Thursday, September 22, 2016

TheStorm : Battered & Beaten...But not Destroyed.

But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary...  

So now we come to the storm, the waves, the hardship, the struggle & I'll attempt to wrestle with this concept of a God that seems to withdraw from us.

I need to say up-front that I am not attempting to flesh out all that needs to be fleshed out when it comes to every circumstance you find yourself in. I realize there are many, many different experiences we all face and I, for one, cannot make any dogmatic statements when it comes to our feelings that God has abandoned us. 

I have been very cautious not to read too much into this story because I think we all have a great danger while reading the Scriptures. Sometimes, we are in danger of building a theology around one circumstance in a myriad of circumstances that the disciples find themselves in. Sometimes, unknowingly even, we build our lives around theologies and philosophies that, frankly, aren't correct. Let me explain.

If I were to begin this blog entry by saying that I now want to discuss what we do when the LORD withdraws from us, I would hope that there would be warning-flags that go up in your mind. So to say that the premise of this series of blog entries is to deal with the withdrawing of God in our lives – just simply is not true, because God, in His mercy and grace, will never, ever withdraw from us. Let me be perfectly clear. I am attempting to wrestle through the silence of God in our lives, not the withdrawing. We have countless Scriptures that back this up, but the one that I continually come back to is found in Hebrews 13:5, 6:

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”

Note, interestingly enough, that some of this text is in capital letters. In the NASB, this means it is a quote from the Old Testament. We find in Deuteronomy 31:6 the exact same words:

Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.

So even to say that the LORD withdrew from the people of the Old Testament would be false. We have proof right here in black and white – the LORD promised with His own lips that He will not fail [them] or forsake [them]. May I suggest to you that we have a wrong picture of God if we believe that He has left us. I truly believe that this is something that we need to wrestle to the ground, beat the lies out of it, and never let it rise in any of our teachings ever again. I believe this is a lie from the pit of hell and we need to send it back from where it came from. GOD NEVER LEAVES US. EVER. It may seem like He has or it might feel like He has, but He never, ever will.

Please excuse my rant, but I needed to get that out before we begin to look at this crucial event in the text. Even in this experience on the waves, Jesus didn't leave – He actually had a really good view while He was up on the mountain. So I think we need to re-define what we mean when we say, ‘The LORD has withdrawn from us’. 

To begin, may I suggest to you that when it feels like the LORD has withdrawn, He may have stepped back to watch, but He’s never left. So I have a series of questions for you:

- If Jesus knew that His disciples were going to get into trouble on the waves, why did He ‘make them’ get into the boat?
- If Jesus understood that they were all going to struggle, even though most of them were fishermen, why would He force them to be by themselves and give Him opportunity to be by Himself as well?
- If Jesus was God and He could see the outcome of Peter’s failure (more on that later), why did He allow Peter to get into the boat?

I could have asked many more questions, as I’m sure you could have as well, but I think you get the idea. I was once told that often, in our lives, we don’t ask why because we want answers, we ask why to argue. I hope you see these questions that I ask aren't to seek out answers, but to give space for God to work. I believe that if we dare to ask questions, honestly and humbly, He will meet us where we’re at (the conversation with Jesus and Thomas comes to mind; see John 20:26-28).  I believe The Book of Psalms is a great place for us to go when we’re wrestling through these hard questions as well. 

The psalmists, I believe, had it right. Over and over we read in the Psalms a challenge to question, to ask why, to share how we are feeling through prayer and music – but included in this is a command to always be ready to praise the LORD in the midst of our circumstances; to believe that He is still present within our storms. As I worked through the Psalms in my devotionals a while back, I had come to discover there are many ‘buts’ in the Psalms – and as I continued to read them, I caught a very good lesson. Though the circumstances are real in our lives, we still are commanded to say, ‘…but’ i.e. ‘It sure doesn't feel like you’re here God, but…’ Here in this text we have a but - But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. 

This is in context of Jesus going up on the mountain to pray and Matthew wants to make his readers understand that, save a miracle, Jesus would have a difficult time to reach His disciples if He changed His mind, or vice versa - if He tarried. We see Jesus on the mountain and the disciples on the waves – for the wind was contrary. 

