Sitting at the foot of the cross is the perfect space for us to pour out our grief and shame and hurt without having to dress it up as celebration. Because the cross is designed to draw in the broken. It’s not the place where well-educated, affluent first-century men were killed. The cross was reserved for the lowest of the low – for the outcast, the slaves, the criminals… and yet somehow for Jesus – God made human.
This is the imagery Jesus draws on to show us a pattern for how to flourish as His followers – that of a gardener carefully cultivating the living vine. He teaches us that what might feel counterintuitive – cutting away some good things – is all about God making way for something new to grow.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if our salted, Spirit-enriched words rose above the noise of panic and fear triggered by coronavirus, and laid the foundation for a world that craved the living water of Jesus Christ?
In seasons of waiting, the agony that so often prevails arises from the friction of dwelling in the Spirit yet living in our imperfect world. We learn more about Godly peace as we grow into the lifelong practice of submission to God’s will. Of course, this is rarely easy or clear-cut.
This season of stillness, waiting and longing creates space for us to acknowledge the tension between clinging to the promise ‘Your kingdom come’ and living in a broken world.
If we only tell of how God wins in the end, but leave out the journey, we lose out on the learning. When we gloss over the difficult times, the hidden places and the wandering in the wilderness spaces, we reduce God to the hero who runs in to save the sidekick a mere minute before the credits roll. We lose out on the beautiful tenderness of a Father who waits with us in the wilderness even when we can’t see Him.
If we do not first consider where the words of the sufferer flow from, we cannot possibly respond with grace. When we rebuff someone’s experience of suffering with empty Biblical clichés, we are preaching a message that prevents us from crying out to God. We permit only a narrative that holds to absolute certainty and leaves no room for questioning, for seeking more of God and new ways that He works in the messy places.
The story of Elijah’s time in the wilderness is not one of failure in retreat. It is a reminder to us that God longs for us to come back to Him as a humble act of self-care. The more we press on without Him, avoiding facing the reality of our weaknesses, the more we miss of His incredible generosity and goodness.
I was sitting in a worship culture of standing, staggering forward in a culture of running, learning to be still with God in a Church context that so often tells us to push through stillness for better, for more. Or rather, to do better, to be more, even as it simultaneously affirms that God says we’re already enough in Christ. What a paradoxical understanding of grace!
The Bible reminds us time and again that God is “slow to anger, abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2), that His anger is totally justified – it is the anger of a righteous being deeply grieved by our sinful world. Whilst our “righteous” anger is often not that, I believe that when we are deeply angered and grieved by the impact and prevalence of sin and injustice in our world, we catch a glimpse of the broken-hearted sorrow and righteous anger of our just God.
In talking about the joy of the Lord, we are not talking of earthly joy, or even being content in moments of breath-taking beauty. We are talking about “Jesus-joy”, a joy that sometimes expresses itself in quiet, peaceful prayers of thanksgiving; sometimes in loud, exuberant praise; then again in clinging to the certain hope that we have in the cross when all else is overwhelming and impossible; then again in silly dancing and laughter and fellowship.
There is something about the stillness of the night that speaks deeper to the soul than the rush of the day. Perhaps it is the thought that everyone else is resting,unconscious to the continuings of the Lord as the night stretches forward into dawn. This is what makes insomnia a lonely and frustrating experience but also a unique opportunity to be amazed by a God who never sleeps and never leaves us: as nothing stirs in the world around us, the Holy Spirit can stir our souls all the greater. The physical silence of the night can leave us open to the gentle whisper of God.
Steady faith allows for us to understand our weaknesses are covered by grace. The Bible has much to say on work and sacrifice, both being indicators of living faith. But sometimes we can take this instruction to the extreme, forgetting that God molds us through the waiting and watching as in the striving and serving.