Sunday Worship Service 5 pm

Friday, August 15, 2014

When God Messes with Your Life Plan

When God Messes with Your Life Plan

By Stephen Altrogge

Creating life plans is big business these days. For a sum of money, you can hire a Life Coach (Life Guru, Life Master, Life Sensei, whatever it’s called), and they will then help you construct a master life plan. 
The life plan will probably contain some, or all, of the following items:
▪   A grandiose life mission statement, which makes you sound pretty awesome.
   One-year goals, five-years goals, and life goals.
   Specific areas of focus in your life (spiritual, physical, familial, etc).
   A specific trajectory for your life. In other words, a specific description of where you want to be in five years. Most likely, this will include a specific job, a specific level of income, a specific geographic location, and perhaps a specific Body Mass Index.

And the reality is, even if you don’t have a formal, written life plan, you have a life plan in your head. 
We all do. 
You have an imagined future in your head. 
You want to have a family, have kids, get a college degree, start a business, travel to Europe, etc. 
You get the point. 
I don’t have a formally stated life plan, but I want to accomplish certain things. 
I want to attain a certain level of comfort and stability for me and my family. 
I want my life to actually mean something. 
To reference a well-known author who seems to get quoted a lot on this site, I don’t want to waste my life.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for planning. 
Without plans, little of enduring value gets accomplished. 
Those who fail to plan, often find themselves binge watching on Netflix.

But the reality is, there are many times when God intentionally messes up my life plan. 
And that’s a really good thing.

One Messed-Up Life

God really messed up Joseph’s life plan. 
His brothers threw him into a dry well, then sold him into slavery. 
The wife of his Egyptian master tried to seduce him. 
When he refused her advances, she turned him over to the Egyptian cops, who then tossed him in prison. 
He spent years in prison, waiting to be released. 
I don’t imagine that Joseph included prison time in his life plan. 
Finally, after many years of painful waiting, God exalted him to the second in command in all of Egypt.

When all was said and done, what did Joseph say to his brothers?

Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:19–20)

God messed up Joseph’s life plan, and it was a really good thing. 
He did for Joseph what Joseph could never have done for himself.

Two More

God really messed up Abraham and Sarah’s life plan. 
He allowed Sarah to be infertile and barren for years. 
He took them out of their homeland, away from their family and friends. 
Finally, after many years of earnestly waiting, God promised them a son. 
Then God made them wait some more. 
Finally, their hopes and dreams were realized when their son, Isaac was born. 
Then God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. 
Talk about a wrench in the life plan.

After God rescued Isaac, and all was said and done, God made the following astonishing declaration to Abraham:

By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:16–18)

God seriously messed up Abraham’s life plan, and it turned out to be a really good thing. 
God accomplished for Abraham what Abraham could never have accomplished on his own.

He Knows Exactly What He’s Doing

The moral of the story? 
God really, truly knows what he is doing. 
He usually takes longer than we would like. 
He often leads us through strange territory. 
Sometimes he defers, or even destroys our dreams. 
But God, our loving, tender, delightful Father, knows exactly what he is doing. 
He is accomplishing more in you and through you than you could ever think or imagine.

Are you in a place you never expected to be? 
Has God taken you on a path you never would have willfully chosen? 
Take heart. 
God hasn’t deserted you. 
He hasn’t forgotten you. 
He hasn’t made a mistake. 
He knows exactly what he’s doing. 
He knows exactly what you need and where you need to be.

The truth is, God’s life plan is always better than mine.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Worship in the Dark

“Psalm 88 isn’t like the others,” a friend recently remarked.

“Most psalms end on the high note of hope, but not Psalm 88.”

It’s true. This psalm is different.

The concluding words aren’t what we’d expect.

They’re not what we’re used to.

To be sure, the psalms are full of laments, oftentimes raw and intense, but they at least end hopeful.

Psalm 88, though, begins in pain: “I cry out day and night before you” (verse 1), and then ends in pain: “My companions have become darkness” (verse 18).

Why Are You Here?

“My companions have become darkness” — or as the King James puts it, “[Thou has put] mine acquaintances into darkness.”

His friends are gone, in other words. They have abandoned him.

The only companion he has now is the dark.

Nothingness has been personified. Blankness. Absence.

At least, that is how he feels — and that is how the psalm ends.

Then there’s the awkward silence.

There’s that moment in between when we finish reading and start to wrap our heads around what we’ve read.

There’s the budding question, the one pushing through the aching pain of emptiness that we begin to feel — either because we sympathize with the psalmist or because he has described our own pain . . .

Why is this psalm here? How did it make it into the Bible?

We should ask that.

The Psalms are meant to guide the church in worship, after all.

They compose, as Bonhoeffer says, the Bible’s “prayer book.”

They model for us — as the ancient poetry of a timeless heart — how God’s people come to God.

So why would they include such a despairing psalm?

Because sometimes we have to come to God in the dark.

From, In, and Through

Sometimes the weight of our trials are so severe that we feel as if we can’t keep our heads above the water.

The pain is so vicious, the malaise so thick, that we can’t imagine our situation ever changing.

We can’t see healing.

We can’t articulate hope.

And when we try, it just hurts more.

We’d rather not pray.

We’d rather not open the eyes of our mind — not with all this destruction, not when it’s so dark.

But Psalm 88 shows us how.

Cloudy as this psalm seems, we shouldn’t miss the most obvious point.

Yes, the psalmist says his soul is full of troubles, that his life draws near to the grave, that he feels like a dead man, like one forgotten, that it seems as if God has isolated him in regions dark and deep, that he’s drowning, that he can’t escape, that his life is a horror, that he is cast down, unheard, afflicted, shunned — but he’s telling this all to God.

He is still speaking — from the pain, in the pain, through the pain.

Even if by the faintest whispers, even if by the incoherent groans of a troubled soul, he looks to heaven and says, This is where I’m at, God.

This is how dark it feels.

Never Alone

We can come to God like this.

Hurting and broken, no matter what, we can still come. We can still come because — and we must remember — God isn’t afraid of the dark.

Jesus has been there before, you know.

On the darkest of days, from a hill called the Skull, after he cried forsaken, after he said it’s finished, after they locked the stony seal over the gloomiest grave, Jesus went there.

And he went there for you.

He swallowed the real darkness so that, as abandoned as his people might feel, as alienated as their worlds might seem, he never lets them go there alone.

He walks that road with us.

He prays those prayers with us.

He fills us with his Spirit, and lifts our burdened souls by his grace.

By his cross and victory, because he looked death in the eyes and came back to life three days later, Jesus holds us when it hurts.

He leads us to worship in the dark.