Pressing in, Pressing on...
For me, it is a stunningly clear memory…mostly because it was so painful. I was walking around the soccer field at Lincoln Christian University praying as hard as I’d prayed in many, many years. I’m not a genius, but I can usually see what’s coming down the road in regard to next steps during big changes. The truck coming at me was our imminent move to Texas. Did I feel a sense of God’s calling? Yes. Did I believe I was being obedient? I hoped so. But I knew that the housing market in Illinois was down. The recent refinancing (trying to do what had Dave Ramsey said), a new furnace and $5000 worth of plumbing was compounding the fact that my house was worth much less than when we had bought it.
So, in “faith,” I spent two hours stomping around praying as passionately and fervently as I knew how. Outside of a miracle, I was going to be more broke than ever before in my life. I prayed for miracles…miracles were what we needed.
We left for Texas with the house unsold. It did not sell for 10 months. My financial situation became dire. Miracles felt like mirages.
During that time our kids had to transition, and our medical bills skyrocketed. We had terrible health scares/diagnoses, and we had to pay apartment rent on top of our unsold mortgage. Things got tense. I felt so disappointed in God. I was hurt—deeply. Words were not enough to describe my disappointment. God is everywhere (Psalm 139 and Prov 15), and even though I had read this, I tried to avoid him and focused on getting through the season. My prayers changed for a long time during that season.
As I write this, years later, I’m embarrassed at the depth of my hurt and my childish reactions. Mentally, I can play the “you-should-consider-yourself-blessed” game with the best of them. I’ve been to the dark places of the world. Shoot, I’ve lived in some dark places. I KNOW the coping mechanisms: count your blessings; consider the lilies of the field etc. But I was crippled and disoriented by my context and my pain.
Pain In Our Hearts and Ears
It seems to me that our post-election cultural context is like that on a massive scale. If you read the news or social media people are freaking out. Some with joy, some with sorrow. Often there is rage that lets loose words that are horrifying in their scope—both for the victors and the politically defeated. Blame, accusations, and labels are flying around like debris in a tornado. Many people feel a sense of defeat right now. Others feel a rush of triumph. Regardless of which side you voted for, it is terribly painful to see the deep division in our nation. The pain in our hearts keeps our ears from hearing hope. It’s a complicated time to be a Christian leader.
Recently I was in my morning prayer/reading time, and I was praying about the whole situation. I have not written or posted anything about it because no matter what anyone says, they seem to fall into one of three categories: “Told you so” (nyah nyah), “The (x) bigots won and we’ll fight back”, or “everybody-relax-Jesus-still-is-in-charge.” None of those seem particularly helpful to me in getting us to engage more in the Kingdom of God.
As I read my Bible that day, I was asking for help for myself. My kind of work does not really fit this climate. I need wisdom… Think about it—my job is to help our church engage the immigrant, the refugee, the orphan and the “far-from-God.” Yet these are often the very groups we are afraid of and that are being used (by both sides) as pawns and fodder in the current debate. The very nature of what I do is to find and love the “other.” How on earth can this work right now? You can bank on the fact that I’m praying for wisdom.
As God does in response to a prayer for wisdom, I happened to be in Proverbs 15 and Luke 4. Proverbs 15:33 “The reverence of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.” (NASB). I was turning that phrase over when I turned to where Jesus was led out to the wilderness with the Devil. Every process the Devil used against Jesus just wrecks me: personal suffering (bread), capacity to change the world (all the kingdoms), and proving God (throw yourself off the temple). Now, likely you’ve all read those things before.
But I was struck by something about Jesus that I admire so much: When he was weak, when he was tempted, and when he had opportunity to (wrongly) change the world, he reverently pressed into God’s Presence and the Word. He used reverence for God as the anchor for everything else in His life.
You might be thinking, “Nice work Einstein…this little bit of teaching has been around a while now…way to go, Captain Obvious.” But (while that might be the case) what struck me was that in my worst times, I am the focus in my pain—and then I question God’s work in my life. I wonder why he doesn’t want me to be happy, healthy, rich, more influential etc. And I think that’s normal. In pain, I seem to have such a hard time hearing God. The pain numbs my hearing. But what Jesus did in the desert, that is so extraordinary to me, is that in pain, in weakness, in defeat, and ultimately in death, he pressed into God’s presence and promise REGARDLESS of the outcome. He trusted in the Father so profoundly that he was forever rooted in truth. Instead of Himself as the center, asking why God was not addressing His needs, Jesus pressed into a reverence for God as the center of everything—including his very reason for coming to earth.
So, during this climate of fear, rage, triumph and word-bombs being lobbed around, I am going to work harder at pressing in to God’s presence as I press on in His loving work. I’m asking for God to help me use HIM as my reference point instead of the cultural angst or how I’m feeling today. In His Presence and truth, I am in the exact spot I want and need to be in order to be obedient.
Being preachy here isn’t my point. People’s pain is real and it matters and I want to respond to that as lovingly as I can. But the God who prophesied Immanuel 700ish years before His birth is not surprised by today. And America isn’t the center of God’s activity or inaction. So, my delightful, complicated work of welcoming the stranger, the immigrant, and the unborn must go on. Our need to trust and preach God’s word co-exists with our task of feeding the hungry and loving the “other” and even our enemy. I need to continue to love people regardless of gender orientation or political stance while I lift up orthodoxy. We will press on to plant churches, to pack meals for orphans, to reach out to the refugees, the hungry and the broken in our midst! This work costs time, money, and emotion. Yet as we press into God, we can, “press on so that (we) may lay hold of that for which also (we were) laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”* Rhetoric is not what will convince a broken world of our love. Only the love of God, displayed in the power of God will do that.
Jesus returned from the desert full of the power of the Holy Spirit, and he began something that continues to change the world to this day. As we lean into trust, we rely upon that same Spirit to empower our work. Pray for me. Pray for all our church leaders. We need wisdom in this era…this work of mission leadership requires nothing but our best right now. I am praying for strength to press in and thereby press on. When God answers this prayer, I believe we are in for an amazing ride!
God, be our reference and give us the grace to revere You more than our own suffering, fear, or discomfort.
*Plural version of Philippians 3:12