Monday, March 5, 2012

Stuck in the Quicksand Again

Lately I’ve felt like a lion pacing back and forth in a cage. Frustration seems to meet me at every corner. The more I try, the worse the outcome. It appears as if I have been cursed with a kind of inverse Midis touch. Some have told me to quit my whining; they are my real friends. After all, despair is a sin because it means one has turned ones back on God; despair is the absence of faith.

Perhaps you have felt this way; maybe you haven’t but will in the future. I hope you can avoid falling in this quicksand. But if you do—hmmm, is that your silhouette I see across the murky marsh from me?—let me offer some advice to help us back to forward momentum.

My wife and I recently listened to our friend who heads the Navigator’s ministry at the University of Illinois as he recapped the Lord’s recent work there. He said a couple of things germane to this present discussion.

First, he spoke of a Muslim student who had come to some of their meetings and later asked one of the student members why Christians believe Christ to be God. Wouldn’t that mean there are two gods? The student came to my friend for advice of what to say to the Muslim. My friend’s answer surprised me. He said something to the effect of, “Good grief, don’t waste your time explaining Christianity to him. Have him read one of the Gospels. Let him meet Jesus face to face.”

This was the second time I heard this advice. The first came by way of Alister McGrath through his recent book, Mere Apologetics, where he observed that when Andrew told his brother Nathanial that Andrew had found the Messiah who had come from Nazareth, Nathanial replied, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” And instead of going into a long dissertation on the Messiah and prophecies, complete with theological proofs, Andrew simply responded, “Come and see for yourself!”

Sometimes we get stuck in the quicksand because we think we are responsible to convince people of the truth. We approach each situation as if it were a chess game that we must win. But only God can change hearts. It’s our responsibility to introduce people to Him and let Him speak for Himself.

Our friend also reminded us that Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” It’s a favorite passage of mine, but our friend pointed out something I have missed. He explained that we are yoked to Christ; and even though His yoke is light and easy, we can tire ourselves out when we try to lag behind or run ahead of Christ. We need to go at Christ’s pace, not our own. Whenever we fight against Christ’s momentum, we actually stop, and despair soon comes creeping ‘round our door.

The common denominator of these two points is the person who sees himself as needing to take matters in his own hands—a person who no longer walks by faith. Before long exhaustion will overwhelm him and despair will set in. This had been Elijah’s situation.

The exhausted Elijah had run for his life in to the desert away from a vindictive Jezebel. Once there beneath a shrub, Elijah cried out that he was good for nothing and wanted God to take his life. Instead, God rested and fed Elijah. Energized, Elijah traveled a long way and entered a cave. God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Elijah explained that he was the only faithful one left in all of Israel; they killed all the others and they intended to kill him, too. In other words, Elijah was hiding out. God told Elijah to go stand on the mountain, and God would pass before him there. Elijah did what he was told. Finally in a very still, calm voice, God again asked, “What are you doing here?”, and Elijah repeated what he had said before. God then assured Elijah that he wasn’t the only faithful person in Israel, and told Elijah what to do next.

Elijah had fallen into the quicksand of despair because he had turned his eyes from God to himself. In his fatigue, Elijah’s self-interest manifested itself in a self-deprecation that sought suicide. In his renewed vigor, Elijah’s self-interest morphed into a self-importance that attempted to protect itself through the inaction of hiding. Only after waiting on God and then listening to God did Elijah regain a proper perspective of his self, which was a servant of God, and start moving again. Putting it another way, only when Elijah moved from the egoism of self-deprecation and self-importance to a self defined by God, did Elijah start moving again.

Man, it’s so easy to fall into the quicksand of despair because we so readily take matters into our own hands by believing it’s up to us, and so run ahead of God or lag behind. And what’s really amazing about this is it most often happens after God has used us powerfully for His kingdom. Remember, all I related concerning Elijah happened right after God had used Elijah to silence the Baal worshippers, which was why Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah.

We shouldn’t miss that last observation. A sure sign of despair is when we interpret resistance as ineffectiveness, or failure, or time to quit. Because when we are depending on ourselves, which always leads to despair, we tend to judge our performance on the basis of other people’s approval or disapproval, rather than God’s good pleasure.

Okay, if that’s you I see with me in this quicksand, here’s what we need to do to get out and get going: Stop thrashing around, wait, and listen for that still, calm voice of God to tell us what to do next. Saint Paul was so right when he said, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”


Jeff said...

Jesus did a lot of things that seem to be backwards in our way of thinking - "the first will be last and last will be first" kind of stuff. You blog this week kind fits that same mold - if you stop worrying about yourself and focus on Jesus, then Jesus will focus on you and take away your problems!