Through Thorns and Waves

The painful sting of thorns is a part of this existence—even when working with the stunning beauty of roses. There is no way around it.

The heaving and crashing of waves affect the most sure of sea-going vessels and there’s not a technique for dismissing them. You can’t experience the wonder of the open ocean without being affected by them.

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I have found myself captivated with the haunting simplicity of a particular hymn. The melody was crafted by Jean Sibelius in his tribute to his homeland in a piece so appropriately identified as a tone poem called Finlandia.

The lyrics predate the music and were translated from German (written 1752) into English by Jane Borthwick in 1855.

This hymn is a discipline of self-talk. It is the urging of the mind to return to the soul-deep truth from which life so easily distracts.

I have been particularly enamored with Jadon Lavik’s reverent and hope-dripping rendition that I encourage you to pause and listen and meditate upon here:

Jadon Lavik, “Be Still, My Soul”

Did you see those powerful words?

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side

Bear patiently the cross of guilt and pain

Leave to your God to order and provide

In every change God faithful will remain

Be still, my soul, your best, your heavenly friend

Through thorns and waves leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul

It’s so rich—like cheesecake that demands you slow down and take small bites. The author reminds herself that God is on her side, that guilt and pain are a part of life in a broken world through which we must simply endure.

The urging to leave to God the burden of directing and providing because we know that what God requires God always provides. Because we know this, we can trust His faithfulness no matter what changes roll through our lives.

The assertion that God is, indeed, my best and heavenly friend is a realization to which many believers never acquiesce. But the testimony of Scripture bears out the assurance that, through the thorns of a fallen world and the waves of a sin-cursed journey, He will surely lead to the joyful end that He has promised.

It doesn’t make it not hurt. It doesn’t mean the journey will be smooth and easy and care-free.

It does mean that the destination is sure.

And in that we find rest. In that we can stop and just be still.

Be still, my soul.

 

Continuous Rinse

Stuff gets dirty. It’s inevitable. It’s a fact of life.

And it seems sometimes that, the more I get involved with people, the more messy it can get to serve and love and care for through the reality of this jacked up life.

It seems to me that you don’t walk with someone through addiction with genuine compassion without any temptation to the addiction – whether in the same issues or in alternate equivalents.

And even if it’s not the stuff you’re trying to help others deal with, the world is really like a cesspool of swirling mess. Unless you never look at people, you will see stuff and hear stuff and even touch stuff that is not good for your spiritual condition. It is inevitable.

But what do we do about it? Were the monks onto something when they moved off to the wilderness to close themselves off from society? Are we supposed to so insulate ourselves from the wickedness of society that we cannot be polluted by it?

Perhaps…

But wait…manipulation and fear and greed and perversion seem to be just as present in the isolationist cultures as they are in the world at large. What are we to do?

It’s a lot simpler than I think we may realize.

David taught us in his beautiful acrostic poem, Psalm 119, with a simple question and an even simpler answer:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to [God’s] word. (Ps. 119.9)

Maybe it’s time as followers of Jesus to deliberately increase our intake of God’s Word. It’s kind of funny (in a sad sort of way) that we wonder why we have a hard time figuring out what God is trying to tell us but we don’t have a steady diet of God’s Word. In fact, if we’re honest, we take in so much other stuff that we

In other words, it’s time to step into a continuous rinse of our lives by the power of the Scriptures.

How can you do that today? How can you stay under the stream that helps rinse away the inevitable crud of this world?

Maybe it’s as simple as listening to Scripture as you drive or choosing a passage to meditate on and memorize and looking back over it every hour. Maybe it’s as simple as setting a reminder on your phone to pause at regular intervals to take a bite of the Word.

The world is messy. We need a continuous rinse.

Bigger Hands

There are bigger hands at work here.

There is more to this than we can see.

As we travel on today and draw closer to our destination in the suburbs of Detroit, I know that there are a lot of parents and loved ones at home a little anxious about the admittedly dangerous reputation of the city we’re going to serve.

To be sure, the reputation comes from observable reality, but we’re not exactly street preaching on the legendary 8 Mile Road. But it’s a hard place. It’s a place with a lot of darkness and in desperate need of the penetrating light of the gospel of grace.

As we were making our final preparations for this adventure, a brother (thanks Steve!) shared this observation with me that has developed into this post.

He reminded me of one of my favorite accounts in the Scriptures—that of Elisha and his servant and a startling morning discovery. I encourage you to go and read it in 2 Kings 6.
The king of Syria had grown weary of his attack plans being fooled by someone warning his target, the king of Israel, of his plans. After searching his ranks for a spy, someone pointed out to him that there was a prophet of God that was warning the king of Israel of his evil plans. This dangerous king immediately sent an army to bring back that troublesome prophet, Elisha.

Elisha’s servant awoke early one morning and stepped outside to the terrifying sight of the entire city of Dothan surrounded by the Syrian army. Yes, the absurdity of sending an entire army after one prophet is significant, but the response of Elisha’s servant was understandable. He immediately did what most of us would do (and what some of us have indeed done when we thought about sending out kids to Detroit) – he freaked out.

Elisha, the prophet, who had a great and unique connection with God, said something strange to his servant:

He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6.16)

But as soon as he spoke these calming words to his servant, he prayed for him:

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” (2 Kinds 6.17a)

Then God answered… and WOW what an answer…

…So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6.17b)

I am convinced that there is a spiritual reality around us to which only God can open our eyes. There are too many instances in Scripture that point to such things for me to ignore it and I am just spiritually aware enough to know that my understanding is limited and utterly incapable of fully comprehending all that God is doing around us.

As my buddy Steve well observed, God did not need a fiery army to protect his servant. He provided such and revealed it to him and his servant for their sake, not His own.

The story is fascinating, but it carries on with God striking the Syrian army with blindness at Elisha’s request and Elisha leading the blinded enemy army that had been sent to capture him right down to the capital and the king of Israel.

The king of Israel, recognizing the opportunity, at least has the sense to ask the prophet if he should eliminate this threat to his kingdom. Elisha gives counter-intuitive counsel:

“Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” (2 Kings 6.22b)

You see, because of the intervening hand of God, the evil intended upon His servant Elisha and the people of Israel was turned away. The great result is seen in verse 23:

So he prepared for the them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into he land of Israel.

And so we come to a place that is not particularly hospitable to the gospel that we proclaim. We come to set before them the Bread of Life and the springs of living water. And we trust that, having come in obedience and desiring to serve in obedience, our God is with us. As the great worship song reminds us, the God of angel armies is right here by my side.

There are bigger hands at work here.

There is more to this than we can see.

Father, open our eyes to see Your hand at work… and let us join in.