The Rare Opportunity of a Worn Out Heart
God hasn’t fulfilled two of my most urgent requests for two decades.
One of those prayers is so important to me, my faith has shuddered and failed while I’ve been waiting for God’s help. As days have turned to weeks, as weeks have turned to months, as months have turned to years, I’ve wrestled deeply with theological assumptions that were once easy for me—assumptions that God is real and that he is kind.
Intellectually, I have enough evidence to know these things. Historically, scientifically, inter-textually, I can show you why God exists and that he is tender. In an academic sense, it would be impossible for the Bible to be false. Still, reason and proofs can’t medicate certain types of sorrow.
When I am hurting, I don’t want evidence. I want relief.
When I hear atheists talk about religion being the opiate of the masses, I wonder if they realize what they are actually saying. The process of learning to trust God is profoundly beautiful at times, but it can also be agonizing. When Jesus urged us to take up our cross and follow him, he was serious. Faith leads to life, but it also involves suffering and death.
Christians are given a paradox—a light and free burden of salvation that sometimes involves long nights in Gethsemane wrestling, sweating, and crying out, “Not my will but Thine.” We have been told that the new wine will burst the old wine skins because the old life and the new life cannot coexist.
It's true that union with God leads to eternal delight, and we can experience some of those joys now. Some days we get flickers of vision that drive us onward and upward. But when the foretaste of those joys fades, we inevitably endure the painful shedding of old skins. Salvation may be instant, but sanctification takes a long time.
After walking through several long seasons of emotional suffering, I can see why books that promise the secrets of harnessing God's immediate relief sell millions. The agony of trusting the Lord while faith is yet unseen can be overwhelming, and the thought of a shortcut is so sweet.
Yet there are also opportunities in the midst of waiting that come at no other season in our journies with God. Only now--when things seem most impossible, most chaotic, and most unbearable—can we offer the unique sort of worship that such times allow.
First, in long seasons of pain, we come face-to-face with our idols.
Maybe fifteen years ago, I cried as I prayed, “Give me one pure and holy passion,” trying to imagine what it would be like for someone as scattered and earthly as I am to love God supremely. I wanted that sort of love for Him, but I had no idea how to focus my wild, artistic heart.
It didn't matter if I knew how to do it. All that mattered was that I had asked. Over the next season of my life, methodically, God began to expose my idols. I didn’t realize what was happening at first. I thought my life was just falling totally apart. But through taking what I loved away, or through destabilizing it, God allowed me to see how many good things I had prioritized over him.
This may sound cruel and selfish, but it isn't. God isn't a narcissist or an egomaniac. He is a realist who wants my ultimate worship because he is worth loving more than anything. He is for me, and he knows that core devotion given to any lesser object will be ultimately harmful.
The expressions of love and trust that we can offer God after much has been taken away are different from the prayers we pray when all seems well. As we sit in heartbreak and overwhelming loss, we find that we are still able to whisper, “But you are here, and you are ultimate." We might not feel this at first, and it will be tempting to run away before we get there. But in moments when this truth settles, we begin to see how unstable any other form of joy truly is. When such sorrow ends in trust, we find a cornerstone upon which we can build the remaining days of our lives--and we can know (finally) that this cornerstone cannot be shaken.
Secondly, in long seasons of pain, we can offer up a quality of praise that is impossible at any other point in our walk with God.
Praise comes spontaneously when I can see the obvious workings of God’s hand. In nature’s beauty, in relief, in abundance, it takes no faith to rehearse the goodness of my Lord. But when all is darkness, loneliness, and emptiness, I have an opportunity to worship that I might never have again in my life.
Here I have the opportunity to get very still before my Creator and say,
“You were master over the void. From the void you brought life. In this void, I trust you.”
Here I have the opportunity to say,
“All I cared about is gone, and yet, I have your company. In this utter poverty, even as I cry out that I am ruined, I find you here--and I see that I have all I need.”
I can pray,
“Great surgeon, I resign. Whatever it takes. Finish what you have begun in me.”
At this level of brokenness, we can stop simply asking God to work and begin to implant the core of our trust in the fact that he is working already.
At this level of brokenness, we can begin to take a few steps in the heavenly realms in which we are already seated, a realm that has no end.
Our school verse of the year is Hebrews 12:28a: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” I love this verse because it anchors me in this mad world in which secondary loves yank me like a boat on wild seas. My devotion and my agony toss and turn, and yet always, always, my home remains steadfast.
According to Hebrews, our proper response to this unshakable kingdom is worship. We worship God in reverence and in awe because our He is a consuming fire--a fire that burns away everything that can be destabilized. If you are here, you are in a sacred space. If you are here, you are loved enough to be shown a portal into some of the deepest mysteries of this life.
If you are here, you stand with one foot on earth and the other in eternity. "Give me one pure and holy passion." It is a radical prayer, a dangerous prayer--for Aslan is not safe, but he is good."
Thanks be to God.