I come from what is often called “low-church.” This moniker isn’t intended (at least in most cases) to denigrate anyone. It’s just an indication that the church or denomination in question has little to no liturgy, and very few rituals (if they have any at all). Many people in low church denominations eschew liturgy or a preaching calendar, because they want God to be able to operate in the now. They want something fresh. I’m not entirely opposed to this, but I want to point out something that’s been happening over the past few weeks. I’m continuing to read Ancient Christian Devotional each week with my wife. And the theme every week has been precisely what I’ve needed to hear, even if I don’t want to hear it.
Case in point, last week I wrote about how we shouldn’t be focused on our own happiness. I wrote this during a particularly unhappy time. That time has not abated. I’m still not happy. Don’t get my wrong. I love my wife and kids. They are wonderful. They are the best things that have happened to me since Jesus. But there are a lot of other things in life right now that aren’t so awesome. I was near a breaking point the other day and I prayed, “God…I just need a good day. Can I have a good day?” Within thirty minutes my car overheated. Not a good day.
This week, I open the book and see the theme. Delight in the Lord. That’s code for, “Yes, everything else sucks, but he doesn’t.” This isn’t all that helpful. It’s kind of like saying, “Yeah, your arm is broken, but at least your leg isn’t!” Looking on the bright side necessarily entails a non-bright side which we are choosing to ignore. In case you’ve never tried, ignoring a problem isn’t particularly helpful. Habakkuk, the first reading for this week, puts it this way (courtesy of the Message translation):
God, how long do I have to cry out for help
before you listen?
How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!”
before you come to the rescue?
Why do you force me to look at evil,
stare trouble in the face day after day?
Anarchy and violence break out,
quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces.
Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung
and stand justice on its head.
That’s where I’m at. I see a lot of ugliness around me, and I want to know where God is right now. I want to know when he’s going to show up and save. One of the reflections on this passage provided in the devotional is from Basil the Great. He has this to say:
Do not take your present troubles ill. Do not lose hope. Yet a little while and your helper will come to you and will not tarry.
This reminds me of a popular song that has the lyric, “Oh my God, you will not delay, my refuge and strength, always.” I hate that song. I hate singing it. It absolutely feels like God is delaying right now. It absolutely feels like he’s taking his sweet time, not at all concerned about the pain of his people. If you’ve read much of my other blogs, you know this isn’t new. I’ve written about this feeling here, here, and here. It doesn’t seem to go away. All throughout the Psalms there are laments, expresses of grief from God’s people at God’s perceived inaction. Lamentations gets its name from this genre of psalm. This is nothing new, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.
So what do we do about it?
To be honest…I don’t know. But one thing I read this week was helpful. Augustine has the following to say:
All seek counsel concerning what they wish, but they do not always hear what they wish. He serves you best who does not so much expect to hear the thing from you that he himself desires, but rather to desire what he hears from you.
In layman’s terms, everyone wants to hear what they want to hear. Not everyone wants to actually hear what is being said. In the midst of all the laments, there is a common thread. God’s people complain about God, but they always end with trusting his faithfulness. Complaining isn’t wrong, but we can’t live there. We have to trust his faithfulness. We have to trust that he does care, that he is paying attention, and that he is coming. That’s what we cling to: hope. That hope doesn’t disappoint (Romans 5:1-5). It is secured by the deposit of love, placed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. So that even when life is falling apart, we have a reminder that God loves us and will not abandon us.
I’m still not happy. But I’m not without hope anymore.