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.

 

Sorrow Transformed

While it’s not a particularly encouraging thing to say, sorrow is inevitable. It’s a part of the human condition.

People die. Disease destroys. Violence terrifies. Agony ensues. Hurt happens.

Sorrows come in many shapes and forms and depths and terms. We may have moments of reprieve when the clouds of heartache are thinner or more sparse, but sorrow will come. We may even live for long periods of time without tasting the depths of these things that so many around us face, but it will find us.

Often it seems people get this idea that a follower of Christ somehow gets a pass on the sorrow of life, but Jesus never said anything of the sort. In fact, he said quite the opposite.

In John 16, we see Jesus teaching his followers about things to come. He didn’t tell them they were exempt from sorrow, but He does give some desperately needed perspective.

[Read John 16.16-24]

There are some strange things here, but let’s keep in mind what John’s over-arching purpose in recording this gospel record really was—to show that God really came here into the mess of this life to show Himself to us. With that in mind, we look at this passage and find a powerful promise of transforming sorrows.

Jesus had been telling His followers that His departure was imminent. They were filled with trepidation at this news. It did not in any way fit their expectations of what He had come to do.

He said that soon they would be unable to see Him. But then, some time after that, they would see Him again. They didn’t understand.

Jesus’ explanation was not one of sunshine and rainbows.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16.20)

Weep and lament? Really?

And to add insult to the injury, He promises that the world would rejoice at His followers’ suffering. He makes no bones about it, “You will be sorrowful.”

But did you see that last part of that verse? He promised that, “your sorrow will turn into joy.” Strange, isn’t it? How can that be?

He explains how.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16.21-22)

Whoa… that’s what I would call a truth bomb. While at first it doesn’t make sense that sorrow could somehow turn into joy, Jesus gives the perfect, almost universally familiar, illustration.

I’ve witnessed a few babies’ births. It’s one of the many reasons I very plainly own the fact that my wife is so very much tougher than me. She’s a superstar. But there’s no denying that it involves an intensity of pain and struggle that is unique and profound.

But Jesus was, of course, spot on in saying that, once the baby is born, the pain and struggle fade almost entirely out of mind because of the overwhelming flood of joy that comes with welcoming the precious child.

Jesus seems to be teaching us that the heartaches that we will experience in this world, despite how very real and painful and intense they may be at times, will fade out beyond recollection when the joy that is to come finally arrives.

Jesus goes on to say that, while He would not longer be there in person to ask, by His Spirit within us we could and must boldly approach the Father in His name and have confidence in His answers that would be for our good and for His glory. For, when we are genuinely filled with His Spirit, we will pray for the things that bring Him joy and fill us with purpose. We will seek what draws us and others nearer to Him.

The end of all of this reality is a great and glorious promise summed up in the final words of verse 24: “that your joy may be full.”

The sorrow of separation through the inevitable vale of death will be transformed into the joy of His everlasting presence.

The sorrow of disease wreaking havoc upon these bodies will be transformed in the wonder of a body made entirely new.

The sorrow in the ripples of the violence of this age will be transformed in the eternal, unbreakable reality of a peace beyond our understanding.

The sorrow of agony from fractured relationships will be transformed into unity with one another and oneness with and in Christ.

The sorrow resonating from the constant hurt in this broken world will be transformed as the last remaining tear is wiped from our eyes.

There’s no “get out of sorrows free” card, but there is a promise of sorrow transformed.

And, like the agony of labor pains, it will be worth it.

Even When You’re Eyeballs-Deep

Take a moment to look at this picture.

It’s full of glorious color.

It’s a testimony to the beauty of creation that renews over and over and over again.

It’s a testimony to the evergreen and its reflection of the faithfulness of our great God.

What you don’t see, however, is that is was taken standing next to a garbage dumpster.
Now, I didn’t climb into the dumpster to take the picture, but I could have.

I know a number of people right now that have kind of latched onto a phrase I used several weeks ago as I spoke of being overwhelmed with the mess of life. I described the feeling of being “eyeballs-deep in the mess” and it struck a chord with some folks. If you’ve ever been through a season when you couldn’t seem to see out over the mess, you know what I’m talking about.

Part of my function as a pastor is to help us see things more completely, to see the hand of God at work even when we don’t feel it or when we’re overwhelmed. I get to sit in the mess with people and try to draw attention to the beauty around us that is so easily overlooked.

We sang a song yesterday that expressed it beautifully with this simple lyric, “There’s beauty in my brokenness.” (Give it a listen here.)

You see, the life of faith—for all who have believed in Jesus—is filled with beauty. When things are difficult and painful and scary, there is still an abundance of wonder in the greatness of our God and the things that He has made.

John’s gospel account teaches us that everything that was made came through Jesus (John 1.1-3). But when Jesus came to earth, God was coming to us, stepping down into the mess of this life to show us the most wondrous thing of all—Himself.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1.14)

My friends, there is much beauty around you. Despite how clouded our vision may become with the weight of the mess of life, the beauty is still there. Regardless of how broken and battered our hearts may be, the beauty of this God who stepped into the mess of this broken world is still all around us.

I know that the mess is overwhelming sometimes. I know that it’s often hard to stand up under the weight of it all. I know that the pain is so much sometimes that you cannot see around it. But the beauty is there… even when you’re eyeballs-deep.

Look up. Look beyond the mess. See the glory of our great God on display all around you.

Father, help us today to see Your glory on display—even when we’re eyeballs-deep in the mess.