Thursday, October 8, 2009

When Dawn is Delayed

I awoke yesterday, and the trees were a thousand fingers stretching from the hands of the hills, their fingernails painted yellow,red, and orange. Mostly they are dogwoods--red like sunburned salmon--whose leaves are dyed to declare the glory and existence of their Creator. Today though, I awoke and the sun had not yet climbed above the hills, the dogwoods and sourwoods slept silent, and the sheet of night still covered them. Not normally very cogniscent at pre-dawn hours, I was surprised to find myself considering the stark difference of my two mornings. One, like a rooster crowing or a trumpet announcing the greatness of our God, had captivated my heart with the vivid reminder that God must exist,that creation could in no way have just happened. The other was a dark and silent morning where the only light came from switches I turned on. Where on this second morning was God? Naturally my heart considered the two extremes--the mountain top experience when the hills are alive with the music of their Creator and the black hour before dawn when the absence of light somehow causes one to ask where is their maker? We're all so different,our lives so varied, that it is hard to say what will be darkness for each of us. Something as insignificant as a burnt souffle or as magnificent as the loss of our spouse can both bring a darkness of soul upon us. Yesterday my eldest son, Nathan was working on a difficult assignment for school. Off to a good start, his instructions were clear and he seemed to understand fully what his work held for him. I had gone downstairs to begin lunch preparation while he finished up. When I called for lunchtime he didn't respond. I poured the boys' milk, and still, he did not come. I called a second time. When finally he crested the stairs, I knew he had met a darkness of the soul. The assignment had been overwhelming to him. Normally a diligent, persevering student, I was surpsied to see his eyes swollen and face polka dotted with pink splotches. He had been crying. "You're going to be mad at me. I didn't get it done at all," he gurgled out between sobs. And I thought, No. No. I'll not be mad. I'll hold and comfort you, and then we'll tackle that assignment because I know you can do it. But first you must know you aren't alone. Though I was just downstairs--still present and ready to help--somehow he had assumed he was entirely on his own, and he felt helpless. That, my friends, is a darkness of the soul. We come to that point don't we? As Christians? We do. Just this week I've talked with four beautiful women whom I love, all of whom are walking through the pre-dawn hours of life. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Children wandering far from home. Overwhelming circumstances. Struggling with feelings of inadequacy for the demands of their lives, these beautiful, incredibly talented women are walking through the dark. And though they may not have faces puffed from sobbing, their hearts are swollen with grief. I wonder if they, like my son, feel as though they've been abandoned to a task far too hard when in fact their Creator is near. When Nate felt entirely alone, I was only feet away. In the same way, when we feel completely abandoned, our Savior has never left, never forsaken. We are not alone when darkness lingers. We are not. I sat with Nathan--held him in my arms and read to him from Galatians 6. Reminding him of Paul's encouragement to the people of Galatia to not grow weary in well-doing, I told him that in life there will be lots of assignments that are hard, that in those moments we can give in to our own fears and feelings of inadequacy, or we can persevere. Then I took him to Romans where Paul reminds us of something so important. While we feel unable to meet the task at hand, Jesus is praying for us. "Nate, while you were upstairs crying and feeling completely unable to do this assignment, your Savior was literally sitting beside God pleading for you. He reminded God that you are His child, that you need help. He's still praying now. He never stops." I couldn't help but think how we adults need to hear those words sometimes. Romans 8 begins with some of the most potent encouragement in all of scripture, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." When Nate came down those stairs he was already condemning himself; he certainly didn't need my condemnation. He was convinced I would be furious with him for not finishing the task, when in fact I was filled with compassion for him and reminded that he is just a child. And aren't we just the same sometimes? We condemn ourselves when Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. There is no longer any condemnation no matter how much we feel like failures. We need to know our Father is no longer slinging the gavel declaring our guilt. His compassion for us as His children is new every single morning. Paul goes on to address what is happening in the spiritual world when we are in the dark. "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword... ...No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:26-36, 37-39) Spiritually speaking sometimes we wake up only to discover the lights have gone out. In those moments we need to know that we are not alone; we are not condemned to struggle through the apparent blackness of our lives. Our Savior lives to intercede for us, to plead before the Father on our behalf. Though we may not see the tangible evidence of His presence--the splendor of the autumn leaves alight with the rise of the sun--He remains near. Ever present. The ironic thing is that Nathan had everything he needed to complete that assignment. It wasn't that I had not equipped him practically. His problem was that he doubted himself and what I had already taught him. He panicked. We're reading Pilgrim's Progress right now and at one point in the story Christian,the main character, finds himself locked in the recesses of Doubting Castle. Despair has begun to overtake him when he remembers he has been given a key called Promise. Promise will unlock any room in the Castle of Doubt. He had the key all along and failed to use it because he had forgotten about Promise. We too have the promises of God to open the doors of doubt. Among my favorite is, "His divine power has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness." (II Peter 1:3) There is nothing we will face for which we have not been given everything we need to pass through it. Remembering the promise keys of God's Word is so critical to walking through the valleys where the shadows have darkened the skies of our lives. Christian, weary from a rugged and dangerous mountain climb, also finds himself before a castle where he wishes to rest. He sees it in the distance and longs for some peace and a place to lay his battle-worn body. But in the path there are two great lions and he is fearful that they will overtake him. I've thought long about those lions. There's a passage in Proverbs that says the sluggard will not attempt a task because there are "lions in the street." (Pr. 26:13) Just as he is ready to run for his life a voice stops him and says, "Do not fear the lions! They are chained. They are there to turn back those who have no faith. Stay in the middle of the path, and you will not be harmed." Christian made his way past the lions and though their roars echoed through the valley, they could not harm him. Darkness is on a leash. Our Father holds that leash, and there will come a day when darkness will no longer cloud our view. Until that day we walk not by what we see, but by the promises of God's Word. After hugs, comfort, reminders of truth, prayer and a little lunch--food never hurts a situation--Nathan finished his assignment with surprising haste. It wasn't simple. He was stretched, but he finished. I wouldn't give him something he couldn't do. Your Father won't do that to you either. If perhaps you've awoken to a dark time in life, it's my prayer that you'll continue in the truth that your Savior is praying for you, that the Holy Spirit is interceding on your behalf, your Father has leashed the darkness, and you are not alone as you pass from black of despair to dawn. And if you are awakening to a time in your life when the sun has revealed the splendor of your King then I pray you will record those images into the recesses of your heart so that when darkness comes you will have them to remind you that your Father exists, your Savior prays and your Holy Spirit intercedes. Pray with Me: Jesus, thank you for sitting beside my Father reminding Him of my needs. Thank you for intervening on my behalf over and over and over. Thank you for your Promises God. Remind me, Holy Spirit of those promises when my heart wants to doubt. Teach me to walk in darkness as though it were light because Your word says that even the darkness is not dark to you, Father. In the name of my Savior and intercessor, Jesus, Amen.