Tension

Life has been strange lately.

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).


Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Verbal Camouflage

Verbal camouflage: the art of saying enough to blend in but not enough to stand out from any conversation where you don’t know the subject matter well.

I like to think I’m pretty well versed in this type of speech. For example, I know just enough about sports to blend into an average conversation. With my limited arsenal of roughly one to five facts or anecdotes per popular sport, I can sort of follow a conversation, insert a comment when relevant, and make it through the discussion without my ignorance showing too clearly. As a bonus, if I can maintain my cover long enough, I can sometimes pick up an additional bit of info I can use in a later conversation. If all goes well, nobody knows how little I actually understand.

Verbal camouflage works for many subjects: sports, coffee, fashion, politics, music, internet controversies, etc. The practice can work in at least two ways. The first way is the way of humility. Stay silent, listen well, and learn. The goal here isn’t to appear more knowledgeable or to hide our true selves (most of my friends recognize how little I know about most things). Rather, the goal is to learn without distracting from ongoing conversations.

The second way is the way of pride. Here, we try to share what we know in order to look better in the eyes of those around us. We attempt to bluff our way to acceptance, hiding our weakness behind a mask of knowledge. Maybe we’re afraid our ignorance would deny us friends or would keep us from the circles we want to inhabit. Maybe we’re just insecure with our limits. For whatever reason, however, we choose talking over listening, assuming rather than learning. Sadly, we can sometimes get away with it. Sadder still, we sometimes try this approach with God.

I’m learning that we can’t fake things with him, though. I may know the right words to say to convince a friend I’m doing alright. I might be able to fake my way through a conversation about spirituality. But I can’t do such things with God. He knows my heart better than I do. He sees my weakness, my ignorance, my pride, my insecurity. He sees where I’m falling short in my love and my obedience. He sees it all. And while I may be able to hide from others, I can’t hide from him. If I sing about surrender or pray about dependence, he knows whether or not I really mean it.

Thankfully, God gives mercy and grace in great abundance. He reveals my ignorance, my weakness, and my need of him, and he meets me with instruction, strength, and help. He disciplines me for my good, convicting me of sinful ways and leading me in righteous ways. He provides, protects, and keeps his promises. I am weak. He is strong.

I’m trying to be more open before him, more sensitive to his Spirit, more humble in my walk. I’m beginning to learn, slowly, where before I would assume knowledge and speak hastily. I’m beginning to grow, slowly, as I learn to trust him more. I’m beginning to operate with a better understanding of my limits, looking to him for help. I’m not good at any of these things, but, by his grace, I think I’m getting better. And I pray he is pleased with me.


Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Weakness

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I do not want this weakness anymore,
This want of strength, this will so rife with lack.
I tire of always falling further back,
Forgetting truths I knew just days before.
Corruption keeps its hold upon my core,
Each fault of mine another little crack,
Each inability a grave attack
In this, the never ending inner war.
But at the end of my ability,
Your grace, sufficient for my ev’ry need,
Reminds me of the testifying host
Of those who grasp their own futility
And trust instead your ev’ry word and deed,
So trials become their joy, the cross their boast.


Photo by Vlad Kutepov on Unsplash

Limits

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I cannot do it all today.
I cannot do it all.
In spite of what I think or say,
I still will fail and fall.
But time will ever slip away
And stress will foster disarray,
And so I cannot help but pray,
For I am very small.
Yet in my weakness, you display
Your holy wherewithal
To keep me on the narrow way.


Photo by Vlad Kutepov on Unsplash

Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

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Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7

Have you ever tried to stop leaning on your own understanding? It isn’t like avoiding other temptations. In many situations, you can avoid giving into temptation by avoiding the object upon which your temptation fixates. When tempted to overeat, you can set limits for yourself and avoid keeping food nearby. When tempted to look at things you know you shouldn’t look at online, you can set up content filters on your devices. But how do you avoid leaning on your own understanding when you can’t avoid your mind or heart?

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Between the Promise and the Fulfillment

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Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:1-3

Abram received an incredible promise from God, one that would affect not just his own family but families for generations to come. His offspring (as yet unseen) would become a people who would one day introduce the Savior to the world. Through Abram, all people would be blessed.

And Abram trusted God. “And he went out,” as the author of Hebrews writes, “not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). We remember Abram as a man of great faith, and rightly so. Abram’s faith becomes a key component of Paul’s argument in Romans, showing righteousness to be counted to people on the basis of God’s promise rather than on the basis of human accomplishment (Romans 4). Abram sets a positive example for us in many respects. But we would do well to remember that he remains a human like us.

Just a few verses later, we see him seemingly forget the promises of God. When he and his wife entered Egypt, he feared that the Egyptians would recognize his wife’s beauty and would kill him to have her, so he devised a lie. Though God promised to bless him, to make him a great nation, and to lead him, Abram seemed to forget such promises in the face of danger. Between the promise and the fulfillment stood a period of testing, a time when fear entered the picture and challenged the faith of the servant.

Abram’s story here isn’t unique. He’d be tested again, both in the waiting between the promise of Isaac and Isaac’s birth as well as in the call to sacrifice Isaac, the child of promise, on the mountain in Moriah. And Abram isn’t alone in his experiences. The people of Israel (descendants of Abram) react in terror at the approach of the Egyptian army after being saved by God from slavery through mighty deeds which show Egypt to be powerless before the Almighty. Elijah despairs at Jezebel’s threats almost immediately after watching God prove himself as sovereign over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18-19). Throughout Scripture, God’s people see him move, hear his promises, and then tremble before temporary challenges.

We aren’t that different from them. We too have promises of God. He promises to provide for our needs as we seek first his kingdom and righteousness, leaving us no reason to worry (Matthew 6:25-34). “I am with you always,” says Jesus, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Further, we know that nothing, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). We can trust that “he who began a good work in you will bring it completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We can count our trials as joy because God is using them for our growth, and we can ask God for wisdom in faith that he will give it (James 1:2-8). We know he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). We know he forgives us (1 John 1:9).

We have all these promises and more in the Bible, truths recorded for our faith. And though some promises are for the present moment, many pertain to the future, to the enduring hold of God upon his people. This means that we don’t always see how he’ll fulfill his promises to us, and we can be tempted to forget the unseen God before seen threats. We fear for our safety when we observe the dangers around us. We worry in the face of uncertainties. We fret when we feel our weaknesses. In short, we struggle to live in faith in spite of the ways we’ve seen God move.

I don’t do this well. I doubt far more often than I trust. Trials tend to show my weakness of faith rather than my strength. But I want to get better at this. God is trustworthy, and he deserves more credit than we often give him. So I pray that we would fear and love him more than we fear and love anything else. I pray our certainty of his goodness would remain in every circumstance. And I pray that as we walk between the promise and the fulfillment, we would walk by faith and not by sight. May he be pleased by our faith in him.


Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Thank to Richard for his suggestions for points in today’s post.