A Slow Death

Why should I feel discouraged and why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion, a constant Friend is He,
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

Civilia D. Martin (1905)

 

A friend shared this week about two of his co-workers who were experiencing the most terrible crises in their lives. A bunch of us prayed with our friend, that he would be enabled as an inspiration and help to his friends during their tribulations.

“If your Lord calls you to suffering, do not be dismayed, for He will provide a deeper portion of Christ in your suffering. The softest pillow will be placed under your head though you must set your bare feet among thorns.” – Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)

None of us are really immune from being touched in some way by tragedy. These days, when I bump into monsters in the dark, my question is no longer, “why me?” but instead, “what’s going to happen to me?”

In an earlier post I asked this question about Joseph…

What happened to him during those years in slavery and prison that transformed him into a man who could calmly walk into the court of the most powerful king on earth and bear witness of the power of God?

I was thinking about it again the other day, always reflecting within the boundaries of my own perpetual midlife crisis…when am I going to get out of this quicksand?

Remember, up until the moment Joseph was jumped by his own brothers, beaten and bloodied, dropped into a pit and then sold into slavery…his father had made him the center of their universe. He was younger, didn’t have to work so much, and got to dress really well. In his world it was all about him.

What happens to us on the inside when our world collapses, what we thought we could depend upon, what we had built and all the careful plans we had made? What’s the game plan when:

  • kids grow up and make all the wrong decisions
  • your career falls apart out of the blue
  • the spouse you always depended upon takes flight
  • your health becomes the most urgent crisis – right now
  • God doesn’t seem to answer anymore

How do we survive while imprisoned by tragedy? How do we make it one more day – and then month after month? Peter advises us to bow down (worship), submit your will and fears, then let God carry your heavy baggage. Sometimes this is a moment-by-moment act, every time the fear hits.

So bow down under God’s strong hand; then when the time comes, God will lift you up. Since God cares for you, let Him carry all your burdens and worries. – 1 Peter 5:6-7 (The Voice)

No one else here has ever or will ever care about you as much as God does and always will. Do you believe this? Do you trust this? Are you willing to put it to the test? It’s not a once-and-for-all decision. It’s something you have to do each and every day of your life, until it becomes a habit, like dreaming.

Something happened to Joseph in that dark prison. He probably spent more than ten years of his life locked up with not much hope for his future. But something happened. His God never left him alone, never stopped working something eternal in his life. He started using God’s gifts instead of his own charms – he let God take care of his problems. He became a different person who loved others, forgave his brothers and looked out for the interest of his family and a whole nation first.

“Whatever direction the wind blows, it will blow us to the Lord. His hand will direct us safely to the heavenly shore to find the weight of eternal glory. As we look back to our pains and suffering, we shall see that suffering is not worthy to be compared to our first night’s welcome home in heaven. If we could smell of heaven and our country above, our crosses would not bite us. Lay all your loads by faith on Christ, ease yourself, and let Him bear all. He can, He does, and He will bear you.” – Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)

Seems like the Joseph who went in to prison stayed behind and a new man emerged, ready to change the world because he had surrendered something his father had built but God wanted to transform.

What a turnaround.

It took time.

It meant being willing to become someone new.

Advertisements

How Long Will It Take?

joseph_dream1

There are all kinds of prisons. We are all bound to live some part of our life trapped.  Sometimes it’s just because of terrible circumstances like illness or a tumbling economy. Some prisons are of our own making, consequences of bad choices and evil desires.

However you got there, how long do you have to stay in prison before something significant changes? If you look carefully at the story of Joseph from the Old Testament you see a man who let his prison experience transform him into someone remarkable.

When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks….Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt. – Genesis 37:2, 28

He was thirty years old when he began serving in the court of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And when Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence, he inspected the entire land of Egypt.  – Genesis 41:46

How long does it take to go from being a selfish punk to the most influential man in Egypt? He seems to have spent a good part of thirteen years as a slave to Potiphar and then in prison because of the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife. His physical imprisonment came to an end when he was able to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. He told the king…

“It is beyond my power to do this, but God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”  – Genesis 41:16

This is the same man who as a teenager spent too much time dancing around his brothers flaunting that “amazing technicolor dreamcoat” their father had given to only him. He was such a miserable person to be around, they felt like killing him, literally.

What happened to him during those years in slavery and prison that transformed him into a man who could calmly walk into the court of the most powerful king on earth and bear witness of the power of God?

As incredible as it reads, Joseph’s story is everyone’s story. We all face opportunities to either be transformed or remain in prison. There are all kinds of prisons that enslave people. Defeats can fall on us like a flood. No one is immune.

Wherever you are right now – whatever the prison might look like – it doesn’t matter how you got there. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you are going to get out – often this is out of your control. Think about the ways that relationships evolve, long-term sickness, a career that’s changing. What always matters is what’s happening to you while you are in that prison. What is God going to do in your life, with your life, through your life because of this experience?

When people are in prison they always face a number of choices:

  • Prison can cripple people. Even when released people often carry within them, for too long, their imprisonment experience. It haunts them even as they walk in freedom. It is as if they remain in prison and die a little every single day. They relive their defeats like a never ending re-run of doom.
  • In prison, some people build a new life – a future self. This takes time, involves others and there are certainly mistakes along the way. When freedom comes, they are ready to start life anew, their thinking has changed and they see with a bigger vision. But they have to wait for freedom to arrive in order to start living their new life.
  • Others learn, over time, to differentiate between internal and external circumstances – they come to recognize what is passing and what is eternal. They can see beyond their chains and recognize what is temporary and what matters. The prison experience transforms their perspective and in so doing it provides an eternal freedom. No matter where they find themselves, these people discover true freedom.

What is prison doing for you? For Joseph it was a time to wait until just the right time. It was an experience that transformed him into a man ready to serve God, not his own wishes.

It seems strange to urge that you pray, not to be set loose from your chains, but instead to let your earthly chains set you truly free.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet    

Houston, We Have a Problem

fighting-a-dragon-wallpaper-1

I never could figure out how I ended up in Houston, Texas.

This is not the place I imagined I would spend my years. A big, humid, hot, crowded city down here on the dirty Gulf was never my idea of the part of Texas where I wanted to live.

We’ve been here for almost twenty years. More time here than any other place in my whole life. For years I wondered, what happened? I think I realized why just the other day.

The Bible is full of stories about people who were led by God to foreign lands. Places where God had future plans for them. Places full of challenges, obstacles and providence. Remember when God called Abraham out of his homeland and into an unknown future?

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1

While I do not see myself as a Bible character, I do see the hand of God all around me – just like you do in your own life.

After being here for twenty years I’m now so thankful that here is where we are. Where else would anyone rather be while fighting cancer? We didn’t know so long ago that this beast would one day try and strike us down. But what better place to do this battle than here where we have found the very best medical care in the world?

Today I am reminded of Joseph, who was sold into slavery and so many years later found his brothers and was there to deliver them. He told them, “God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.” –  Genesis 45:7

I think I know why we are in Houston – we are here to find healing and deliverance from this beast. Our heavenly Father knew what lay ahead of us and prepared the way. He gave us family and friends to bear our burdens.  Here we have found the best of medical care.

Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens— and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld — what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea.  – Job 11:7-9

Half the time, without even realizing it, we are leaning on the everlasting arms.