Friday, August 18, 2017

Is Not Life a Series of Waits? Enduring Life-Altering Events

When asked as a pastor, to express with sincerity the lingering trauma that consumes the soul when a life-altering event makes its appearance, I would use the word "Numbness" to describe it and I am not alone. Many people describe the after-effects of traumatic events as going from initial shock to numbness, but it is important that we understand numbness is not shock, although it can follow on its heels. Shock is the immediate and radical realization of loss, numbness follows. Rather than quote a psychological definition I want to relate in real-life you, me and God terms. Numbness is the ongoing state a person drifts in and out of when under heavy distress. It can also occur to someone who has been exposed to a past traumatic event and is often referred to as PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It is what induced the psalmist to cry, "I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psa. 27:13). It is what induced one of the temple singers to say in Psalm 42:1-3:

1      As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
2      My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
3      My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
“Where is your God?”

Yes, the chorus of vs.1 is often sang in praise song and hymn to simply represent a longing of our heart to be near unto God. But the context points more to the longing of a discouraged and displaced temple singer, separated from his daily temple duties, as he wanders like a deer searching for water in the parched wilderness with David in exile from Saul. In other words, he has temporarily lost his job, his security, his place, and his livelihood! Night and day he thirsts for God's quenching presence that he might be restored, but in its stead, receiving only salty tears as a substitute.

Can more clarity be necessary than what is found in this biblical definition of the consolation succored in post life-altering events? Loss, struggle, brass ceilings, the need for restoration , and the longing for God to respond?

Biblically speaking, numbness surfaces when it seems all hope is lost and our circumstances seem to out-pit God's ability to transcend them. I know this sounds crazy to so many. The unredeemed will especially balk at such indiscriminate hope in who they feel is imaginary, and even believers can toss God out in the hopes of some form of human redemption to their problems. But the believer is never asked to give place to such unredeeming thoughts. For instance, the one thing that is completely out of the realm of human possibilities is the ability to secure a home in eternity without the intervention of the cross of Christ. Salvation is of God not of man. If believers are all to happy to turn to Christ for this humanly impossible securement, why are we so hesitant to turn to Him in the temporal and lapsing things of earthly concern? Our hope is not in the things of this world. We must reach out to He who transcends all visible reality, Jehovah God--our Father who art in heaven.

How then do we endure the pain? How can we continue to function in a normal manner when our lives are disrupted by the unexpected?

Could it the answer be found in the "waiting?" The old adage that there are only two things sure in life, death and taxes, is not really true. We spend more time in life waiting than writing a check or expecting death.

The trauma of the unknown can bring the strongest of believers to emotional fits, the shallowest of believers to disbelief, and the new believer to defection. If God would only __________ (you fill in the blank). To wait upon God, is the noblest of actions. It starts with the belief that God does know of our situation and He isn't dismissive of our pain, nor is He desensitized to it. Charles Spurgeon once stated, "He puts a bit into the mouth of rage, and a bridle upon the head of power."1 Yes, that is the power of our God in action. We must remember that.

First Things First
The first thing we must do if we really want relief is seek God for recomposure. We have to descramble what the life-altering event scuttled. We have to seek Him to give us clarity and clear vision concerning what has happened and where we are currently at (this is not a suggestion). Seeking God is tantamount to expressing faith that He holds the future. We must get rid of annoyances, such as seeing joy in the lives of others when it is not present in yours. This is renouncing envy and replacing it with biblical thanksgiving for the Lord's work in their lives. Renounce it. It is only a distraction. The next thing is to renounce what is not a current reality and take to the Lord the things that are.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Co 10:3–5).

Any person, place, or thing, be it material or spiritual, that halts or suppresses the truth you know to be found in God must be recognized for what it is, a distraction. Those things are often figments of our imagination brought on by listening to the wrong sources and they work to make God less than what He is, the all powerful Creator and Sovereign that transcends all visible and spiritual reality.

