Late to Our Longing

“What is soon to God seems late to our longing” (St. Augustine).

Wow. So much said in so few words. The best have a way of expressing themselves without an overabundance of words. I think these 10 words reveal the state of most of our hearts these days.

In The Lord of the Rings, one of the main characters, Gandalf, says that a wizard is never late. He always arrives precisely when he means to. And hopefully without sounding sacrilegious, we can say the same of God. He’s never late. He arrives at always exactly the right time.

But to our deep longing, God seems late. To our anxious hearts, He hasn’t shown up soon enough. In my own experience, my own longing has sometimes blinded me to seeing God at work, especially in my present life. I miss what He’s doing right now for looking down the road to a future where I hope He will act a certain way for me.

I have such a myopic view of how I think God will act that when He does move outside my field of vision, I don’t see it. I ascribe these actions to anything and everything but God. Yet often, God acts contrary to my desires not because they are too big, but because what I want is too small and God is giving me something greater.

When I let go of my fear and hold on to faith, then I see God. I see God’s bigger plan for me. I see God’s better gifts for me. I see God’s timing was never late but exactly right on time.

Come, Lord Jesus

“Every year we celebrate the holy season of Advent, O God. Every year we pray those beautiful prayers of longing and waiting, and sing those lovely songs of hope and promise. Every year we roll up all our needs and yearnings and faithful expectation into one word: ‘Come!’ And yet, what a strange prayer this is! After all, you have already come and pitched your tent among us. You have already shared our life with its little joys, its long days of tedious routine, its bitter end. Could we invite you to anything more than this with our “Come”? Could you approach any nearer to us than you did when you became the ‘Son of Man’? In spite of all this we still pray: ‘Come'” (Karl Rahner).

I’ve never thought about it before, but it is a bit odd that we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” to Immanuel, God already with us. Why are we praying for someone to come who has already arrived? How can anyone be closer who already lives in the hearts of all who have called on Him in faith?

Maybe it’s that we want to see Jesus manifested in the world like He is in our own lives. We want to see Him show up in a way where the leaders of the world sit up and take notice. We want Jesus to arrive as the Coming King to inaugurate His kingdom and to set every wrong to right and to wipe every tear from our eyes and to bring an end to evil, sin, and death.

Possibly it’s because we grow weary of the “now but not yet,” where we’re saved but still struggling with the old nature. We see glimpses of who we’re becoming by the transforming grace of God, but we also still see the sinner full of lust and selfishness and greed and all other sorts of toxic traits. We still do what we don’t want to do, and don’t do what we know is good for us and that we should do.

When Jesus truly comes back, we’ll see the original design restored and finally know what it means to be everlastingly alive. All those old hymns and Bible promises we’ve sung and longed for will be fulfilled. Best of all, we’ll all finally be home.

Open Window, Open Faith

“So King Darius signed the law.

But though Daniel knew about it, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs bedroom, with its windows open toward Jerusalem, and prayed three times a day, just as he always had, giving thanks to his God” (Daniel 6:9-10, The Living Bible).

Essentially, the law that King Darius signed made it illegal to worship any other god other than the king. Disobedience meant punishment by death. Death meant being thrown into a den of lions to be torn apart and eaten. No one was exempt.

But Daniel did as he had always done, threw open the windows toward Jerusalem, and prayed to the one true God anyway, just as he had always done. His was a personal, but not private, faith.

One of the chief arguments against Christianity is the fact that churches are full of hypocrites — people who talk one way, and live another. They present one face at church, another at home, and yet another at work. But Daniel was a man of integrity. That meant that he was the same when no one was watching as he was when all eyes were on him. He wasn’t perfect, but his walk matched his talk.

It occurred to me that Daniel could very easily have continued to pray and evaded being caught if he had simply closed his windows. No one could have looked in on him during his intercession with God. No one would have been the wiser.

But Daniel chose to pray in the open. He didn’t parade his faith like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, but neither did he hide it. He didn’t make a show of his prayer life, but neither did he keep it a secret.

When we say we follow Jesus, it should show up in our lives. We should be different — not obnoxious and arrogant, but also not identical and undistinguishable from the world around us.

But will we still pray when it becomes illegal? Will we still give to the church when it becomes non-tax deductible? Will we still follow Jesus when it’s no longer socially acceptable to hold His exclusive claims?

