Such a View

We honeymooned on Maui.

It was late when we landed, nearly midnight by the time we loaded our suitcases into our rental car and set off on the 40 minute trek down a winding road to the piece of paradise we’d call home for the next week. The car headlights revealed rocks, palm trees and the yellow lines of the road as travelled down the unfamiliar route surrounded by thick darkness. Being in a new place, we inevitably got lost for about fifteen minutes. Prayers and frustration abounded – but thankfully our exit finally appeared and we found the condo tower.

I was exhausted, relieved and ready to go to sleep.

The next morning we decided to hop into the car and do some sightseeing. Retracing our steps towards the city, my jaw dropped. Like Dorothy opening the sepia-toned farmhouse door to reveal the technicolor land of Oz, our back-tracking drive held the most breathtaking views I’d ever laid eyes on.

As we drove the very same twisting highway in blackest night just hours before, we were oblivious to the stunning scenery that was there all along. But now we could see. Our highway ran along the coast, revealing small beaches and groves of trees in between vistas of wide open, sparkling green-blue ocean stretching out as far as the eye could see.

I had no idea that the darkness was hiding such beauty.

We live in a culture that prizes comfort and convenience regardless of the cost. Suffering is seen as unnecessary and pointless. But in my experience, my own suffering has often sent me sailing into the love of the Saviour who also suffered, knowing that He has already been through it all and stands in victory over sin and death.

Is it possible that the dark nights of our souls are the very things that Jesus uses to reveal His beauty to our hearts? I can’t pretend to understand why certain things happen. I’ve recently read through the book of Job and it’s unsettling to realize that God is God and I am not. After all Job went through, losing everything and having friends who constantly blamed him for his suffering, he stood firm and refused to curse God. He questioned the Lord and the Lord answered with “where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?”.

God revealed Himself in Job’s suffering. He showed His authority and sovereignty over all creation.

Job’s response to God is astounding. You’ll read it in Job 42:2-6 —

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Job remembered that God is God and he is not.

Consider that for a moment. Our ears can hear of God, but when we finally see Him, it’s a whole other thing.

We’re driving down the highway in utter darkness – and dawn breaks to reveal the majestic ocean view we’d been missing all along.

When Job saw God face to face, his reaction was to repent.

The suffering we are facing in our lives, the things that feel so difficult and unfair, the things that we can’t imagine anything good coming from – those things we desperately want to erase or undo – they are terrible. They are heartbreaking. They are the valley of the shadow of death. And they are also the places where God is present and moving. The places He is revealing Himself in unexpected and surprising ways. Through the most difficult seasons of our lives, we see His face.

I have long thought that we need a solid theology of suffering if we’re going to remain faithful to Christ in this sorrow-laden world. A popular version of Christianity teaches that suffering is exclusively a result of our sin and the devil. Another acknowledges it as a byproduct of a fallen world, with no real purpose or meaning other than to be patiently endured until it’s our turn to catch that train to Gloryland. Some feel that if they entertain the thought of suffering they will somehow bring it upon themselves, and others cannot reconcile the idea that God is good and bad things still happen.

But even in this uncomfortable topic, there is truth to be discovered.

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” (Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering)

Jesus, let that be true of me. Let me see Your face in those places that are so painful and difficult. You are my Redeemer. Thank You that Your Word reminds me of who You are!

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (Job 19:35)

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Help me not to waste the hard times, Lord. Give me such a view of You that it lifts my soul out of the pit of despair and wraps me in the arms of the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Ocean View

Our ocean view (Maui)

Crayons

I like a fresh box of crayons that still have the pointy tips. It drives me nuts when the kids peel the wrapper off and you can’t see what colour the crayon is until you scratch it across some scrap paper. Is it blue? Is it purple? I can’t tell! And when the new crayons get spilled out onto the table and jammed back in the box in a haphazard way, my lip curls and my nose wrinkles. I bite my tongue because I know they’re just crayons after all. But still – I’d rather have a brand new box.

I suppose you could say I like things a certain way. In fact, I struggle with seeing the value in some things if they aren’t as I would like them to be.

The other day one of the kids found a brand new box of crayons and carefully opened it up to reveal all the beautiful colours inside. She carefully made her selection and began to create something all her own on a clean sheet of white paper.

For a few days, the crayon box stayed intact. Each one was returned to its “spot” and everything was wonderful. The kids spent hours drawing pictures and writing lists and showing each other what they made. As their enthusiasm grew, their care diminished and it wasn’t long before things in the box started to look a bit disorganized and overfull. A few crayons stuck out of the top like soldiers and the little boxes that kept the crayons from falling over were bulging with a mix of greens and purples, reds and blues, oranges, pinks and earthen tones.

A few crayons rolled onto the floor and got stepped on. One or two snapped in the hands of eager artists. A few more were worn down, “sharpened” and then worn down again from use. Because it had become more difficult to find the exact color they were looking for, someone dumped the entire box on the table and left it there, revealing the broken ones that been shoved down into the bottom of the box.

As I walked past the crayon mess, something struck me:  the broken crayons were right in there with the others, ready to make something beautiful.

Broken crayons still colour.

Things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.

I’m finding this to be a recurrent lesson in my life. Rarely do things turn out perfectly, but aren’t they still so beautiful? In a different way, yes. But still incredible to behold.

