CONTENT WITH THE MIRACLE
Psalm 37:7-9 NRSV
7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! 8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. 9 For the wicked shall be cut off; but those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land.
My little girl has a problem. She really wants this particular art set for Christmas. But from looking it up everywhere online she has determined that it is out of stock, so she knows she can’t have it. The more she thinks about this, the more upset she becomes. She moans out loud and writhes around on the couch holding her tablet device. “I really want it”, she says.
It’s that time of year for wanting and not knowing, not realizing her wishes. She asks me about it and of course I can’t answer any questions about Christmas gifts. I usually bow out of knowing what everyone is getting every year, because I don’t want to divulge anything and get myself into trouble. So I have to be hopelessly vague. “Honey, you just have to trust that your family has your wish list (it’s hanging in huge letters on a list that takes up half of the refrigerator) and knows what you want and will do the right thing.”
That answer does not satisfy this 11 year old. Ten minutes later she asks again, “Dad, can you look up this art set on your computer, please?” “No.” She no doubt feels like I don’t care, and that her wish will never be realized. I cannot say one way or the other whether her wish will come true. I have to wait with her for her miracle until Christmas Day. Yes, it is irritating. No, it is not the end of the world. I’m told that delayed gratification is a wonderful thing, and yes, when I think about it, that’s true.
My daughter is not the only one who has a problem with not knowing what’s coming. Life has too many surprises. Too many unknowns for my comfort. And all the speculation and longing and yearning doesn’t necessarily lead to hope, faith, or trust. It often leads to stress, fear, resentment and doubt. What good is there in not knowing outcomes?
We all have a longing for security and stability. We want to know that there will be a good return for our honest effort. Our text from Psalm 37 addresses our tendency to fret about outcomes. The people of God saw the way evil people prospered in their way. They were angry, bitter, fretful, and distracted from loving God. And then they were taught this song, which is part of our Christian canon. “Be still before the Lord. . . Wait patiently for Him. . . Refrain from Anger. . . . Forsake Wrath.”
I was really tested recently, as I am quite frequently. I want to share what the Lord spoke to me when I humbled myself before him and took the day to listen in prayer and really read his Word.
You see, I got hit with an avalanche of hurt all at the same time from different directions. I got so angry and fearful that I couldn’t see straight. I said out loud, “I’m so tired I can’t take it anymore. I feel like I’m going out of my mind.” I said, “If I show up tomorrow it will be a miracle”, so you are looking at a miracle today. Praise God. God spoke six truths to me:
1. I need the Lord’s LOVE for all my FEAR.
2. Read Psalm 37:8-9 and accept it.
3. I confessed my sin of ego, anger and faithlessness. I said, “Lord, as sick as I am, as hard as my heart has become, I repent and turn to you to fear your Name. I will no longer look to the left or the right, but I will look to You! Forgive me. Help me.
4. I told the Lord I was afraid of the immediate future and he led me to this quote from Karl Barth: “That which has happened once for all has the power of divine presence. . . The church’s recollection is its expectation.” I heard the Lord saying, “What I accomplished on the cross has not changed. You can expect life, love, hope, and a future. Rejoice!” “As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever!”
5. I told the Lord, “I will not give up my HOPE. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Have your way in me O Lord.”
6. Finally the Lord assured me that displacement is not failure, but Christian communion. I read this quote from the book Compassion: A reflection on the Christian Life, “It is in following our Displaced Lord that the Christian Community is formed.” In Philippians 2:1-11 we learn that Jesus emptied himself, was displaced himself, made vulnerable. He obeyed even in being mocked, beaten, ridiculed and crucified. Then the Lord gave him a name above every name! His displacement led to glory. When we suffer displacement, the death of reputation, the scorn of our peers, betrayal, misunderstanding for Christ’s sake, we are truly blessed. We are in the right fellowship.
One of my frequent complaints lately has been, “It is not fair that we absorb so much hostility in this place from all sides. I get it from those we serve, from friends, from fellow workers, and from the neighbors.” But nothing compares with the hostility within myself. In my unsurrendered self my ego becomes so large that I imagine life itself is a cosmic trap, an invitation to joy, that ends only in failure. That I am a failure. That to try is simply to become betrayed by the game. Then, with some help, I discover that all is Grace and that choosing not to love is not really an option. I need love. This is not all about me. I accept your Love, Jesus. Thank you.
There is much to loathe about poverty. Much to loathe about homelessness. But loathing the people instead of loving them only hurts myself. Yes, I freely confess that at times I come to resent the very people I’m called to love and serve. And what follows that is that I start loathing myself. When I speak out of the bitterness of my soul I learn that I’m not alone. And the people I want to run from begin praying for me and lifting me up. I have a friend who says that he went to Florida to retire and instead began his largest ministry with the homeless mentally ill ever.
In the Scriptures we have God’s example of patience, anger, and longing. Again and again where God seems angry, ready to destroy his people and start all over, he is actually using his people to intercede and find new mercies in the heart of God. Through all life’s changes the one constant is the new mercies of the Lord. And that is what Love looks like. It’s not syrupy sweet, it absorbs all of life’s brokenness and hostility and replaces it with Life and Faith.
Henri Nouwen, faced with his own mortality, wrote in his book, “Beyond the Mirror”: “In case I die, tell everyone that I feel an immense love for all the people I have come to know, also towards those with whom I live in conflict. Tell them not to feel anxious or guilty, but to let me go into the house of my Father and to trust that there, my communion with them will grow deeper and stronger. Tell them to celebrate with me and be grateful for all that God has given me.”
When I read Nouwen’s words from Jesus in this book, “Come, don’t be afraid. I love you”, I immediately began praying for people I have been resentful towards. I want them to know the love of Jesus. I want them to not be afraid. I want them in heaven too. This is the Grace of God. This is what it means to love my neighbor as myself. I must accept Jesus’ freedom from fear in order to truly be a neighbor. In order to offer hospitality I have to accept that the way I make my meal, my bed, my room is different than my neighbor’s way, but that God’s House has room enough for us all.
This is what the psalmist meant when he said, “those who wait for the Lord shall possess the land.” (Ps. 37:9) I give up my fretting and the Lord does the work of abolishing hatred, strife, bitterness. He has made his Peace in Christ. His word never returns void, does it?
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, *
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as rain and snow fall from the heavens *
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth, *
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word that goes forth from my mouth; *
it will not return to me empty;
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed, *
and prosper in that for which I sent it.”
You and I are only failures if Christ’s work wasn’t done on the cross. Christ won the victory on the cross and proved God’s goodness and faithfulness! If God is faithful then in Christ you and I are always a success.
Andrew Young, the civil rights activist who became the US Ambassador to the UN said, “I have found that when God calls anyone to a task, there is usually a larger plan of which any one person is only a small but significant part. The way is already prepared. There are problems and challenges to be faced, but these are often there to help us grow stronger. It’s as though we’re constantly tested and must prove ourselves worthy or at least able to bear the burdens of that particular responsibility.”
Sometimes the secret lies in letting go. Knowing that I can’t do it all, but that I can do a few things well, loving God and loving my neighbor through God’s Spirit. The task won’t be any less demanding for us, but God is no less able to use us.
In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelli Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote: “The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that “he has loved us first” (1 John 4:19) and that he alone “gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life. God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us.”
We have a heavenly Father who only gives good gifts to His children ( Matt. 7:11, James 1:17). He assures us in His word that He has won the victory in Christ (John 16:33) and that we have a future in a New Heavens and Earth (2 Peter 3:13) if we’ll only trust Him. In Christ He has broken into this world of ours and poured out His Spirit guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 1:22). It is no secret. This is the real meaning of Christmas. Jesus is victory incarnate! We celebrate that fact year round, not just on December 25. And God’s victory in Christ is our real Hope. We need not wrestle in longing, looking here or there for victory in different places. We can be still before the Lord, knowing that Christ has given us everything we need. We can be content with this day’s miracle and the joy of knowing He is our victory!