Almost a year ago, I posted a blog for the first time in a while to address a season of difficulty that had been especially trying. A year later, things are more or less the same. I’ve grown through this season and the Lord has certainly used it to show me new truths and to remind me of the faithfulness of His character time and time again, but my heart is still hurting and my mind seems to sway back and forth between belief and doubt.
It’s so hard to explain this tension that I constantly feel stuck in. I know the Lord has me where I am in life for a reason and that He is working in and through me as He wills through the circumstances He has ordained for me to endure. I know that He is faithful and trustworthy. But I feel forgotten and rejected by Him. I feel like I’m watching everyone else play on a playground while I’m having to sit in time out. Which is a really simplified/dramatic analogy, I know, but it sums up this experience in an effective way. It feels like I can’t enjoy life to the degree that I want to and know that I should. I don’t know how to change that.
Being the pessimist that I am, all I see when I look ahead are the many negative outcomes that I imagine in my head playing out in real life and that absolutely terrifies me. But it feels like when I try to focus on the present and just enjoy the gifts the Lord has given me now, it’s impossible for my gaze not to drift back to what lies ahead… So I get lost in my mind. I’d venture to say that I’m not mentally present in the everyday moments of life 80-90% of the time. I’m thinking ahead to the next few hours, days, weeks, and maybe even months or years more often than I am living in the here and now.
I think ahead to things I’m excited for or things I’m anxious about. I get all worked up considering the various ways certain things could unfold. But when those moments that I looked forward to come, I’ve already moved on, thinking ahead to the next exciting/nerve wracking thing. How do I stop that? How do I just set my eyes on what is in front of me to be present in the current moment while still allowing what is to come to have a healthy impact on the here and now? We are called to be eternally minded people. To set our eyes above (Col. 3:1-4). To look longingly to the One who will return and make us new (Rev. 19, 21). To remember that we will awaken in His likeness, being transformed into His image (Ps. 17:15, 1 John 3:3-4). Our eternal destiny should define our earthly existence. But how can we live our life on earth well while longing for the better life that is to come?
I don’t have a definite answer.
But I think of an article I read by Piper a few years ago that was related to the Christian’s role in voting… He had this to say: “Vote as though not voting.”
This is the tension of the Christian life: to learn to live the life we have here on this earth as though it is not our life at all; as though we are not really living here on earth, because it, as well as life itself, is fleeting. All of the agony, the triumphs, the pain and the joy, the overwhelming moments of sorrow and happiness: they don’t last.
In his same article, Piper says:
“The best experiences here are foretastes. The best sights of glory are through a mirror dimly. The joy that rises from these previews does not and should not rise to the level of the hope of glory. These pleasures will one day be as though they were not. So we rejoice remembering this joy is a foretaste, and will be replaced by a vastly better joy”
I want to be able to live in a way that reflects the ultimate reality of who God is and in light of the glory that is to come. I glimpse this glory each day, be it through His creation or His Word or His people. I glimpse it, but then I turn away from it to pursue something of earth until I am reminded once again of how temporal and transient every pleasure of this world is and forever will be.
Paul’s words in Romans 7:21-25 resonate with me:
“21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
His words impart hope to me because they remind me that, ultimately, I will be delivered from my fallen state. But they also affirm another aspect of my earthly existence that I struggle to accept…
there is a wrestling and writhing with wickedness that will persist within my heart and soul until I take my final breath.
If you can relate to the feeling of being punched in the stomach and having the breath knocked out of you, that’s kind of what I feel like happens whenever that latter realization sinks in.
Maybe your thoughts in response to such a realization are similar to mine:
But God, I’m tired…
This tension has wearied my soul…
How am I supposed to survive and endure 50-60 more years on this earth?
Notice who I’m focusing on when I entertain such thoughts; Recognize that the source of strength I’m relying on is finite and fleeting because the source is myself. And if I am relying on myself and expecting myself to muster up the strength to make it through this life, it’s no wonder that I already feel defeated. God didn’t make us to carry ourselves through this life. Even if we feel as though we have carried ourselves at any point, when we come to the end of ourselves, we realize that God has been carrying us all along. He never lets us go, because if He did, we wouldn’t be able to go on. Believe it or not, we cannot exist apart from Him. Even those who don’t believe in Him are dependent upon Him for their every breath.
The Lord brought me to this passage recently and I can’t quit thinking about it.
“Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
The righteous man is likened to a tree that sends out its roots, remains nourished, and does not cease to bear fruit. This isn’t the only place in the Bible where this analogy is used. And I don’t think its a coincidence that Christ bore the curse for our sin upon a tree. Sin leads to a dying tree. Thankfully, the power of God is greater than such death and we are made alive through Christ because He alone could triumph over the depths of our darkness and depravity. In a recent conversation, a friend made the point that, as deep as our grief and sin may go, the Gospel goes deeper. Though drought and darkness and despair may weather our earthly lives and beat away at our well being, God is able to prune and grow our roots even deeper through such suffering.
Another passage I read this morning was from Psalm 78. As the author is giving a summary of God’s faithfulness to Israel despite their relentless rebellion, he says in verse 34, “When He killed them, they sought Him; they repented and sought God earnestly.” How often do we despise the devastation that God uses to bring us back to Him? Just as a loving parent would discipline their disobedient child for the child’s good, God disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6). He slays our natural man that we may live as the new man that has been made alive in His Spirit (Rom. 8:9-10). He performs His surgery upon our hearts with perfect precision, not cutting more than is necessary, but not withholding His blade when it is especially painful. He works all things for His glory and our good. And I know, when your soul is in agony and it feels like there is no possible way you can continue under the massive weight that the sorrows of this world bring upon you, such truth is hard to hear and believe. But what other hope do we have apart from His Word? His Word and His truth are our only hope. His sword slices into the deepest wounds (Heb. 4:12); His scalpel steadily severs sin from our souls… but only in order that He may render us whole in the end.
I don’t know what the end of my life will look like or when it will come. If I’m being honest, I don’t want to live 50 more years on this earth. I want to be with the Lord as soon as I can be with Him. But I know that, for as long as He wills my life to last, He will provide enough grace to sustain its lasting.
From the moment I was born, I began to die. I have been dying ever since. Yet long before my life was formed, Christ redeemed every moment of my fallen existence by shedding His blood on my behalf.
Surely, nothing I suffer in this life, none of the hardships and the heartache, not even the misery of my transience is greater than what Christ endured.
We will never be asked to bear a burden greater than the one our High Priest bore on His cross. We can trust that the same God who strengthened our Savior to persevere through the darkest night will deliver us from the trying tension and turmoil of this life in due time.