Perhaps your life looks different that you hoped. Maybe your original plans have shifted thanks to circumstances or choices, whether yours or someone else’s. There’s so much grief and disappointment to be processed as we live in the middle of imperfection, but it only makes me hunger for Jesus more. He is so beautiful! He is so perfect. He never fails and He always tenderly lifts us out of the mire. Because of Him, there is always something incredible happening that we could never have expected or predicted.

I am constantly amazed at how He redeems the broken things. He gives me beauty for ashes, joy takes the place of mourning, praise instead of despair. I can see it happening in my own life, and the lives of those around me. It’s breathtaking.

The broken things are beautiful reminders that God will not waste a single thing in my life. I am in hands of the One who created the universe, and He is using these broken things, along with the things that are whole, to reveal His incomparable beauty. He is so gentle, so kind, so patient and loving.

When He begins a good work in us, He is faithful to finish that work in us our whole lives long, every part redeemed for His glory.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

Lord, help me not to discard the broken, viewing it as useless and without purpose. Help me to rest in Your arms, knowing that even the broken things show me more of who You are. You are the Redeemer and the Restorer of my soul. Thank You Jesus!

broken crayons

Crayons on the table

When Things Are Just Too Much

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? – Psalm 13:1

lightning

Late summer lightning

What do you do when the bottom falls out? When things go so completely wrong that it seems impossible that God is still involved in the situation? What do you do when you know He is powerful to stop something from happening, or to clear an obstacle, but He simply does not do either one?

I want to believe that somehow, all my faithfulness to Him will be rewarded with health, long life, stability, finances and human love on this side of eternity. I want to think that if I’m good to Him, He will be good to me in the way that I think is right and good and worth my effort, here and now in this life.

But I know that’s not true. In my heart I know the real rewards are yet to come.

This is one of the hardest things about following Jesus. God is good, yet bad things still happen, and it’s even more difficult when bad things happen to good people. I know that God can intervene and change the outcome of any situation, and yet sometimes He doesn’t. I grieve losses and disappointments and wonder why He doesn’t just make it all go away.

I was thinking about this the other day  when I read something that struck me. It was from Pastor Timothy Keller, who has taught extensively about suffering and the Christian worldview. He said, “The best people often have terrible lives. Job is one example and Jesus—the ultimate ‘Job,’ the only truly innocent sufferer—is another.”

Not very comforting, and yet completely satisfying all at the same time. If even Jesus suffered, why do we think that we will not? We’ve been fed this line that if we are faithful to Him, He will be faithful to us with material blessings and protection. Maybe a nice house and a car, a good marriage with wonderful kids, a full bank account, our health and a great job that will fill our desire to make an impact – our “calling”, as it were. Kind of like karma – be good and good things will come.

Except that’s not how it works. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…”

Not that we go looking for it; we don’t have to. In certain seasons of life, it finds us. And it doesn’t make sense. It feels unfair. It hurts.

Earlier this month, we lost an incredible evangelist and passionate teacher. Nabeel Qureshi’s life and books have impacted thousands of people around the world! This guy loved Jesus. He was willing to give up everything for the sake of the cross. Surely he would be healed of his sudden stomach cancer diagnosis! Surely God would do a miracle in his life to show His power and glory! Thousands of people prayed for healing. Thousands of voices lifted morning after morning, night after night – asking Jesus to remove the cancer in this young husband and father and give him a bright future as an author, teacher and speaker.

The answer came on September 16th, 2017 as Nabeel was welcomed into eternal life with Jesus.  We know he is experiencing the incredible joy of seeing the Lord face to face! But we can’t help but ask the question, “why Lord?”

Why do we have to suffer? Why do good guys have to die?

We were watching Bambi with the kids a few weekends ago and our four and a half year old was horrified by the very idea that the storyteller would include the part about Bambi’s mom being shot by a hunter.

Her face was stricken with a mix of confusion and fear as she cried out, “WHY?! WHY DID THEY EVEN PUT THAT IN THERE?!”

I know, right?!  I feel like that every time something nasty comes my way.

We think we’ve got things covered, but when something goes sideways we face the reality that we are not in charge.  That phone call. That doctor’s appointment. That work meeting. The economy. The weather. The timing of a particular moment. In just seconds, we are driven to our knees with shock, grief and fear.

And rightly so. In the moment it is so difficult to understand why or even how something like this would happen.

Here’s the amazing thing. When suffering comes, we are not expected to fold our hands and shrug our shoulders and say, “oh well, it’s God’s will”. We are free to wail and grieve. We are allowed to cry out to the Lord from the depths of our hearts. We can run to Him to be held, comforted, reminded of who He is – the God who redeems and restores our lives for all eternity!

Suffering takes our faith to depths we’ve only heard about in stories and testimonies. Places we will not go on our own. Places that bring us into a closeness with Jesus we’ve never had before, as we share in His sufferings.

Author Ann Voskamp says, “When we know Christ, we always know how things are going to go — always for our good and always for His glory.”

We don’t have to explain it away, because we have a Saviour who suffered too. A Savior who bore our sin, shame, pain and grief, who died a brutal death, forsaken by all. And He is the very same Savior who came to life again, breaking death’s power for all eternity.

When we see God for who He really is, even in the middle of the darkest of nights, we come to understand that He really is the One who holds it all together. We begin to see that God is working all things for our eternal good – and for His glory. These sufferings are temporary. He is eternal. With our trust placed in Jesus, our future is secure, free from suffering and filled with hope.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)