Let now the hard soil of our souls be tilled, And let us not resist the needed change. Let not another be unjustly killed. Let what is common now become most strange. Lord, show us our responsibility And lead us in compassion. Let the cries For justice not end in futility But further freedom as our pray’rs arise. Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak, And slow to anger with no room for sin. Let those with power learn to live as meek, And let this lifelong journey now begin. Teach us to meet all souls with love and grace As we now learn to welcome and embrace.
Over the last number of months, I’ve met a strange combination of events that have produced a state of tension within my soul. On one hand, I’ve faced more disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement than I can remember facing before in life. My plans and God’s plans for me did not agree, and I wrestled long and hard (and still do) to discern what faithfulness looks like for me at this time. The season has been uncomfortable, embarrassing, and isolating.
On the other hand, I’ve seen fruit from the steady plodding of previous months and years. I received a Master of Theology, marking roughly the mid point of my pursuit of a PhD. I passed the one-thousand mile mark on an app that keeps track of my running. I’ve finished reading books I set aside months ago. I’ve made progress on some new projects I’m excited about. I’ve been encouraged. The season has brought affirmation, support, and hope.
Seeing both types of experiences in the same season confuses me a bit. One moment, I feel like I can’t do anything right; the next moment, I’m affirmed in the work I’m doing. One day, I feel lost; the next day, I feel content and secure. I feel hopeless and hopeful, lost and found, faithless and faithful. I’m learning to rely on friends while worrying that I annoy them with my needs. I’m learning to boast in my weaknesses while wishing I could grow out of them. I feel a bit like a living paradox.
During this season, some biblical passages have come to life in fresh ways. The tension between suffering and steadfastness, between death and life, at play in 2 Corinthians 4 holds new meaning as I’m stretched by the trials and joys of this time. Hebrews 12 also challenges and comforts me as I see afresh how God is disciplining me, a painful process, to produce the fruit of righteousness, a pleasant result. I’m learning to hope in and rely upon the Lord, thinking often of him as my Shepherd (Psalm 23). I’m learning to long for the Lord, realizing in new ways my need of him (Psalm 63).
As I reflect on this season, I confess that I desire its end. I want to move past this present state, to learn the lesson and be done with the trials. I don’t enjoy living in the tension. But I recognize that lessons are learned through the testing of faith, that sanctification is accomplished through the long seasons of discipline. So I pray for faithfulness, for endurance, for hope that will not put me to shame. I pray for the Lord to accomplish his work in my life and for him to sustain me on the path he’s called me to walk. And I trust that he who began the work will not fail to complete it (Philippians 1:6).
Past midnight, pen in hand and mind awake. I write line one but draw a blank at two, Unsure of what to do. Imagination bade me start to make This brief display of words, but I must do Some work to see it through.
Not ev’ry line is given. Directed, but not driven.
But so it is with you. You work in us to will and work yet do Not call us to inaction. We must take Our crosses, follow you, And trust when we can’t see because you do. And you will ne’er forget, fail, nor forsake.
My throat grows tight as speech begins to falter.
I work in words but fight to share them now.
Why do things have to change?
My heart burns as I call to mind the Psalter.
Another break is teaching me to bow.
It strikes me now as strange:
Saved twenty years, and still I fear the altar.
I play the victim though I made the vow.
My feelings rearrange.
Grant me the faith to trust your hand to alter
What I desired and planned, and show me how
To praise in the exchange.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
I love the book of James. I’ve spent more time in this little book than I’ve spent in many other places in Scripture, and I’ve found that further study and meditation often leads to fresh discoveries within the text. Even after years of reading these same words, I keep finding new things. The discoveries aren’t always comforting, though.
Knowing God is growing you, refining
Faith in faithfulness, slowly aligning
Heart and head and habit with his beauty.
Deeming discipline a joyful duty.
Knowing too his work is far from finished,
That you are yet still must be diminished,
That the recognition of a reason
May not mark the closing of the season.
Each present heartache seems to be the worst.
Each test of faith feels fiercer than the last.
Unfounded fears lie shattered in the past,
Yet fear still strikes with strength as at the first.
You start to wonder if you might be cursed
To never have the faith of the steadfast.
You long for constancy but e’er contrast
Your faith with fear, fulfillment with more thirst.
Perhaps the moment’s pain does not intrude
Except to prove the possibility
Of suffering to serve a higher end.
The path of faithfulness does not preclude
The faltering and fallibility
But uses these to lead you to a friend.
Refining is taking place.
Desires, not weeds, just not yet in full bloom,
Push through the dry dirt only to be pruned
By the one gardener who never errs.
There is loss, but there is growth,
Strength from the stripping,
Life from death.
The breath I struggle to catch remains his,
For the work, the fruit, he desires.