So, I've belabored long enough I think. Let’s get to the heart of this text – Jesus has withdrawn from His disciples in their greatest time of need. Why?

Do you feel this way? Do you sense that in your greatest time of need, the LORD has other plans, or other things He needs to deal with? He is God after all, you think, so He must have other business that He needs to attend to, right? He’s too busy to deal with our ‘small’ problems, right? Or when the stuff of life is tragic, it’s a symbol of God lifting His hands and saying, ‘I've had enough of these miserable brats…they can deal with their own problems’. Or when we experience storms in our lives, ranging from not flipping our eggs right in the morning to a tragic accident that abruptly ends a loved-one’s life, we are always very quick to say it’s because the LORD has withdrawn from us. But has He?

As I explained before, this is another one of those theologies that needs to be beaten to a pulp and thrown back where it came from. We read in Hebrews, 

…but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24, 25).

These verses are so rich with promises. Note in these verses what I call ‘the power-words’: continues forever, permanently, save forever, He always lives. The writer to the Hebrews very clearly is drawing a contrast between the Old Testament priests and Jesus, our High Priest, who always lives to make intercession for [us]. How do you interpret this text? Do you believe that we can take this literally – that Jesus is actually, continually praying for us? Or do you believe that this is just His role over our lives and He is always interceding, as a lawyer would, for his client. May I suggest to you that it is both? But may I also suggest to you that if we understood the former, we could understand the latter better.

From the outset of this series of blog entries, I am seeking to answer one of the most difficult questions known to man: What do we do when it feels like, in the storms we are experiencing in our lives, God doesn't want to break His own silence, interpreting that we know better and can interpret why the things in our lives happen the way they do? 

With every one of my circumstances of pain, and I'd say that they just seem to keep comin' these days, can I honestly tell you that I felt God’s presence through it all? Sometimes, yes. But for the most part, the feeling that I consistently feel is abandonment. I truly feel most times that God had chosen to be silent when I needed Him to speak the loudest. I truly feel He made me get into a boat alone, while He retreats to the mountain.

A very close second emotion was anger. Anger towards God that He doesn't step in to do something about the circumstances I'm finding myself in (note: this is believing He hasn't had His hand in orchestrating this for my good). I feel anger towards myself that I wasn't smart enough to prepare for it. Or just angry because there was no other emotion that made sense. When God doesn't God break His silence and DO something?! You can’t tell me that in each of the painful circumstances I find myself in, God chooses to step back because He wanted to teach me a lesson. Where is God’s goodness then? I really, truly think we need to re-think how we think God deals with us in our most treacherous times of our lives. 

I don’t have any answers for you. I really don’t. Other than this. GOD. NEVER. EVER. LEAVES. US. 

We can’t even use a New Testament Scripture to back up our claims that He withdraws from us in our greatest times of need, because He simply doesn't. There is nowhere in Scripture that says that He leaves us and doesn't grieve with us when tragedy strikes too close to home. I dare you to try and find where it says that God enjoys seeing us go through pain or finds it amusing when we cry out to Him for help in our deepest struggles. 

We don’t read exactly what Jesus prayed while on the mountain, but I’d be willing to bet He was praying for His disciples as they were literally, right then and there, struggling in the storm. Yet I still ask, 'If God hasn't abandoned us in our storms of life, why does it feel like He does?'

Sometimes the greatest lessons in life need to be experienced. Actually, I’ll change my own words. Always the greatest lessons in life need to be experienced. If Jesus didn't die to help us see that the world is literally crumbling before our very eyes and it needs a Saviour, I don’t know what He died for. 

The hope that He gives is because the work on the Cross is a finished work. Although our lives really are a mist (see James 4:14), we can live them to the full and choose to learn these valuable lessons for His Name to be proclaimed and Glorified. I am not suggesting that we somehow concoct some sort of super-spiritual answer when it comes to tragedy. I don't believe that's what the LORD would want for us. 

But I do need to tell you that I believe there is hope. When we least expect it, in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus comes to us, walking on the sea. He's not afraid of the Storm. Because He's in it and He created it for our good. 

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