There is a song by Elevation Worship that repeats in my mind and meets me in the life-overwhelms and reminds me where my strength and hope is placed. One of my children had a dental procedure and the weight of the unknown overwhelmed her and I felt overwhelmed knowing how to help her. Have you been there? You’re overwhelmed by the weight of the unknown and you desperately cry out for help and your friend or husband or kids can’t help you. It’s the kind of overwhelming feeling that can only be carried by Jesus.
I couldn’t do anything for my daughter except hold her hand and comfort her the best I knew how and the best I know how is to point her to Jesus and remind her that he is calling her to himself. He calls us to come to the altar when we’re hurting. He calls us to come to him when we don’t know if we can handle one more second of the unknown. The fear weighs us down and we suffocate from it.
And so I remind you and me and anyone who wonders if they can take another step of this:
Jesus is calling. He calls you when you’re broken. He calls you when your sin threatens to overwhelm you, and he calls you to come drink from his well that never runs dry. He says to you, “Turn your back on your regrets and mistakes. Those are in the past and I have redeemed you, look to me—the starter and finisher of your faith. Don’t be afraid. Come to me. I have refreshment for you in the midst of your trials and pain.”
Ah friends, whatever you’re facing, there’s an altar waiting for you. An altar that points your eyes to Jesus. An altar where you can receive forgiveness. It’s an altar where you leave your mistakes and regrets as a testimony to God’s faithfulness because rather than your regrets pointing it’s accusing finger at you, you can use it as a reminder to yourself of God’s redeeming power in your life.
Sorrows and suffering. They go together like peanut butter and jelly—only they don’t taste as good–and I would never choose them. In fact, they sometimes leave a bitter taste, but when we recognize our feelings towards our sufferings, we have an opportunity to head straight to the altar and surrender our expectations to Jesus.
And then he does this amazing thing: he bears them for us while walking with us through them. But if we leave the altar, we stumble and fall because we begin relying on our own strength. We begin to rationalize away our feelings about our reality and once the rationalization happens we lose touch with the reality that God is with us in the midst of the unknown.
Jesus is calling us to come to the altar. He’s calling us to come when the weight of the world threatens to crush us. He’s calling us to come when our sin weighs on our hearts. Jesus is calling you to come to the altar. Run to him and find rest.
Senseless deaths. Wounds fester. Terrorists attack. Fingers point blame. The news channels sensationalize the bad and minimize the good and I wonder, where is hope? When life falls apart and I have no good words, what do I do? In order to know hope, I must walk through the suffering.
We can’t bypass it. We can’t go around it. Sometimes the only way through the suffering is to immerse ourselves in the suffering. And then call out all the fear and pain and lay it at God’s feet.
If we can read in the daytime that God promises to be with us, we must believe it when the darkness is so pervasive we cannot see our hand before us.
If he promises to be with us in the fire then we have to believe when the flames lick our skin and burn our hearts.
If he promises that nothing can separate us from his love then we have to believe him when the darkness closes in and God seems separate from us.
We must sit with him in our suffering. He’s there. He’s there when the world is trying to tell us that he’s not. I’ve chased peace and healing outside of my suffering because I didn’t believe God was right there in the middle of it. And when I leave my suffering, by refusing to acknowledge the pain I’m feeling, I leave God behind.
He’s always with us in our suffering and he wants to hear our hurts and disbelief. He wants us to rage at him because he wants our hearts and sometimes all that’s in our hearts is anger. This is lament.
The Psalms teach us to lament. The Psalms are full of how could you-s, and where are you-s, and why don’t you do something-s. But they’re also full of praises to God while still in the dark. They teach us to empty our hearts of the pain and then to fill our hearts up with reminders of God’s love and faithfulness. And this isn’t a one time experience, but it sometimes needs to be done minute by minute, hour by hour, or day by day.
Do you want hope in your suffering? Then enter into your suffering and feel the feelings that threaten to overwhelm you and then turn your lament into praise. Give words to your pain and then turn your heart to truth because what it true in the daytime is true in the nighttime.
He is a God of hope, of comfort, of peace and when my gaze is fixed on him, I don’t fret, worry, or grow anxious. Hope is Jesus. He is our hope in a fallen, decaying, dying world. I can believe in myself all I want, but when it comes right down to it, my effort is weak against the power in the name of Jesus. What if we wore the name of Jesus and felt the weight of the hope that is in his name rest on our shoulders?
But I don’t. I lie awake at night worrying a prayer, attempting to convince myself that I do trust God and my hope is in him. But my sleeplessness proves my struggle with hope.
Suffering. I’m afraid of it, but I’m learning to embrace it because I know that when I suffer, God gifts me with four things:
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
God restores. He confirms. God strengthens and He establishes. And it all comes through our suffering.
God will restore what the locusts devour. He will confirm his truths in your heart. He is your strength. And he establishes you.
Enter into your suffering, not alone, but with him. He will carry you through and he will give you words to speak when your own are gone.
Because he is the wonder-doing God, he can turn the desert into streams, barrenness into beauty, and he can make a way of hope through our pain.
We only need to be still.
Deserts make me nervous because I can feel so lost and lonely. I search this way and that way, running here and there, but never finding what I’m looking for. I grow weaker and desperate. Panic wells up in my heart. I fear death.
Do you remember when you were a kid and what you should do if you got lost?
Stay where you are.
Let them find you.
And so it is with God. Sometimes he leads us into a desert and we wonder where he went, so we start searching for him and questioning his leading. But a desert place is a perfect place to be still.
Be still and know that he is God.
In the desert, our gimmicks and tricks for making sure all our plates stay spinning, don’t work. One by one they crumble to the ground. It’s in the desert place that we become aware of our need for God as each of our coping mechanisms dry up.
The desert place is a place to practice being still. I’ve found that in the desert place, I exert a lot more effort to do the things I normally do: prayer, church, volunteerism, parent, homeschool. Do I get frustrated when I’m in the desert? Absolutely!
But I’ve been to the desert enough times that I’m learning a new dependence on God and most importantly, how to still my soul.
When I still my soul, my eyes begin to see God working and moving. He draws me to himself when I let go of the distractions of life. He grows fruit in me. He makes my pain a door of hope.
“Therefore I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. ‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me, “my husband,” you will no longer call me, “my master.” Hosea 2:14-16
I have never regretted a desert experience. I’ve seen the phenomenon of how God turns my desert into an oasis and makes something so beautiful out of something so barren. The desert becomes a place of worship, a place to eagerly meet with God, and a place to be still and know him.
Be still and know that he is God today and follow him through the desert places. He will bring beauty to your barrenness.