Soul Drought and The Lord of the Dance

I’m preaching on Psalm 1 this coming Sunday and not feeling at all like a tree planted by God’s living water. There’s some soul drought going on. Do you have days when you can perceptively feel the heaviness in the air, even the cosmos? These are the times that the poem “Footprints” is helpful. It reminds me that when I have felt the most tired and alone and I’m upset that there’s only one set of footprints on the beach, that’s exactly when the Lord carried me.

We go through life thinking that we and God are walking hand in hand and see two pairs of footprints. Suddenly we notice there’s only one set and we wonder where God went. We have all been there. Whipped, tired, and worn. If another shoe falls, we don’t have the strength to pick it up. We need Jesus to carry us. Unfortunately, I often teeter into a melancholy and find myself unable to get moving again. I want Jesus to keep carrying me.

That’s not the life most of us want. We want God’s help when we’re powerless, but we prefer joy. Someone said it this way, “Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” I think it’s more than that. It’s more than Jesus carrying us through tough times. It’s more than hanging in there. We want to do more than survive. We want to thrive!

This is when I most appreciate the variation on the “Footprints” poem. It fulfills Psalm 30:11, “You (Lord) have turned my mourning into dancing; you have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” I don’t know if you’re ready to hop out of the Lord’s strong sheltering grip and get on with Life with Jesus by your side, but read this and see if it describes where you are or want to be:

“Imagine you and the Lord Jesus are walking down the road together. For much of the way, the Lord’s footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace. But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures and returns. For much of the way, it seems to go like this, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord’s, soon paralleling His consistently.

You and Jesus are walking as true friends! This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens: Your footprints that once etched the sand next to Jesus’ are now walking precisely in His steps. Inside His larger footprints are your smaller ones, safely you and Jesus are becoming one. This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger. Eventually they disappear altogether.

There is only one set of footprints; they have become one. This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is back. This time it seems even worse! Zigzags all over the place. Stops. Starts. Deep gashes in the sand. A disordered canvas on the sand, as both sets of footprints go every which direction. You are amazed and shocked. Your dream ends.

Now you pray: ‘Lord, I understand the first scene with zigzags and fits. I was a new Christian; I was just learning. But you walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with you.’

‘That is correct,’ says the Lord.

You continue, ‘… and when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps; followed you very closely.’

‘Very good. You have understood everything so far,’ says Jesus.

‘… when the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like you in every way.’

‘Precisely.’

‘So, Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than at first.’

There is a pause as the Lord answers with a smile in his voice. ‘You didn’t know? That was when we danced.’”

Maybe today is a day that you need Jesus to carry you and that’s fine, might even be necessary. Maybe today’s a day when you want to walk hand in hand beside Jesus with two sets of footprints. Frankly, what I’m feeling is to get up and go, and stop wallowing in this soul’s dark night. I need a dance partner today – Jesus. I want joy; to thrive, not just survive! What about you?

Releaf the Tree – Easter’s Coming!

Last night Cindy and I watched a TV rerun of a Wednesday night perennial for us: “The Middle.” A tree limb had fallen on Frankie and Mike Heck’s car and the windshield was no more. Oh, they had paid for the extra “Acts of God” coverage, but the insurance company disallowed their claim because the tree limb was longer than it should have been, ought to have been trimmed, and, therefore, constituted homeowner negligence. To make a long story short, a church van saved the day. The van kept them from being frozen while driving their glassless car on wintry days. An act of God? An act of humankind? Which one – the limb falling or the church donating the van? Both? Neither? One or the other? Do you ever wonder about bad things happening and why?

It’s a question of God’s will, isn’t it? Some have said that the most powerful prayer is the one Jesus told us to use in the Lord’s Prayer and the same one, in essence, that he himself used when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 6:10 & Matthew 26:39): “Your will be done (On earth as it is in heaven).” This simple prayer is often misinterpreted as a feeble resignation to the unknown desires of a distant God, a caveat placed at the end of faithless prayers when we hope for the best but let God and ourselves off the hook by saying the common addendum, “… If it be your will, in Jesus’ name. Amen.” I am sick and tired, worn out even, from pondering the “Why’s” of life, and I will not use God’s unknown will as an excuse to accept life’s crud and vagaries. Understanding God’s will in a fickle for us/against us sort of way doesn’t do God justice and it certainly doesn’t do anything for me.

I know God doesn’t cause disease and tragedies because God loves and can only give good gifts (James 1:17). Illnesses and problems occur for lots of reasons, but the reason is never ever God! While God isn’t the source of tragedies, God does what God does best and that is the incarnational presence of God through Christ. Jesus is the Living God to whom we pray. So, when we pray for God’s will to be done, it isn’t some lightweight inadequate panacea for the ills of the world. It is an assault on the gates of hell! Our prayers are a battle cry against everything that’s not God’s will. To pray for God’s will to be done is not a statement of resignation or like extra-fine print at the bottom of our prayers that somehow voids the whole deal by letting God off the hook – “just in case.”

God doesn’t want disease or tragedies to prevail! Human freedom and e(E)vil have their way because God’s love gives the whole creation the freedom to run amok. The suffering of Jesus during Holy Week reminds me of this in the most poignant way. Freedom gone wild yields disaster, except that for Jesus and those who trust in him there will always be hope and a victory.

Therefore, I will cling to Jesus when I am worn out by this drama-filled life. I will continue to pray in Jesus name that God’s kingdom comes! I will pray as Jesus did that God’s will happens on earth as it does in heaven, and there aren’t any illnesses or tragedies there!

If you’re tired and worn, listen: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:6-9).” “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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”

This song is for you: