This is a guest post from Rob - a husband and father of two - who has been battling a serious disease for over 25 years. In his own words, Rob says that he feels "like the prodigal son in that I have returned to Christ after having been gone for a long time, am feeling called to do some sort of pastor type work but feel totally unqualified and scared to get into it fully." If you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)
"Come to me" God says and you will have "rest for your souls". Ok, great. Sign me up! This is a direct promise from God and we God never lies, right? Go to Him and you will have rest. Simple and straightforward, right?
Not exactly. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found myself at times being tempted to call God a deceiver. I’ve found myself angry that the simple truth found in a promise didn’t seem apparent in my life – even as I watched others seemingly delight in the very same words.
It seemed like the promise did not apply in my case; that is it was “not applicable” for me. The more grand the promise, the more I lamented my sad state as being separate from God. And yet I continued to hear preachers dole out great proclamations to clapping multitudes.
Was I the only one angry at God?
In fact, the clarity of God's message can cause one to shrink away as if suddenly blinded by a bright light. You are at once beckoned to look yet hurt by the intensity. Pain causes men to do things they wouldn't otherwise do and it is often a tool of a good teacher. When you contrast pain with a truth that doesn’t, at first glance, address the root causes of that pain, then you have great opportunity for learning through the friction created by these seemingly opposing forces.
Go back to the verse above. It is beautiful. It is clear and comforting at face value. To read it and believe it is a joy – until you don't believe it... until the words don't ring true.
What happens when we go to God and we don't get relief? When there is no rest for your soul? The apparent truth of the verse stands in opposition to the pain you are experiencing. The pain is so real that the truth of the verse must not actually be true, right?
Have you ever felt guilty, sitting in church, listening to the pastor, yet feeling as though the truth he’s preaching just isn't true for you? Has a sermon about a verse like the one above ever angered you? Have you ever felt that the joy and the truth of God’s promise becomes a mocking voice because you can see it only from a place of pain and uncertainty?
And yet the preacher keeps on preaching... and the people keep on singing... and you just sink further and further into your apparent separateness from God's promise.
The fact is, pain is also a cutting truth just as the Scripture is. If you don’t allow yourself to explore the contradiction between the pain and the truth of God’s promise (i.e. you might feel guilty for questioning God so you just repress any doubts as to the validity of his promises), you will deny yourself a chance to know God more fully.
Let the conflict happen. If you’re angry at God for not giving your soul rest when you asked, don’t deny the anger. Go to God with it. Let God use your circumstance to teach.
I have been in this place many times and am sure I will find myself there again at some point. So many times it has felt as though I would never find my way out of that darkness. I have seen the light but not felt its warmth. I have heard the truth but not been touched by its reality. I've screamed at God, calling his promises lies, and wondering why I was doomed to such a condition. Angry, alienated, and in pain, yet painfully aware of what I seemed to be missing.
But in the depths of my own suffering, my own burdens, God revealed something to me. I can only make sense of such a revelation based on the fact that, not having anything to do with my worthiness as a seeker, I continued to go to God even as my anger toward Him grew and my denial of his very promises solidified.
God showed me that it was my own yoke that was heavy. It was my own burden that pained me. I wanted God to fix the thing I worshipped most – myself. Look at all the "I's" and "my's". As much as I wanted God to be the liar so that I could continue to fool myself with my own creation, it was I who was the liar. I had been lying my whole life.
In every single case where I tried to justify seeing that God had broken some promise He had made to me, it was actually I who warped and twisted whatever situation it may have been so that I could feel justified. I had warped even God's promises themselves to serve my own purposes.
I had been worshipping a creation all my own and actually using God for my own self interest. I could hear Christ saying 'to save yourself is to lose yourself' and it had a truth that it had never had before.
Of course, my ego is a skilled adversary. It does not concede defeat easily. Even after finding my way out of many of these dark traps, I have to remain vigilant because the ego will always prefer to burden God with being a liar rather than itself. The only truth I can manage is that, through the grace of God, I continue to go to God. Even when I start to lie again. Even when I start to go back to the dark places where I feed my creation and not God's, I continue to go to him with these things, sparing nothing.
It seems, for now, this is the only promise I can make to God. I will go to him, no matter the apparent offensiveness of the subject. And without even knowing it, I have found myself striving to fulfill Matthew's verse above - the very verse which had caused me so much anguish.
God's strength is made perfect in our weakness despite my attempts to sabotage the process. No doubt I am still learning. The next time I find myself striking out against God's promise that just isn't reaching me through the pain, my first assumption will be that it cannot be that God is lying. It can't be that the preacher read it wrong, the church is too hot, the kids are crying etc. It leaves only me, trying to deceive myself for my own comfort, leading to a true reliance on God for the only lasting comfort promised to me.