Cornered by Grace


062716_2011_Corneredfor1.jpgDo you remember in the movie, The Two Towers when we first meet Frodo and Sam? They are miserable and lost, stuck in the outskirts of Mordor. They knew what they were supposed to do, they knew where they needed to go to do it. But they did not know the way. All the people that they had been travelling with who knew the way were no longer with them. And Gandalf the wizard, whose help and leadership they had depended on the most, had fallen to his death (or so they thought) saving them from a Balrog at the bridge of Khazad-dûm. They found themselves going in circles, unable to find the right path that would lead them out of the mountains. It was dark, dank, strange, and lonely. It seemed hopeless.

The picture of this slide I think represents what we are told the Christian life is going to be like.

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A pleasant trek through fields and mountains. We sing things like, “Every day with You Lord is better than the day before.” And as long as things are going well we are happy to follow God through the pastel-rainbow-road towards the mountain of the Lord.

And then…BAM!

 

 

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Just like that you realize that you are in a very different place.

The color is gone!

The joy is gone!

Everything familiar is gone!

And like Gandalf, God seems nowhere to be found—just when you need Him most!

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever found yourself in places where you felt spiritually frustrated, lost, or abandoned? Times it seems like God is distant, quiet, and sometimes disturbingly so?

Can I be honest with you? There are times I feel like that.

Sometimes we find ourselves asking questions like:

“Why did God bring me here?”

“Why did God leave me here?”

“How come He isn’t speaking to me?”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Why is my faith so weak?”

One of the reasons this might be, is that we have somewhere along the way gotten some ideas in our heads about what Christianity is that aren’t exactly true.

Ideas like this for example: “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Ever hear that? I’ve grown to loathe that saying. What bugs me about it is that it implies that I should be able to handle whatever happens because God would not give me more than I can deal with at any given moment.

I’m going to come right out and say it: that is a lie!

If I have been learning anything, it is that God loves to give me more than I can handle! Sometimes way more! I have a number of problems on my plate right now, any one of which would be more than enough to handle in addition to the “normal everyday” headaches and heartaches of being a home owner, husband, father, and the academic challenges of working on a PhD thesis. I don’t share this to complain, gripe, whine, or boast. I am not doing any of those things. I share it so that you know I am not making some ethereal or theoretical proposition when I say that I have been learning that God gives me more than I can handle.

I have been learning that while God certainly grows me through the things I can handle, He tends to favor working in a much deeper fashion through things I can’t handle. The former grows my ability to love, lead, and serve others. The later grows humility, faith, and dependence on God.

I have been learning that the more you grow and mature in your ability to love, and lead, and serve others, the more necessary it becomes to be humble, to live by faith, and to depend on God. But the truth is, the more we trust in ourselves and our own abilities, the less we tend to look to God and His direction and leadership. What I have been learning is that God is not interested in making me feel capable, He is interested in showing me that He is capable.

This is the lesson of Psalm 13:1-6 (NIV):

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.

There are no details about what brought this on. All we know is that David is in a bad way, and has been for some time. This wasn’t a bad day. It wasn’t a bad week. This was chronic. It had been going long enough and had brought him low enough for him to say three times, How long, Lord?

In verses 1-2, David expresses how he feels. He doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t water it down or sugar-coat anything. He is honest, raw, and transparent. He feels forgotten. Sorrow and grief fill his heart. He feels defeated. And he sees no way out for himself.

In verses 3-4, we find that David’s concerns and fears have driven him to beg God for relief. He acknowledges that only God can save him. If God does not hear him and respond, he’s done! David knows that he is not enough. If God doesn’t save him he’s sunk!

In the final stanza of verses 5-6, David recommits his heart to trusting God’s unfailing love for him. David knows in his head that God heard him and that God loves him, even if he doesn’t feel it in his heart like he used to or wants to, and even though he can’t see it clearly in his present circumstances. His faith is not blind, it is built on his personal experience of how God had been faithful to him in the past.

