This past week I went on a Mission trip with a group from my school, Campbell University. We did a tear out of a home in Long Island, NY that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
As we hammered out wood pieces, sheet rock and plastered walls, I couldn’t help but to reflect on the process it takes to rebuild after a traumatic experience, such as a hurricane. As I rode down the streets in and around the work site, I noticed the evidence of devastation was still visible. Homes were empty, some were leaning off their foundation and construction workers were busy repairing what was damaged. Yet, people were going on with their lives. Kids were walking to school, people driving to and from work, the streets were busy and everything seemed “business as usual.”
However, for many affected by the storm, business as usual is a distant and unreachable reality as they strive to piece their lives back together. After the flood waters have receded, after the winds have ceased and after the waves have stopped crushing in and through their homes, they are left with a devastating reality. They are left with questions of why, doubts of their future and fears of how to move forward after this storm.
How do you find wholeness in a broken foundation? Where do you find peace when pieces of your life are floating around in flood waters? How do you move forward when loved ones die as a result of a storm that you survived? Where is Jesus in all of this? Where is the hope of Christ in all of this? Where is the protector, the strong tower, the rock of ages? Where is He?
I am of the opinion that the problem with the church today is we don’t like for people to ask these difficult questions. We encourage the hurting to put duct tape on their deepest hurts and deny the pain. Yet, the pain is legitimate because damages from the storm are evident. People died, homes were ripped from their foundation and lives were flipped upside down. It reminds me of the storms of life. Some people emotionally die when someone they love breaks off the relationship. Some people spiritually die when their faith is overwhelmed by the crushing waves of difficulty. Death and distress is a reality we can’t tape up, slap a “prayer of deliverance” over and assume everything will be fine.
Rebuilding is a process. Restoration is a process. Sometimes the process takes months, even years. Recovering from a storm that severely damages the strength of your foundation takes time. So the question was raised how do you find the hope of Christ in storms that bring destruction, devastation and death? I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 15:19 that says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is reminding them their hope in Christ should be tied only to the One who has redeemed us and promised us salvation through Jesus Christ. In the same way, I believe it’s a reminder to us that there is a peace, we can experience in the midst of tragedy, through the resurrection power of Christ.
So we don’t misunderstand and think this means ignoring the reality of where we are by covering it up with spiritual jargon (meaningless talk), consider the purpose in which Paul says these things. If the strength of our gospel message is filled with the guarantee or hope of being confident in earthly and temporal things, our message is empty and weak. It carries no weight because if we have lived any length of time we know that nothing in life is certain. No matter how lavish, expensive or the sacrifices made to obtain stuff; none of it is certain. Just as sure as we achieve it, it can fall apart, be destroyed or fade away.
God is no less Faithful when tragedy strikes. He is no less Sovereign when hurricane floods destroy homes. Just like, He is no less True when storms of life knock on your front door. So, IF you believe and place your faith in the One who holds all things together for His divine will and purpose, this is where your hope lies, in Him and Him alone. Now, this doesn’t discount the hurt, it won’t make the pain immediately go away and it won’t lessen the impact of watching everything you worked hard for float off in the distance. What it will do is grant you the ability to accept God’s peace that surpasses all understanding as you move forward to repair everything that the storms of life have destroyed.
On Christ the solid rock I stand; ALL other ground is sinking sand…
Yesterday seemed to be a long day. I found myself becoming easily frustrated with people. :) Usually, patience is one of my strong areas but how I respond to frustration when I get to that point is one of my weak areas. I have low tolerance for businesses that disregard good ole “customer service.” At one point, I was at my peak of annoyance and I responded, let’s say, in a way that needs improvement.
However, in that moment, I was able to pull myself together enough to pray these few simple words, “Holy Spirit, I need you to help me.” It wasn’t deep and mind-blowing but it was effective. It was effective because it was honest. God honors our honest prayers. He honors our broken prayers. He delights and welcomes our open, lay it all out on the table prayers. The prayer I prayed was honest enough that His peace surrounded and embraced me.
