Mourning loss with a crowded heart

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My heart feels crowded these days. Grief from a distance does that. My heart is occupied with the day to day concerns of the relationships close to me. My local concerns include celebrations, maintenance, and grief. So it  starts to get crowded in here when the headlines cascade with pain.


When that happens I read Lamentations slowly.

14The elders no longer sit in the city gates; the young men no longer dance and sing.

15Joy has left our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.

16The garlands have fallen from our heads. Weep for us because we have sinned.

17Our hearts are sick and weary, and our eyes grow dim with tears.

18For Jerusalem is empty and desolate, a place haunted by jackals.

19But LORD, you remain the same forever! Your throne continues from generation to generation.  Lamentations 5:14-19 NLT

 

I know we all get a turn when loss totally occupies the heart. I have had my own days occupied by grief – when death and grief have swallowed up all the space. I have seen in the lives of those close to me how oppressive grief can be. Joy becomes a faint memory. But now for a moment in these days of my local occupation, I need to practice the discipline of “grieving with those who grieve.”

 

My distance from the many cities and tragedies filling the headlines of the news does not leave me immune from the rage. Instead my heart gets crowded with undigested griefs and fears. Its not immediately obvious to me that these are “my people” whether its Cairo, Orlando, or Allepo. However, reflection with the Lord Jesus Christ reminds me that we are all His Creation. The King’s mission of which I am a part always seeks to include His Creatives within the future of His redeemed people.

 

And so I lament.

I lament our distance from the way of holiness.
I lament the violence.
I lament the loss.
I lament the difficulty love requires.
How long O Lord?
I lament the burden of finding answers.
I lament the oppressive fame-seeking germ of Babel making its death march across the planet.
I lament our desperate search for peace.
How long O Lord?
I lament our fear, our shame, our guilt.
I lament the
How long O Lord?

I lament

I lament because I want to pray and to live according to our Father’s heart. People matter to God and His cross interrupts the stupidity of violence. I don’t want a hard, self-righteous, apathetic heart that resists the Spirit of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that a hard-not-my-people-attitude will take me where I don’t really want us to go.

Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again!

Give us back the joys we once had! Lamentations 5:21

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Meeting God through my troubles.

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What happens in your gut when trouble shows up? Perhaps you feel like you are living in the lands of perpetual trouble! So, your gut hasn’t settled down in days. One of the important questions I’ve been asking myself as a follower of Jesus when it comes to trouble is: Ok, what can I learn with God in these days and through this struggle? The good news is that God has been meeting His people through struggle for a long time!

1“Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. 2Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. 5Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.

6“So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.  Deuteronomy 8:1-6

Its tempting to rush through these famous verses. I’ve had to re-read them more than once. Did you see what God was up to when the children of Israel sojourned through the wilderness for forty years? Through those years in the wilderness God says He was building them up for a relationship with Him.

 

The wilderness — a land of struggle

The wilderness — the context for their struggle — served as the school for their character. So what was God developing in the wilderness? He was developing their character. Obedience to God is a character issue. Character is the grid through which you habitually respond to the stuff that comes at you in this world. A person who obeys God has a reformatted grid about themselves and life. Even their appetites have been examined in respect to God.

 

The anxiety in my gut!

In these verses Moses says their hunger in the wilderness served a purpose in God’s work. Their hunger was an opportunity to humble themselves and trust God. God abundantly supplied manna for their hunger and they learned to trust Him for their daily bread. But they also learned something about humanity: we cannot live on bread alone. We will truly live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

When trouble comes, my gut tells me something is not right. The anxiety in the pit of my stomach makes my world and options seem smaller. But its in these moments that I’m learning to seek God. I’ll tackle what’s in my capacity to tackle by applying His Word to the situation. And, I will let God be God as I relinquish control to Him. That’s when the extra-ordinary provisions of God begin to show up!

 

Learning new reflexes built up by faith.

I love these verses from James, who having been trained by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, could write the following exhortation to the Believers about troubles:

2Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. (James 1:2-5)

Are you in trouble of some kind these days? Perhaps you will be helped in prayer for the next month:  Lord I’m in trouble, what are You showing me about Yourself through these troubles? What do You want to build up in my character? I want to trust You as the good and loving God, so the Cross of Jesus Christ will be my reminder: you are my Deliverer. You are my Provider. You alone are God, worthy of my life and love. You are faithful. What adjustments must I make in order to be faithful, respectful, and full of love toward You?

Unmasking our thirst for God.

