Ever heard the term “dark night of the soul?” I hate to be the one to burst the bubble here but the poem written by John of the Cross was NOT about difficulties in life. However, we have taken it to mean that over time. More recently I’ve referred to this idea of hard times and emotional turmoil as being in “a dark place.”
If you’ve been keeping up with my family and I on social media or my blog, you know we’ve been in a dark place now for a bit. About three months now to be precise. I won’t belabor the point but we’re kinda hanging out in the breeze, kinda dangling and wondering what’s next.
Along with these dark places that we often find ourselves in, doubt becomes a daily companion. Oh, I don’t want that to be true but it is. I am doubting things I once didn’t and having feelings of regret for decisions made.
I got up early this morning to read God’s Word and pray. I’ve found that I crave that now more than ever. Since I came to Jesus in faith 12 years ago, I’ve always desired the Word and prayer. But it’s different now.
There’s desperation to my need now. I feel like I have to have it to survive. And, if I’m being honest, there are moments when I still don’t know if I will. This morning was one of those moments. I’ve been reading through Matthew’s gospel really slowly ‘cause I wanna soak in Jesus. I want to feel the texture of his words and see the smile on his face, watch the tears roll down his cheeks, hear his laughter and feel his pain. So I’m going slowly.
This morning I was reading in chapter 7, verses 7-11. Here is what Jesus said,
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
I sat back and looked up…by the way, why do you do that when we pray? The Spirit is present inside us and the Father is everywhere so why do we look up? I digress.
So I read this text this morning and, when I prayed, here is what I said to him, “I don’t believe you. I’ve been asking and seeking and knocking and I haven’t received and I haven’t found and the doors aren’t opening. What good gifts have you given me?! You’ve taken away our financial stability and my calling in ministry, you’ve given us sleepless nights and tears and fear. I don’t believe you.”
And then I stopped because I became afraid. What if God became angry and punished me for what I had just said? I mean, in my mind, he already was punishing me for something. But I had to be honest with him and so I said again, “I don’t believe you. I want to but I just don’t. I’m sorry.”
I’ve been fighting back tears all day because of this. How can I not believe God’s promises to me in his Word? I talked to a couple of men I trust who are pastors about this and even cried a bit. I said to them, “I just don’t believe that right now. I know I should but I don’t. I mean, Jesus is supposed to be enough but today, he’s just not.” Both of these men listened and said, “I know. I don’t know how to tell you that he will bring you through it but he will.” Neither of them judged me, neither of them scolded me for my stated unbelief.
And then I was eating lunch, sitting at our dining table, chewing a ham sandwich and trying not to cry. And Jesus spoke. Not in like an audible voice but he showed me an image of him hanging on the cross crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It was all I could do to hold it together. But I cried when I was writing this because Jesus had finally spoken. In that moment he, in effect, said to me, “You are not alone in how you feel. I have felt forsaken. I have felt abandoned. You are not alone.”
I feel like maybe there are some of you who need to hear this today. I feel like maybe there are some pastors who need to hear this today. You are not alone in your dark place. I know you have doubts and I know there are moments when you say to our Father, “I don’t believe you.” I want you to know, whoever you are reading this, that he’s not mad at you for your unbelief in your dark places. He’s not mad at you when you doubt. He’s not mad at you when you cry out to him, “Why have you forsaken me?”
The only answer I can give you is that Jesus sees. Jesus knows your pain; he has been there. Jesus knows your doubt, for even he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?”
You are not alone.
Jesus is with you. Hold on to him, dear ones. Hold on to him; Cry if you will, scream if you must, rage at the pain. It’s okay to feel this way. But hold on to Jesus in that dark place. He has been there and He is with you. Hold on to Jesus.
Hold on to Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Something remarkable happened this last Sunday. But before I get to that, we need to talk about the past a little. Background is important in stories.
As many of you know (or don’t) I was the pastor of a small church here in Nashville for the last year. We were around 40, give or take a few and depending on the Sunday. It was also a congregation in need of some change. I came in as their pastor knowing that. So, during the push for change, God granted a vision of what we could be. I could see it as clear as I see this computer screen I’m looking at right now.