What if I had said, you know what I’m not even going to worry about it, knowing I was suppressing real frustration? How would that have helped me deal with it. Are you dealing with something you keep denying or feel like it’s to big or small to take it to God in honest, open communication? It’s frustrating to be frustrated!
Just a quick thought…
Our memory is complex; it stores previously learned facts and information as well as contacts, environments, and impressions of how someone has treated us. It recalls at the smell of a scent or blow of a breeze specific past experiences. It’s our memories that can possibly shape how we develop our character and how we think. Our memories mold the way we talk, our perspective on various situations and the way we see our future. Our memory speaks to us reminding us of how many times we have failed, how many promises we have broken and how many mistakes have led us to where we are today.
It’s not all bad. Our memory reminds us of loved ones who left a positive impression on us that can never be forgotten. It reminds us of a friend, an event or a time in our life that brings a smile of encouragement when we reflect. Memories, like many things, can help us or harm us. It’s in the balance that we can stabilize ourselves. It’s in the balance that we don’t become depressed or overcome by guilt because of the bad.
So it reminds me of the popular passage in Philippians 3:13 from the Apostle Paul, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead…” We love to quote this passage and for good reason. I think we sometimes forget or don’t realize it’s impact in relation to why Paul is saying it.
Paul wrote this while he was in prison. He was waiting to stand trial. Uncomfortably, looking in the face of a looming persecution and yet his letter to the Philippians has an emphatic theme of joy in Christ! Prior to this he recalls the fact that he harshly persecuted the church. Proudly, he held the coats of the men who stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:57,58). He viciously pursued Christians to throw them in prison for their belief in Jesus.
Our past could be ugly, embarrassing, filled with mistake after defeat after screw-up, after bad decision, after mistake and after yet another mess up. So I thought it would be good to remind you – remember to forget your past. Forgetting doesn’t mean you try your best to never think about it again but it speaks to replacing the knowledge of that past memory with new, gained knowledge of Christ and what he has done for you. Remembering to forget the past releases you from the guilt that holds you hostage every time a song, a word or a memory speaks of the wrong you have done or the wrong you have experienced. One version of this passage says, “…I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past…”
This isn’t anything you can do in your own strength. It takes the strength of Christ. It takes progressing in the knowledge of Christ. I encourage you to lean on God’s ability, not your own as you remember to forget. Then, look forward to a more fulfilled, meaningful and refreshed life. We usually run faster, think clearer, walk bolder and embrace the beauty of what life has to offer when we find in the loving-kindness of Christ the ability to release the regrets and guilt of our past.
I was reading a devotional this morning on parenting. One of the statements can be applied to not only our children but adults as well. It said this “Character-building lessons are rarely learned from the triumphs of life.”
If we think about it the impact of pain, suffering, hurt, trials and bad times is far greater when it comes to learning about life than the good times. Those times build character. They remind us of how to treat people, how to make better decisions, when to speak and when to be patient. It’s the trials that teach us how to keep going even when it hurts.
Just a quick thought…
I want all my readers to know I am so very Grateful for you! Thank you for allowing me to rest in your inbox until you have read my post for the day. Thank you for the time you take to read them and the times you have shared them with family, friends or strangers. Thank you for your feedback, responses and encouragement. From a very grateful heart, Thank You!
Following are the study notes from my study bible reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
5:16: Regardless of difficult circumstances a Christian always has grounds for rejoicing. The Lord is a sovereign Ruler and will accomplish His purpose. Christian joy is not based on circumstances but on a growing awareness of God and the certain future of eternal life with Christ.
5:17: Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to maintain a faithful prayer life like his own. Praying without ceasing does not mean praying constantly, but being persistent and consistent in prayer.
5:18: Thankfulness should characterize the Christian life in every circumstance, not thanks for everything but thanks in everything. Paul emphatically states this is the will of God. An OT example of this was when Job lost his money, his children and his health. He blessed the name of God in spite of his personal tragedies, not because of them. Nothing speaks more powerfully of a walk with God than continuous thankfulness.