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I’m in my prayer room. I go there every morning knowing it’s what I should do. I read the scriptures. I pray for needs. I go through the motions. But I am numb. There is nothing left.
Darkness surrounds me like a blanket. I’m covered completely so I can’t breathe. There is no light, no air. There is a thundering silence ringing in my ears.
And Jesus is here. I can sense his presence. He’s just standing next to me watching me struggle to rid myself of the oppressive blanket of darkness. He won’t remove the blanket because he put it there. But he waits. He waits for me to quit fighting the darkness and let go. He waits for me to relinquish my control and embrace what he has given me.
But I want to fight. I hate the darkness. It’s painful. It’s pushing me down so I can’t breathe, can’t think. I’m suffocating and dying.
I know he’s here. I feel his presence. Why doesn’t he rescue me? “Trust me,” he says. But how can I trust him when he’s covered me in darkness and pain?
“What do you think God is teaching you?” Others ask. I have no idea because I can’t think. I can’t hear. All is silence, but not the beautiful peaceful silence of rest. No, this is the deafening silence of nothingness.
What is a God doing?
“I really see you having a baby,” a friend said after a prayer meeting. “How did she even know we can’t have kids? I know I never mentioned that.” I thought as my mind reeled, going over everything I’d said previously. I still don’t know how she knew, but her words cut like a knife through my heart.
“Let me tell you my story…” And here is where my brain turns off. I don’t want to hear about her miracle babies when the doctors told them it would be difficult for them to have kids. Didn’t she understand that there’s a difference between improbability and impossibility? Didn’t she realize that for us to have children would be a true divine miracle with no other medical explanation? Do I believe that God can do that? Yes. Of course he can. That’s not the issue. The question is will he?
And honestly, I don’t think he will.
I don’t think he’ll give us a miracle biological baby. I know he’s not going to resurrect our dying cafe. Quite frankly, I don’t know what he’s doing. I’m scared to hope. I’m scared to apply for adoption because the thought of being rejected by birth mothers would probably send me over he edge. I’m scared to move up north to be closer to war-ravaged refugees. What if God takes this away, too? What if we’re destined to a life of pain and sorrow?
What of there is no light at the end of this tunnel of darkness?
Who is among you that fears the Lord, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. (Isaiah 50:10 NASB)
What does it mean to trust in the name of The Lord and rely on my God? How do I do that?
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2, 3 NIV)
John the Baptist was in a dark, moldy prison. Not long before he was wandering through the wilderness proclaiming the coming Messiah. People flocked to him to hear his message and be baptized. He baptized Jesus and watched the heavens open and heard the voice of The Lord. Even in his mother’s womb he recognized Jesus for who he was: the Savior.
He was chosen. He was faithful. He did what was asked of him, even when it seemed crazy. Even when it meant calling a spade a spade and angering the ruler of the area.
Even so, after all he’d experienced, after all God spoke to him and through him, in the darkness of the jail cell he questioned God. He wondered if all he had done had been worth this suffering. He wondered if the suffering had any meaning.
And Jesus’ answer amazes me: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. (Matthew 11:4, 5 NIV)
He never says, “Yes! I am the Messiah!” He simply tells John’s disciples to report what Jesus has done.
Apparently his works were supposed to be enough proof.
Is it enough for me? Is it enough, in the midst of unbearable pain, to know that God is the creator of the universe? Is it enough to know what Jesus did on this earth? Is it enough to have witnessed God at work in others’ lives?
Like John, I want a definitive answer. I want to know that I’m putting my money on a sure bet. I want to know that this pain is for a reason, a real reason that’s more than just to teach me something. I want to know that it’s shaping eternity. Otherwise I don’t want to learn anymore. Otherwise I’ll just choose the easier path, thank you very much. Otherwise it’s not worth it. If it’s just about me, it’s too much. No, I need to know this pain is for a purpose beyond myself.
That’s a lot of things that I need. Or at least a lot of demands of what I think I need. Maybe Jesus, in his infinite wisdom, knew what John actually needed: to solidify his faith. Maybe I should trust that the God of all creation knows what I need better than I do.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV)
Praise God. You may have to suffer all kids of trials. Your faith is being proven. So that in the end you can praise God.
Job’s response to suffering had been worship. Abraham said he was taking Isaac to the mountain to worship. Here, Peter says that our trials will result in genuine faith that leads to praise.
Is that what this is all about?
Before I moved overseas I was on staff at a church. One of my responsibilities was leading worship for the youth group and for our early service. My little band of fourteen year old boys would never win any awards for our musical abilities. But together we discovered what it meant to lead others into the presence of God.
Sometimes I miss those days. Life was simpler, neater. I didn’t have the weight of tens of millions of unreached souls on my narrow shoulders. My job was simply to lead others into the throne room to worship our Creator.
I was good at it.
But I knew I was made for something more. I knew that my keyboard and my voice weren’t enough. I knew my worship needed to go to a whole new level. I knew God was requiring more of me.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1 NIV)
A living sacrifice. What does this mean? It means death. And death is painful and ugly.
Right now it’s Eid al-Adha in my adopted country. This five day Muslim holiday commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. Thousands and thousands of sheep and goats lost their lives as Muslims in my country remember what Abraham was willing to do in obedience to God.
In some places, like where I used to live, like where we’re moving to, the blood from the slaughtered sheep runs through the street.
Death is ugly.
But out of the death of this little sheep, the family will take the meat and divide it into thirds: one third for themselves, one third for a neighbor, and one third for the poor.
Death is life giving.
And maybe through death I’ll finally I realize that life is simple and neat. My job remains the same: lead others to the throne room of God. It may not be on a platform behind a microphone and a keyboard. It may not even be in English. But the principle is the same.
Maybe that’s what all this death is about: teaching me, or re-teaching me, what it means to truly trust, to truly obey the Holy Spirit and bring others with me into his presence. Maybe it’s about less of me and more of Jesus. Maybe it’s not about me at all and only about Jesus.
A long time ago I was sitting in a chapel at Bible college. We had chapel every day, so my memories of chapels are largely one gigantic chapel. Basically, they’ve all run together. But there are a few that really stuck with me.
There is one in particular that comes to mind at odd times, like this morning when I’m complaining again with my “why me” prayers and trying desperately to make sense of anything. We had had a beautiful time of worship thanks to incredibly talented students. The speaker then got up and said this:
It’s not about you. It’s never been about you. It will never be about you.
It’s not about them. It’s never been about them. It will never be about them.
It’s only about Him. It’s always been about Him. It will always be about Him.
I don’t remember what he said after that, but those words cut through me. And I’m still learning what it means to really believe that it’s not about me or about those who don’t know Jesus, but that it’s only about Jesus.
John’s suffering was about Jesus. Peter’s trials were about Jesus. My distress is about Jesus. And so are the mundane activities like memorizing vocabulary in an impossibly difficult language. So are the conversations I have with team members about their struggles. So are the triumphs. So are the victories. So is everything.
It’s all only about Jesus.