DEAR friends, my recent post Off Into the Night ignited a flurry of letters unlike anything in the past. I am so deeply grateful for the letters and notes of love, concern, and kindness that have been expressed from all over the world. You have reminded me that I am not speaking into a vacuum, that many of you have been and continue to be deeply affected by The Now Word. Thanks be to God who uses all of us, even in our brokenness.
Some of you have thought that I am leaving ministry. However, in the email I sent out and the note on Facebook, they very clearly state that I am taking a “pause.” This year has been tumultuous in many respects. I have been stretched to my limits. I am a bit burned out. I need to recalibrate. I need to put the brakes on the incredible pace of life I’m in. Like Jesus, I need to “go up the mountain” and take time alone with my Heavenly Father and let Him heal me as I expose the brokenness and wounds in my life that the pressure cooker of this year have revealed. I need to enter into a real and deep purification.
Normally I write to you through Advent and Christmas, but this year, I just need to take a break. I have the most incredible family, and I owe it to them more than anyone to gain my equilibrium. Like every other Christian family, we too are under attack. But already, the love we have for one another is showing itself stronger than death.
NOT THE WIND NOR THE WAVES
And so, I have one last parting word that was on my heart two weeks ago, but I couldn’t find time to write. I need to now, because so many of you have expressed how, you too, are suffering the most intense trials. I am convinced that we have now entered perhaps the greatest trials the Church has ever faced. It is a purification of Christ’s Bride. That alone should give you hope because Jesus wants to make us beautiful, not leave us wallowing in dysfunction.
Whether it is the Great Storm of our times or the personal storms you are enduring (and they are becoming more and more linked), the temptation to let the winds and waves break your resolve and mine are intensifying.
Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. (Matt 14:22-24)
What are the waves that are tossing you about right now? Do the winds of life seem to be totally against you, if not God himself (the wind is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit)? Instead of telling you right now to “live in the present moment”, to “just pray”, or to “offer it up”, etc. I simply want to acknowledge that the winds in your life are real to you, and the waves really are overwhelming. They may truly be humanly impossible to resolve. They may really have the capacity to capsize you, your marriage, your family, your job, your health, your security, etc. That’s how it appears to you right now, and you just need someone to tell you, yes, you are really suffering and you feel alone. Even God may seem to be nothing but a phantom in the night.
During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. (Matt 14:25-26)
Well, if there ever was one, is this not the moment of faith that both you and I are now facing? How easy it is to believe when we feel consolation. But “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 Here is the moment of decision. Because, even though you may be tempted to think of Jesus as a ghost, a myth, a fabrication of the mind as the atheists tell you… He stands outside your boat and repeats to you:
Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid. (vs. 27)
Oh Lord, how can you say that when all around me everything appears lost?! All appears to be sinking into an abyss of hopelessness!
Well, Peter got out of the boat like a Christian full of self-confidence. Perhaps a certain self-satisfaction overcame him that he was braver and more faithful than the rest. But he soon learned that one cannot walk forever on one’s natural virtues, charisms, gifts, skills, hubris or resumé. We need a Savior because we all need to be saved. We will all, at one point or another, come face to face with the fact that there really is an abyss between us and God, between us and Goodness, that only He can fill, that only He can bridge.
…when [Peter] saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him… (vs. 30-31)
When you stand over the abyss of your helplessness, brothers and sisters, it is a frightening and painful thing. There are so many temptations in that moment… the temptation to get back in the boat of comfort and false security; the temptation to despair at the sight of your helplessness; the temptation to think that Jesus won’t catch you this time; the temptation to pride and thus denial because everyone sees you as you are; the temptation to think I can do it on my own; and the temptation, perhaps above all, to refuse the saving hand of Jesus when He reaches out (and reach instead for alcohol, food, sex, drugs, mindless entertainment and so on to “save me” from the pain).
In these moments of the winds and waves, brothers and sisters, it must be the moment of pure, raw and Invincible Faith. Jesus does not mince words. He does not make excuses. He simply says to the self-sufficient sinking beneath their despair:
O you of little faith, why did you doubt? (vs. 30-31)
Faith is so counterintuitive to our rationale! It is so illogical to our flesh! How hard it is to say, and then live the words:
O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!
This abandonement involves a real death, real pain, real humiliation, real mental, emotional, and spiritual suffering. What is the alternative? To suffer without Jesus. Would you rather not suffer with Him? When you do, He will not let you down. He just won’t do it your way. He’ll do it the best way and that way is often a mystery. But in His time and His way, you will arrive to the other shore, the light will break through the clouds, and all your suffering will bear fruit like the thorn bush sprouting roses. God will work a miracle in your heart, even if everyone else’s heart is unchanged.
They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading. (John 6:21)
Last, stop rationalizing, stop saying, “Sure Mark. But that’s not going to happen with me. God doesn’t listen to me.” That is the voice of pride or Satan’s voice, not the voice of Truth. The liar and the accuser comes relentlessly to steal your hope. Be smart. Don’t let him.
Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matt 17:20)
Look to Jesus, not the wind nor the waves. Go up the mountain today and say, “Okay Jesus. I trust in you. This little prayer is all I can eek out. It is my mustard seed. One moment at a time. I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”
You are loved. I will see you soon…
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