“Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus? You’ve got to help me make a stand . . .” ~James Taylor~
Sometimes life stinks. Bad things happen that we have no control over. We grind along, always giving the best we got while working for a breakthrough, but expectations get smashed and we are left with an emptiness that makes our heart sick. Words are spoken in prayers that appear unanswered. Mustering every remnant of faith, we continue in prayer, for each day has its own measure of frustrations. Circumstances arise that surprise us; situations develop that knock the stuffing out of us; relationships unravel because we haven’t nurtured or cared for them as we should have.
Family and friends make poor decisions which set-off heartbreaking consequences. Unexpected news can sneak up to upset the apple cart of our carefully managed plans. A job is lost, a child is rebellious or a dream is shattered—defeat creeps close enough to whisper in our ear. The tensions can wear us down because there is a truth about life that cannot be sugarcoated: Life is hard, filled to overflowing with fire and rain; fire and rain know no particular boundaries.
Faith & Reality
There was a man who had an encounter with Jesus that for me, defines the human dilemma. He was the father of a son who was trapped inside a living nightmare. Desperate to do something, anything to help his son, this unnamed man sought out Jesus. The itinerant rabbi from Nazareth had created quite a stir across the countryside.
There was much excitement and many wild stories surrounding the man called Jesus. He made blind people see and lame people walk; he touched people or simply spoke to them and they were completely cured.
The man came looking for Jesus with his son. The boy suffered seizures that caused him to thrash around on the ground and foam at the mouth. In the throes of the attacks, he was in danger of severe injury. When they brought him to Jesus, horrible spasms gripped the child. It was a violent, gut-wrenching scene. Jesus watched as the boy convulsed in helpless agony, and then:
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! That, my friends, is truly where faith meets reality for each one of us. We all have difficulties or hardships in our lives, or in the lives of loved ones, for which there is no rhyme or reason.
We muck our way through life, sorting through disappointments and brokenness, always endeavoring to be faithful and true to what we say we believe, but if honesty was put into action, we’d all acknowledge there are times when faith wavers.
There are seasons—sometimes long and arduous seasons—when hope gets repeatedly deferred, making it extremely problematic for faith to keep rising up. The accumulation of unresolved whys and wherefores creates the conditions for anxiety to settle into us. We wonder if God hears or cares about our insistent prayers, our cries for hope and help. It is then, like the father of the tormented boy, we must throw our doubts up at God in the context of belief, having the assurance that he fully embraces our fragility and weakness.
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! How long had that father called out to God on behalf of his son? How many avenues had he tried, how many doors had he knocked on, how much money had he spent on remedies peddled by quack doctors?
The answers to each of those questions are unknown. What we do know is this: In a flash of supernatural wonder, Jesus healed the boy and restored him to his father.
Life is unfair in its shotgun disbursement of troubles, but eventually sorrows come to everyone. Sooner or later, the fire of affliction burns us; or the rain becomes a flood that threatens to wash away all confidence.
People often live in denial, thinking that somehow they will never have to come to terms with the cold, cruel world. They insulate themselves with a cheery happy-face philosophy that has little or no connection to real life.
For them there are no morally ambiguous questions to explore because if something doesn’t fit neatly into their rose-colored worldview they ignore the issue.
Or sometimes, worse than ignoring a knotty problem, they do a soft-shoe shuffle with language that obliterates the common sense meaning of words.
However—and this is actually an unfortunate universal however—there is a hardness in this world that hits everyone. Unfortunate because wouldn’t it be sweet to have rainbows without storms and roses without thorns? Wouldn’t it be nice to never experience failure? Couldn’t we simply breeze along with a brisk wind always at our backs? Wouldn’t it be lovely to never have to gasp for air while waves of disillusionment crash over us? It’d be so wonderful to not have to learn vital life-lessons by enduring the harsh taskmaster, but that is not possible. Life is hard—harder for some than others, but it takes no exceptions for anyone.
Outlook & Attitude
“The good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things which belong to adversity are to be admired.” ~Seneca~
“Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” ~Winston Churchill~
There are those who teach that if we are good and decent in all our affairs, dealing with others exactly how we want to be dealt with, then we can expect that God will protect us from the valleys of life.
That is blatantly untrue. God does not exist to serve us—we exist to serve him.
Nowhere in Scripture are we ever promised ease and comfort. Sometimes, like it or not, God leads us through hardships or setbacks for purposes we may never comprehend this side of heaven. Through it all—through the briers and brambles that crop up at regular intervals on our journey—God asks that we merely trust him. He wants us to unswervingly believe him; to take him at his word, no matter what.
Our faith-response makes all the difference; even if it is weak and riddled with doubt, our faith-response determines our outlook and attitude—our faith is the glue that holds our perspective together. When discouragement dominates our days, a faith-response that is securely fixed on God gives us the endurance necessary to persevere.
Faith & Adversity
“Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” ~George Muller~
A faith-response to soul searching adversity points us to the fact that God loves us so much the he sent his only Son to be rejected, betrayed, and tortured; to die a horrible death on a cross at Calvary. On that dark afternoon, Jesus prayed in pain-wracked intensity: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Christ’s faith-response to the bitter path of pain set before him paid the price for our sins; his death and resurrection has the power to reconcile us to God. The mystery of the crucifixion, with its absolute authority to cancel sin, is the ultimate manifestation of God’s all-consuming love. A love so full of passion would not leave us in a lurch, but rather, God’s love is constantly seeking what is best for us in the grand scheme of eternity. God sees our lives from the beginning to the end; he sees what is around every turn and beyond every horizon.
There is no worrisome detail that will catch him off-guard. He waits for us to ask him to help us make a stand for him. And he isn’t concerned if our frantic heart-cry misses the religiously-correct mark. Which is good, because sometimes when life really stinks all we can pray is: “Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
When we do, God bolsters our faith. We are strengthened by the knowledge of his presence as he walks with us through the fire and rain of life.