Brennan Manning once said, ““The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

The greatest witness we can give is simply living out what we profess to believe and not being jerks about it. When we live out our faith, regardless of the cost, people will see Jesus and be drawn to what they see.

The Unfairness of It All

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]  A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk” (John 5:2-9, NASB).

Imagine being ill for 38 years. I can’t. I get annoyed when I have a cold that lasts for more than two weeks. I can’t even begin to fathom having your entire life defined by an illness. But this man could.

This man had been witness to a lot of unfairness in his life. He had been near the pool for decades waiting for someone to help him into the pool, but no one would. Not only that, but people who hadn’t been there nearly as long as he stepped in front of him to get to the healing waters first. They took away his chance at healing.

But then Jesus shows up. You’d expect Him to carry this man to the pool ahead of the others. But instead He asks a seemingly obvious question — “Do you want to get well?”

You’d think the answer was obvious. But for the man, the quest had become about getting to the pool, no matter what. He wanted to show people he could beat them and get there first. He had settled for being the victim, defining his life in terms of the mistreatment and unfairness he had received from others.

But Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?”

Jesus didn’t take him to the pool. Instead He gave the man something better. He spoke and the man was healed. No more paralysis, no more begging, no more dragging himself toward the pool year after year. He saw Jesus revealing Himself as Messiah.

Jesus didn’t come to earth in order to make life fair. He had a different — and more glorious — purpose in mind. No matter what has been taken unfairly from you, Jesus came to offer something far better. More than any gifts or healing or experiences, Jesus gave Himself, fully and freely.

He still gives Himself to those who seek Him in faith. That is better than anything else He could offer, because that is exactly what every hurting human heart needs.

Advent Hope in the Book of Habakkuk

“I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:16-19, NIV).

It’s hard for me to comprehend that for so many centuries, people lived and died and based their hopes on the promise of something far off in the distance. People hoped in a Messiah whose name they did not know. They would die without seeing the promise fulfilled, but they chose to trust in the promise for all who would follow after.

Habakkuk in particular held onto this hope. Basically, he stated that even in the worst case scenario of total crop failure and loss of everything, he would still rejoice in God his Savior. Not even the threat of death was enough to dissuade him from the promises of the prophesies he had heard about all his life. Some he had been privileged to write out and proclaim himself.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, as it says in one of the Proverbs. It’s one thing to wait, but quite another to wait well and wait in hope. It’s much easier to fall into cynicism and bitterness instead of choosing the joy of a hope not yet seen. It feels a bit like going against the current and defying our human nature to keep trusting in and praying to a God we can’t see, believing in a future we can hardly begin to grasp with our very finite minds.

But the very God who made those promises is more than able to keep us and hold us fast against our own frailties and unbelief. He is able to strengthen our hearts and minds so that we can continue to believe all He has said to us. He will keep us safe against any and all uncertainty and doubts the world can throw at us. Thus we can be joyful, no matter what.

A Reminder of Hope

I nearly forgot that as of yesterday, we are officially in the season of Advent. It’s the season leading up to the arrival of the infant Messiah, the hope of the world. I think that this year, as much as any other, we need a reminder of hope.

There’s so much negativity in the news, so many things to make us anxious and afraid. It’s hard to find the good any more, especially if you look to social media and the 24/7 news channels.

But Advent is a reminder that the long-awaited hope has never left. That infant in the manger, who may or may not have been surrounded by smelly animals, grew up to be the Christ who lived the perfect life we could never hope to lead and died in our place.

This Jesus still lives and intercedes for us. This Jesus still whispers to us through the Holy Spirit that hope is not lost, though it may at times seem hard to find. This Jesus stands at the door and knocks for anyone who will receive Him and welcome Him into their hearts and homes.

This Jesus still brings hope to the hopeless, courage to the fearful, welcome to the forsaken, dignity to the outcast, and love for the unloveable. He is still the reason for this season, the Immanuel of hope.

Sometimes You Can Go Back

I had a very pleasant evening tonight. I had been invited to the home of a couple of friends who had recently moved bagck into the area after moving out of state several years ago. I had been a bit nervous about it possibly being awkward, but it was just like stepping into a pair of comfortable old shoes. In a way, it was like I had just seen them yesterday.

I got to meet their kids and see their new dwellings. It was such a good night. One bit of random weirdness was that their new kitchen looked almost identical to the one they had when they last lived in the area. That was almost spooky.