If you have never experienced such a dark night of the soul, Psalm 13 can seem confusing, contradicting, and confounding. What happened to the man after God’s own heart? This doesn’t sound like the same person who shouted down Goliath! This is the king to whom all future kings in Jerusalem were compared? How does this fit with verses like:

Joshua 1:9 (NIV), Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV), “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Philippians 4:13 (NLT), For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

But if you have had such a dark night of the soul, if you have ever come to a place where your creed does not line up with your experience, if you have felt spiritually numb and lost in the wilderness of life, this Psalm is very comforting.

The fact that this psalm is here tells us that:

These times are not foreign to the Christian life. When we find ourselves talking like David or when we hear others talking like David is in this Psalm, we do not need to be surprised, or shocked, or taken aback. This Psalm lets us know that there were times that David felt that way, so we don’t need to be surprised if there are times we feel that way.

It reminds us that David was not saved because he was faithful, he was saved because of grace! David’s faith faltered at times. He questioned God’s wisdom. He was miffed at why God allowed him to be cornered so hopelessly by his circumstances.

It teaches us that living by faith and not by sight is hard. It is one thing to be faithful and obedient when things are going well, when we show ourselves to be enough to handle this or that challenge. But it is another thing to be faithful and obedient when things are going backwards. David had to commit himself to that and to trust that God’s grace and love for him would lead to his deliverance, even when he saw no way out.

What I have been learning is that God’s plan for us includes bringing us into places where we quickly realize that we don’t have what it takes; places where we realize that we don’t have the wisdom, the strength, the resources, the confidence, the man power, the ability, or the finances. He loves taking me to places like that anyway, and I don’t think it’s because I’m “just that special.” He does this because God wants us to see how trustworthy and faithful He is. He is not interested in making me feel like I am enough or that I have what it takes. He wants me to come to the opposite conclusion, that He is enough. God is not interested in making us feel capable. He is interested in helping us see that He is capable.

Life is really about learning two lessons, both of which are at the center of Psalm 13.

The first lesson is this: You are not—and were never meant to be—enough.

Whenever I share this with people one of two things happens: Some people respond with a huge sigh of relief, because they know they were not enough but didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be enough. And now that they know they aren’t supposed to be enough, they don’t have to keep trying to be something they are not.

Other people respond with shocked disbelief, because they want to be enough, they have been striving to be enough, and have been working their whole life to be enough, and have been trying to convince people that they are enough.

If you are trying to be enough, I’m here to tell you that you can stop. I’m here to tell you that you are not. You’re not going to be enough for your wife, you’re not going to be enough for your husband, you’re not going to be enough for your kids, or for your parents; you are not going to be enough at work, or for your friends, or for anyone.

Abraham wasn’t enough. Moses wasn’t enough. David wasn’t enough. Even Job wasn’t enough, and God said something of him he never said about anyone else in the whole Bible, There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil (Job 1:8, NIV).

Being a pastor, people come to me asking for help in finding what God’s will is for them concerning this or that. I can’t always help the way they want. But I know something of God’s will for everyone here. It is not God’s will for you to be enough. To the contrary, He is going to lead you through a multitude of experiences to show you that you are not. If you’re trying to be enough then you are trying to take God’s place.

Once you start learning the first lesson, God will start teaching you the second, and that is that in Jesus, you will always have enough.

We don’t like to think that the dark valleys and bogs of suffering that beset us in life are places that God wants us to be in. It is not wrong to pray for God to spare us or save us from these times. David did in this Psalm…even Jesus asked to be spared what was going to happen to Him in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39).

This Psalm teaches us that sometimes we are supposed to go through the valley instead of avoiding it. You see, the fact is that the only way you can be learning that you are not enough and that Jesus is enough is to bring us to people, problems, and places that make it abundantly clear that we are not enough, and that if God does not come to the rescue, we are sunk!