Understand, I am trying to be real with respect to the numbing pain of parched environments life-altering events bring to bear. I refuse to oversimplify the issue by quoting how spiritual giants of the past have endured the wilderness and prospered for it. I say this because, you are not them, they are not you, and you are in what seems to be a pit of despair. You need to be dug out and you do not need to be bombarded with a cacophony of "so-and-so" was where you are and look at them now. Neither do you need to hear you have a sin issue or you brought all of it on yourself. We all have sin issues and some things are not brought on by ourselves which is all the more reason to seek God for strength and the answers.

What needs to happen is for us to get to the point of not allowing the pain of the situation to distort the truth surrounding God in our lives. We somehow need to get to the place of refuge where we do not feel the scourge of the situation, but the presence of God in a very real sense. Although our enemies surround us, the presence of God will stay our focus upon Him. Getting to this place may be challenging, but it is achievable. To get there, the believer must rise above the circumstance through a willingness to let all of the peripheral circumstance (the things we see as "bad" or even "devastating") fall into the hands of God. If you think about it, Jesus stated that He holds the believer in the clutch of His fist and nothing can get at us without first getting through His clutch. We may not like--we may even detest--having to allow things to play out in God's procession of events, but really, is there any better way? Could there be anything more to define what a Christian really is, or is supposed to be, than one who pants for God like a thirsty deer in the wilderness?

Reality Check
Our real need is one of purpose, placement, and position. We find purpose from the events in our lives that find their placement God's overall structure, positioning us to stand firmly upon God's word through Christ our Lord. For the believer, this was where we once were and where we need to get back to. Any toppling of this former structure carries a meaning that, at the present, only God knows. But be assured, that the purpose, placement, and position where you are now headed, if you will accept it, is and will be greater than where you were before. This means letting go of the past and moving forward with anticipation of the future. Believers are an enigma amidst the world of clingy things. Realizing we need to let go of our other past reality is not the end of all things. Rather, it is the beginning of a whole new adventure. Faith is the victory that will compel our direction.

Again, life is a series of waits and this is where waiting fulfills its perfect purpose.

The temple singing psalmist went on to direct his mind to focus on the past days of singing and worship, fulfilling his purpose in the house of God, but finds that that alone still does not alleviate the clinging pain. But he has not lost hope in God for he knows he will yet again praise the Lord, the "help of his countenance."

    4      When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.
    5      Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance. (Ps 42:4–5)

So then, where do we go from here? Where did this temple singer go? He replaced his remembering of where he once was, in the joyful crowds of the temple, with another memory, the memory of the transcendent God--the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Instead of focusing on the "what was" he now focuses on the "what is." And the "what is" is that God is still ruling from on High. Although the psalmist continues to lament on His situation in the remainder of the psalm, He closes with the same refrain of vs. 5b:

    11    Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God. (Psa. 42:11).

Although we are not directly told in this particular psalm how the Lord worked to alleviate his pain, it is implicit that he would continue to wait upon the Lord for his answer. I love the psalm because it is not a one-two-three step remedy for painful situations, rather, it reveals where one is at in the process of waiting. There is hope because in the waiting God is still at work. He is still on Mt. Hermon; He is still above all things seen and unseen and as the next psalm recaptures, Psalm 43:3-4, it is God's work, word, and illumination that will carry us providing the ladder out of the pit of despair:

    3      Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
4      Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And on the harp I will praise You,
O God, my God.

The believer knows that true relief in the period of waiting is bolstered by the hope that is found in God's declarations. He cries out "Send Your light and Your truth!" Why? Because He knows they will be the source of leading to the path of restored joy! When we heed God's direction and follow the light of His leading, we can say with the psalmist, "Then I will go to the altar of God ...And on the harp I will praise You."

The answer to our situation is not what any of us could do, or we would have done it already, but rather, what God can do. In the meantime, do like me, practice some knee bends and do a little burning of the midnight oil in God's word. Let Him direct your future path.

1 - Spurgeon, C. H.,  The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith: Being Precious Promises Arranged for Daily Use with Brief Comments (New York: American Tract Society, 1893), 187.

** First posted on Life-Letter-Cafe,