Sermon for March 18, 2018
***This is an edited repost of a sermon I wrote some time ago. I pray someone finds it helpful***
“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."
God's promises are many. These promises aren't hidden in any secret place, meant only for the holy and blameless. They require no esoteric interpretation of scripture and so they cut right to the heart of the reader. "Come to me" God says and you will have "rest for your souls". Ok, sign me up! It's a direct promise from God and we trust God, right? Go to him and you will have rest. Simple.
I have found myself being tempted to doubt these promises at various times in my life. I have found myself angry that the simple truth, found in a promise from God, did not seem apparent in my
life at times- even as I watched others seemingly delight in God's word. For me, it seemed like
the promise did not apply. 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 with doubts? Why did it seem I was trapped while others were being saved from their situation?
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 intense clarity. Pain causes men to do things they wouldn't otherwise do and it is often a tool of a good teacher. God uses this to teach us. 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. Your sudden wonder, about whether God's promise applies to you, causes you to look more deeply into your own situation.
Let's go back to the verse above. It is beautiful. It's clear and comforting at face value. To read it and believe it is joy- until you experience something that causes doubt. What happens when we go to God and we don't get relief? What do you do when you go to God and there is no rest for your soul?
The apparent truth of the verse can stand 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 he is preaching the truth but it just isn't true, for you, at that time? Have you ever seen a preacher "full of the spirit", preaching a verse like the one quoted above, and been totally untouched
by it, and, in fact, angered by it?
All of a sudden the joy, the truth, becomes a mocking voice to you because you can see it only from a place of pain and uncertainty. And yet the preacher continues, praising God even more loudly, as you sink into your apparent separateness from God's promise. The fact is, pain is also a cutting truth. 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 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 the 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 not given His Grace. I was angry, alienated, and in pain, yet painfully aware of what I seemed to be missing.
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".
It occurred to me that, as much as I wanted God to be the liar so that I could continue to fool myself with my own desires, it was I who was the liar. I had been lying my whole life. I saw that, 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, a stark personal reality, that it had never had before.
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. My remedy is that, through the Grace of God, I continue to go to God- even when I start to believe a 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 that this is one of the most important promises one can make to God- I will go to
Him, no matter the apparent offensiveness of the subject, whether it be with strong faith or weak faith, and without even knowing it, I will find 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 our attempts to sabotage the process.
The next time I find myself striking out against one of God's promises, that just isn't reaching me through my pain, my first assumption will be that it is I who am asking for something God does not intend. This leads to a true reliance on God for the only lasting comfort promised to me.