I am reminded of Isiah 43:1-2 (NIV),

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

God does not promise that we will never suffer from floods, or the pull of riptides, or be caught up in the flames. He does promise that He will be with us in them, and that He will see us through them. And in doing so, He will show us that He is always enough.

That is never easy. It is hard to trust that God will provide and protect, and save in the midst of forces, circumstances, and even evil that we cannot control and do not even understand. Our need to survive often trumps our faith in these times, and we draw our swords and attempt to fight our way out like Peter did when the soldiers came to take Jesus away.

Jesus tells us to trust Him and His Father and commit ourselves to His love and care. If the Father could be trusted to lead Jesus to the cross and to the grave and still not lose Him, is there anything that we cannot trust God to bring us through? No, we may not have all the answers—indeed we may be baffled as to the purpose of things—but this passage lets us see why we can trust God to be our eyes when we cannot see, and why we can trust His love when we do not understand.

What I have been learning from all this is that I don’t have to wonder if I am enough for my wife, my kids, my friends, my church, or even for God. The answer is that I am not. And I am not supposed to be. Life’s first big lesson is learning that you were never meant to be enough. Life’s second big lesson is to be learning that Jesus is enough, and when you have Him you no longer lack anything.

Because of Jesus I don’t have to worry about being enough for God the Father. Jesus took care of that at the cross. He did what I was not capable of, living a life that fully pleased the Father, and dying a death that fully satisfied the Father’s justice for my sin. I don’t need to worry about where I stand with Him. In Jesus, I am enough.

I don’t have to worry about being enough for anyone. They are not my audience or my judge, my heavenly Father is. He is my audience of One. Because of Jesus I have been freed from the idea that my self-worth is the culmination of my performance + the opinion of others. My worth is in being a son of God because of Jesus. And because of Jesus, God is pleased with me, I am precious to Him and dearly loved.

I don’t have to worry about not being enough to handle any problem, challenge, or heartache that comes my way, because Jesus has promised to provide all His wisdom, strength, resources, confidence, man power, ability, and finances to meet whatever need I might have. And He is not short on any of those things. When I get to the other side of these challenges, people know that it wasn’t me—because I’m not that good! God gets the glory. I get the joy of seeing God show time and time again that He is enough.

This side of the ground two things are true: 1). you will always have problems, and 2). when you are done with the problems you have you will find them exchanged with new problems! That doesn’t change when you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Becoming a Christian will not make your problems go away. In fact, they might get worse! But you will never need to worry about being enough again (you may worry, but you don’t need to worry). Because in Christ, with Christ, through Christ, you will always have enough, because He is enough.

20 thoughts on “Cornered by Grace

          1. Lol! Well then, it is a good job that conviction of sin is the Spirit’s work isn’t it? We will just need to pray and wait for Him in make that clear to her.

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  1. Oh, man, is this terrific. Need this right now, thank you so much! During one particular dark season, I asked, “how long, Lord” to which I got the prompt reply, “As long as it takes….” OUCH. “David recommits his heart to trusting God’s unfailing love for him,” resonated with my heart also. Terrific all the way through. Thank you for sending me this link!!

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      1. Thank you, Dan! Dawn gave me a link to your post, too! ‘Appreciate your honesty, humility, wisdom, and thought-provoking statements such as these: “God is not interested in making me feel capable, He is interested in showing me that He is capable.” “Living by faith and not by sight is hard” (contrary to what some Christians will try to tell us!). “If the Father could be trusted to lead Jesus to the cross and to the grave and still not lose Him, is there anything that we cannot trust God to bring us through?” (SO true, yet easy to overlook!) I pray God’s blessing, Dan, on your family, ministry, and doctoral work. (My husband was also a pastor–for forty years; we retired two years ago.) Thank you for becoming a follower of my blog, From the Inside Out. When you’re able to stop by, I pray you’ll find the posts meaningful!

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        1. Absolutely! I am looking forward to doing so. And thank you so much for the encouragement. Also it was great to have my thoughts affirmed in your post. I am glad I am not the only one who has been learning this! Lol!

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