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As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
Psalm 42:1-2

Apparently many people on a typical North American diet no longer recognize thirst. They mistake it for hunger. Thirsty? Let’s eat!

Is it possible, we have also masked our thirst for God as well? I believe many of the desires of the soul meant to direct us into the Presence of God have been masked. Instead of interpreting the longings of our soul as an impulse to seek the Living God we have accepted substitutes to quickly cover the emptiness. Internet searches and coasting through the newsfeed deliver a quick hit to our brains and masks the longings for God.

And that’s a problem. The search for the flowing streams of God’s presence is sometimes and most often lengthy.

Slowing down.

Letting the tears flow.

Raising and listening to the questions.

Directing the accusations to the Cross.

Meditating on the Scriptural narratives of others who met God.

Waiting on God.

Being still before God.

Taking time. And most of us, including me, get antsy trying to be still. I’d like to quickly move past the tears, the questions, the accusations, the stories, and the waiting.

I would probably never be the author of Psalm 42, unless I was willing to sit, wait, listen, watch. I would have scared off the deer looking for refreshing water in the midst of a dry spell. I would have missed the metaphor God provided to make obvious what is unseen, but very real for me:

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

Facing the squeeze of anxiety.

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4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

Conflict produces anxiety in most of us. Whether we are simply uneasy about a relationship, struggling with having disappointed another person, dealing with feeling out of place in a social setting, unsure of our performance on a test, or facing raw hostility  — anxiety alerts us: this is important. So if it is important — talk with God about it.

Paul gives exhortations in verses 4-9 in the context of a larger call for peacemaking between two conflicted leaders, Euodia and Syntyche, who were part of the Philippian church. Even peacemaking makes most of us a bit nervous. So no matter what side of a conflict you are on or if you are entering into conflicted relationships the anxiety there can choke your best intentions.

Each of the exhortations in these verses disrupts a product of anxiety.

Anxiety robs us of joy, so rejoice. However, the Apostle Paul directs us in to the Presence of Jesus to find matters of rejoicing in the Gospel. (vs. 4.)

Anxiety dampens our consideration of others and creates self-centredness, so consider the Lord’s closeness.  Notice how Paul reminds us of the closeness of Jesus and calls us into a considerate, reasonable, gentle approach towards others. (vs. 5)  Jesus is at hand, close, not far. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is keeping an eye on us and our lives, thoughts, actions, and attitudes are not unobserved by Him.

Anxiety paralyses us by limiting our access to the resources available to us, so Paul directs us to pray. (vs 6-7) When we pray we are accessing the abundant, unlimited, generous God who has shown himself through Christ Jesus. When we are making our requests known to God, we are giving voice to what has stirred up our anxiety and we are simultaneously entering into the peace of God. Even though the circumstances may not yet have changed — we are being changed.

Anxiety clouds our thinking, fixates on the negative, and creates a stingy story line, so think about… I love how Paul directs the believers to regulate their thinking. (vs 8-9) When in conflict, the storylines we create about others and ourselves are most likely to not be characterized by what is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. Jesus provides us with much that is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise in the Gospel and in Creation, so we are exhorted to discipline our thinking into those things and realities. Why? Our thinking will be expanded beyond the shrink wrap effect of anxiety and into the abundance of God.

To anticipate the next time you face the squeeze of anxiety you may find it beneficial to print out this text and keep it around where you may be drawn by the Spirit into these life-giving processes and into life provided by the God of peace.

Get close to God with freedom and confidence

 

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8Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. 9I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.

10God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

12Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. 13So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honoured.  Ephesians 3:8-12

 

“Sometimes its tempting to believe prayer is futile.” Never let this thought take over as a belief; it will derail your life with Jesus. The Apostle Paul is aware that we can develop a “because-I-have-trusted-Jesus-life-must-be-easy” idea. Our expectation of comfort unhinges us from mission and from prayer. So Paul reminds them, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.”

Paul is telling the church in Ephesus that his service and his suffering as a follower of Jesus is part of God’s plan for the church to display God’s wisdom. Paul has become a beneficiary of God’s amazing mysterious plan. Paul is living in the presence of God because of Christ. Paul is living boldly and confidently in God’s presence. This is your opportunity as well.

Take a moment now, to enter in God’s presence through your faith in Christ. Approach Him with freedom and confidence. Meet Him and ask Him to show you more of your endless treasures available to you in Christ Jesus. Speak to Him of what is on your heart and mind.