I get that we live in a world where the only constant is change. Nothing ever seems to stay the same for very long. Just when you get used to a place or a routine or a person, it changes. You have to learn yet another new normal. Yet every now and think, God shows me that behind the curtain of constant change, there are echos of the sameness of a God who never changes. There are those God-wink moments where you almost really do get to go back to the way it was.

These moments remind me that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He isn’t constantly shifting with every passing whim or fad or trend. There will always be new heresies and misrepresentations of God, but the truth about who He is remains unaltered. That is the Promise by which we can cling to every one of His promises He has ever made to any of His people at any time.

In Rest They Remember It All

I found this poem about memory loss illness and it touched me deeply. I watched both grandmothers lose their memories to dementia over the years, and the thought of both of them with their memories fully restored and them made whole again warms my heart:

“Some people are slowly taken,
to the other realm.
Not physically, but mentally.

Memory by memory,
they are moved from us,
like a painstakingly slow house-flit.

Boxes full of life,
chapters, people, loves.
All packed into a van,
to wait their arrival on the other side

And as these parts are removed,
those left feel lonelier daily.

As though their love is already leaving them.

It is a painful departure, my friends,
this much is sadly true.

But I like to think of the person we knew,
reaching the other side,
once more whole.

And upon arrival they see their boxes,
awaiting them so long,
and they open them up,
the chapters, the memories, the loves,
and reunite with them again.

I can feel that heartfelt joy
and it brings me joy too.

They are not lost for long,
though it may feel so.

In rest,
they remember it all” (Donna Ashworth).

Thankful: 2022 Edition

I must be getting old. I caught myself nodding off in my chair earlier. When I looked at the clock, it said 9 pm. I guess 9 o’clock really is the new midnight once you hit 50. But I’m thankful that it’s a good kind of tired after a productive week rather than the kind of tired after you haven’t really done anything and wasted your day.

Whenever I’m tempted to drift into negative thinking about my job, I remember what it was like to not have one. I clearly recall feeling useless and lazy. I know I’m not supposed to find my identity in work, but there’s just something innate in us that longs to contribute and make a difference, the longing that God gave to Adam and Eve in the garden when he told them to tend over the new creation.

I’m thankful that I like the people I work with and they like me. Nothing’s worse than an environment where there are factions and sides and people who won’t talk to other people. Nothing destroys morale quicker than friction and factions.

I’m thankful for my little tortie who always greets me when I get home and announces in her own little way that she wants head scritches and belly rubs. I like it when she curls up in my lap — even though she steals my spot whenever I get up to pee or to grab a snack. She’s crafty like that.

I’m thankful for the extended holiday weekend. It’s a chance to turn off the alarm and to sleep until daylight, which is a rarity these days.

I’m thankful for the absolute certainty of God’s love for me and the 100% security of my salvation. Even when my feelings tell me not to trust in God, I know His promises are truer than what I feel or what I think. God’s unchangableness trumps my fickle feelings every single time.

I’m thankful for the anticipation of good food tomorrow. There will be turkey. Lots of it.

Measured by Love

“Do everything, anything, however menial, measuring it not by hours or by dollars, but by love” (Amy Carmichael).

It always amazes me to watch people who are in the early stages of falling in love. You can tell because it’s almost like they’re seeing the world through rose-colored glasses and everything they do — especially if it is for their beloved — is a pure joy. Unfortunately, no one can ever stay in that initial euphoria of love, Eventually, everyone settles back to earth.

At some point, love becomes a choice. Even when we don’t feel very loving, we do the acts of love. Even when we’re not in love, we can choose to love as an act of the will, a sacrifice of what we don’t feel at the moment.

In terms of faith, there is no difference. We may not feel the joy of our salvation, but we can rest in the promises that transcend feelings. We may not have the bliss of those first few days when we first met Jesus, but we can still choose to love and obey out of the knowledge that He first loved us.

When we understand that worship is more than singing songs and lifting up our hands, we can make any chore or task an offering of worship. We can declare the great worth of God even by scrubbing toilets or sweeping floors if we do it not for supervisors or for a paycheck but like we’re doing it for Jesus Himself.

I remember my pastor telling a story about how at one of his previous churches there was a custodian who used to make the church floors sparkle and shine. When asked why he went to all the trouble on floors that no one was likely to notice, he’d respond that Jesus was going to be there and he wanted everything to look its best.

When we measure our work not by hours or dollars but by love, then our work truly becomes worship, and we return closer to the original design God had for Adam and Eve in the garden where work was a joy and not a burden.