Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Weathering the Storm

How do we respond when our faith in Jesus is challenged, whether through seemingly unanswered prayers, disappointment, or tragedy? When we just can’t work out where God is or what God is doing in a situation? Do we draw on our own strength, or do we call on God to help us weather the storm?

The Book of Revelation repeatedly exhorts us, or encourages us, to endure oppression and suffering, to hold on unswervingly to our faith in Jesus with patience[i]. This would have resonated deeply with John, the man who received this revelation of Jesus Christ. At the time, John was an exile on the small island of Patmos off the west coast of Asia Minor, an island where Rome, the dominating power of the day, sent people considered to be a threat. Pothyress writes, ‘John had probably been exiled there on account of his uncompromising loyalty to Christ. John is thus a picture of the persecution that may come to any Christian’. In Revelation 1:9, John describes himself to Christ’s servants (to whom the letter is addressed) as 'your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus’.

As a pairing, the words ‘patience’ and ‘endurance’ leave an impression. In the original Greek that Revelation was written in, patience was not merely a ‘passive waiting’ but an active word. Similarly, in our dictionary, endurance is the ‘capacity to last’ and to ‘withstand wear and tear’, and it is arguably difficult to build such a capacity by standing still. It would sort of be like heading into a snow storm without the appropriate clothing- we would not be able to survive the storm or navigate our snow laden pavements for very long dressed for the summer. 

Patience is not one of my strong points. If ever I was reminded of that it’s been during the last month as New England has seen a deluge of snow, snow, and more snow. Don’t get me wrong- it’s very pretty, but my family and I have been cooped up indoors with colds for most of it, and last weekend we had to manage without hot water for a couple of days while we waited for someone to fix parts that had been damaged in the latest blizzard. I am already impatient for this season to be over and for the Spring to get here!

On the scale of things, the snow is not the biggest deal (after all, eventually it will melt!), but unfortunately my lack of patience is a characteristic that kind of permeates my thinking on many things. Everything from waiting for a bus to waiting for an answer to my most longed for prayers can spark frustration. Whatever I choose to blame for my impatient nature, ultimately I am the one actually responsible for the way I respond to setbacks and delays, and it’s my bet that if I was better at cultivating patience when I experience minor troubles then I would be better at coping when I encounter major difficulties.  

So what do we need to be doing in order to cultivate patient endurance in our lives? When I meet challenges in my walk with Jesus, those things that are ‘snow storm equivalents’ in my prayer life, how can my faith weather it? In Hebrews 12:1 we are encouraged to throw aside sin and everything that might hold us back in order ‘to run with endurance the race that is set before us’. Again, running a race suggests we need to be training, getting in shape, persevering through trials, navigating obstacles. Honestly, my default when facing a challenge, after my frustration abates enough for me to listen to some reason, is to tell myself to try harder (as if by sheer force of will I can make myself more patient), to remind myself that God doesn’t owe me anything, so really I should stop being so entitled. His ways are higher than mine after all! Then I sort of grit my teeth and arm myself with some Scripture – usually something about how enduring and persevering are all good ways that God refines us. 

Well, that only gets me so far. There isn’t much joy in it, and usually within a day or two I’m almost back where I started – feeling impatient with my situation and wondering why God doesn’t act- haven’t I suffered enough? Then I start the whole draining process again.

So the message from our series on Revelation this week really hit home for me (You can listen to it here). In it was the timely reminder that patient endurance is not meant to be a burden- another thing on the ‘to do’ list. It is an active state but our activity is often misguided. In Revelation 2 the church in Ephesus are commended for their patient endurance, bearing up for Christ’s name, running that race, day in and day out. But, in Revelation 2:4, Jesus says to the church, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” They had lost the joy that had come from their first intimate encounter with Jesus, and so patiently enduring had become a drag. They were still in the race, but it had become a weary trudge- the bounce had gone from their step. This contrasts with John’s patient endurance, which he had ‘in Jesus’ and not apart from him. John was relying not on himself, but on God.

How quickly we abandon our first love! How quickly we try to do things on our own! Yet, knowing and experiencing the presence of 'God with us' are both central to our ‘capacity to last’, to weather the storm with patience. And when we find ourselves in places where it is harder to trust, when we wonder where God is and what He is doing, we have a resource open to us- to go back to that first encounter, to remember His goodness to us in the past and to let it be the basis for our hope in the present and future.

This week marks the beginning of Lent, which traditionally lasts 40 days to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert and enduring temptation by the Devil. Accordingly, many people give up something for Lent, but what we often neglect to do is to ask God to fill the gap that is left with more of Himself. 

As a response this week, consider doing one or more of the following:
  1. Spend some time talking honestly to God about an area of your life where you are currently struggling to have faith. Ask God to remind you of ways He has helped you in the past, and ask Him to give you joy even in the difficulties of your current situation.
  2. If you have kept a prayer journal in the past, spend some time looking back at some of the old entries. Thank Jesus for His faithfulness and for ways in which prayers have been answered. Ask Him to help you remember these in times when your faith is tested. 
  3. Read through the accounts of Jesus' temptation in the desert in the Gospels (one account is in Matthew 4:1-10). Ask God to show you what you can learn from the way that Jesus patiently endured during this time.
As we continue our series on Revelation during this Lenten season, let us remember what God has already done for us. And while you are waiting for the fulfillment of God's promises in your own life this year, ‘May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Colossians 1:11).

[i] Revelation 2:2-3, 13, 19: 3:10; 6:11; 13:10; 14:12; 16:15; 18:4; 20;4 22:7, 11, 14

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Vicky for this timely post. Working through this time of snow and more snow has been trying. It's good to know that others are sharing the burden. Also it's helpful to see that God has provided an expanded vision of the world to help us all.