Mourning and Morning

Apr24
During this recent season of Lent we did a series on lament at church. Fittingly, we looked at the book of Lamentations as part of our study.

The first thing that struck me was that, out of five mournful chapters, the most familiar verses to me were the few hopeful ones in chapter three. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness!”

This tells me that as a church, as a culture, we are incredibly uncomfortable with sorrow, true lament, and transparent grief. The rest of the book of Lamentations is a beautiful expression of human brokenness. As I listened to it being read, tears often came to my eyes because it spoke aloud the silent sorrows hidden in my own heart.

The truth is that we live in a fallen, broken place full of fallen, broken people. There is much wrong with the world, beginning with our own sin-inclined souls. If we saw reality with God’s eyes, we would find much to grieve about—from the pain and suffering all around us, to the evil that so mars our best human efforts and robs us of relationship with Him.

What do we do with all this heaviness and sighing? At first I thought that the only hope was to look far forward to the end of the story when God sets all things right. To the day when sin and death are abolished and we are made new, complete, and perfect.

But then what of the present? Do we simply muddle through? Grit our teeth, bear it the best we can, and wish it away as we dream of our glorious future? If so, what’s the point?

Again Lamentations provided the answer. In the midst of that long litany of tears and terrors, it is as if the author—for one very brief moment—shifted his focus. Instead of drowning in despair, he struggled to the surface to suck in a few gasps of hope, before diving down again.

But where and how did he find hope? What in his circumstances caused him to speak of God’s love and faithfulness? Things seemed to get worse day after day, with doom and destruction a certainty—where in the world was he finding a fresh supply of mercy every morning?

And then I wondered: what if the mercy is the morning? Just the simple fact that the sun came up. In truth, it didn’t have to. In truth, it is God who pulled it off. And the fact that it happens every day should make it no less miraculous. How faithful He is!

I began to think of other things that didn’t have to be. Why do we see color? We could be perfectly functional in a world of grays. And what about taste buds? Hunger would drive us to find food. Eating didn’t have to be a delightfully pleasurable experience full of flavor and variety. But it is.

How lavishly extravagant of God! How good He is to us! Once you stop to think of it, the list of completely unnecessary blessings is seemingly endless. Flowers, music, silk, chocolate…

So, yes. Grieve, mourn, weep. There are so many reasons—in our own lives, the lives of those around us, and in the world as a whole. Allow yourself to feel them deeply, because in truth, God’s heart is moved with each and every one.

But as you get up each morning, sip your coffee, and take in the gentle hues of yet another sunrise, don’t forget to treasure the many, frivolous gifts that God pours out on us daily. Savor each one. Let tears of sorrow and joy mingle with each other. Because sweetness is all the more distinct when contrasted with bitterness.

Question: What is one of your favorite frivolous blessings?

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“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

—C. S. Lewis

Love

Releasing the Lover

apr14

I had a conversation last month with someone trying to explain his rekindled passion for following Christ. He talked with fervor, “Life just works better when you do it God’s way. He is the answer to my deepest longings and needs. I feel most fulfilled, peaceful, and happy when I am obedient to Him.”

I heard him, but wanted to challenge him to take things a step further. “But as we grow in relationship with God,” I countered, “hopefully we fall more in love with Him, and begin obeying out of love for who He is, and a desire not to cause Him pain, rather than for what we get out of it.”

My friend looked at me blankly. “Yeah,” he responded, “That’s what I said.”

I didn’t press the point, but I left the conversation slightly dissatisfied that I hadn’t helped him see the difference between obedience that flows out of self-gratification, and obedience that is motivated by reverence for God.

I was reminded of our exchange this past week as I talked with a pastor friend and his wife. “Many in my profession,” he explained, “think our job is to impose a set of rules or a certain lifestyle on our congregations. To teach them how to behave according to certain standards. But the way I see it, every Christian is, at the core, a lover of Christ, and my job is to help them grow in this relationship, and release them to love Him.”

Now, I struggled with this a bit, pointing out that I have been a lover of myself since I was born. This goes pretty deep. Even my decision to follow Jesus was out of a sense of self-preservation, because I had heard about hell and didn’t want to go there.

As the conversation continued, however, we talked about how Paul, in his letters, called the Christians “saints” even though they were behaving in very un-saintly ways. It’s that “old self/new self”, “already-accomplished-although-it’s-still-in-process” type of thing. While we must acknowledge, grieve, and repent every time the old self-lover rears its ugly head, it is important to live out our true identity as passionate lovers of Christ.

The more I thought about it, the more the concept captured my imagination. Better yet, it thrilled my heart. How refreshing not to think of Christianity as a set of rules, expectations, and duties. How liberating to move beyond the obedience that expects God to reward us for our good behavior. To stop approaching God for what He does for us, and begin to truly love Him for the breath-taking Being that He is.

I am, at the deepest core of my being, a love-sick seeker of God. What a difference it would make if I woke up every day with this truth firmly entrenched in my mind and my heart. What joy, as I overflowed with the experience of being loved and loving in return. Moving past external performance, I would look for new and spontaneous ways to pour out the fullness of my heart to my Beloved.

The truest thing about you and about me is that we are lovers of God. It’s what we were made for. And once we truly believe this, it changes everything.

May you, may I, be swept up in this passionate relationship, and find the freedom and courage to release the lover inside.

Question: How does it affect you to think of yourself as a lover of God?