The vision caused conflict and exposed sin. On both sides of the issue, mine included. I really hadn’t seen this until the last three days. Up until this point, I had placed the lion’s share of the blame for the church falling apart on the members. In my heart, I blamed them for not submitting to their pastor and following the vision I believed God had for the church. For the record, I still believe in that vision. I still believe that is what God truly wanted for this church.
But I got in the way.
Let’s go back for a second to something I said in the beginning. Actually it was a word I used. The word: Push.
I’m kind of a bull in a china shop for the most part. When I see something, I go for it. I’m all in, all gas pedal all the time. My wife continually tells me to slow down. There have been times (maybe like once) that I’ve listened to her. But if I’m being honest, it’s rare that I heed counsel like that. It’s not because I’m trying to be a jerk. I believe in the rightness of what I’m trying to do. Leaders should be that way, right? Convinced of the vision and passionate to see it come to fruition.
But then I read the gospels. I’m in the gospel of Matthew right now and moving really slowly and I’m struck by Jesus.
His temperament, his care, his pace, his patience with his knucklehead disciples, his tenderness toward the hurting, his shepherding of the people, his harsh words for those who thought they had stuff figured out, his humility.
And I realize that I don’t, for the most part, possess most of these traits. My temperament has been sketchy at times, my pace frenetic, my patience lacking, lacking tenderness and kindness at times and above all, lacking humility.
I am struck by Jesus and my desperate need for him.
I’m reading Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Church, right now. I read a chapter this morning that just owned me. In this chapter, Chan talks about those who are pastors and what they should be like and he said something that just crushed me.
“It is very easy to see people as projects that you want to fix rather than children you deeply love.”
When I read this sentence, the Holy Spirit just absolutely thumped me. Like when you get kicked in the head thumped. I was overwhelmed with conviction.
My pride had done this. I had seen the brothers and sisters of this church as projects to be fixed rather than children to be loved. Oh the devastation that our sin brings, that my pride and impatience has brought!
Which brings me back to Sunday. My family and I have been visiting churches, looking for a home since our church stopped meeting together. This last Sunday we went to a local Anglican church to worship. When we walked in to the sanctuary, there sat three of the families from our former church. It instantly felt weird and tight and tense. We even sat next to them, which was doubly weird and a little painful.
It came time to take the Supper. As my family and I were walking forward, I felt an arm go around my shoulders and looked up to see one of the guys who had been an elder. He asked to speak with me before we took the Supper. He confessed to me his own bitterness toward me and asked my forgiveness. Of course, I forgave him. Then he asked, “May I take the Supper with you?” I was struck by the humility of that. He asked if he could receive the Supper with me. We knelt at the altar and he put his arm around me. The priest came to both of us with a smile on his face, put the bread in our hands and said, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.” Arm in arm, we ate the bread in silence. Then the cup, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness of sin.” And we drank. As we were walking back to our seats, my brother said to me, “This is my favorite Lord’s Supper ever.”
And I was struck by something. It was sin that had led us to our division. Sure, I had been sinned against and wronged but I had sinned and done wrong. I had been prideful, looking at my fellow believers as projects rather than children. I had been hurtful in my pushing for change. I had not cared for them as a pastor should. This brother had shown much more humility in that moment, much more kindness than I had shown.
And I learned something about the grace of God.
Coming to the Table with those how have wronged you or those whom you have wronged is at once both painful and healing. Jesus’ body was broken, his blood poured out for their sin against you and your sin against them. His wounds have healed us, even from our own divisions…if we will but trust in him. If this is where you are today, I beg of you to turn to his mercy.
The remarkable thing is that Jesus has invited those of us who have wounded him to his Table. This is the staggering, unbelievable beauty of God’s grace; that those of us who have hammered the nails and betrayed him by our pride and sin have been invited to feast on the very One we have crucified. Oh what joy is ours in Christ Jesus!
Come behold the wondrous mystery of Christ our King, crucified for our sin, raised to life so that we may know the love of the Father!
Soli Deo Gloria!