right now, in part.