There is a famous painting by Edvard Munch called The Scream. It is a clear portrayal of absolute agony. Much of the world can identify with the picture in some way. There is so much pain in humanity that we can all look at that picture and get the point that life can be overwhelming. But the picture also says something else. It suggests a hopelessness that cannot be expressed in words. A silent scream of desperation.
Have you ever felt like your circumstances seemed hopeless?
There is speculation as to the intent of Munch’s painting. Is the scream coming from the person portrayed or is he holding his ears to shut out the noise around him? Either way, God, has an answer to this desperation.
In Psalm 18:3 it says “I call upon the Lord who is worthy of praise and I am saved from my enemies.” Our enemies aren’t always flesh and blood, sometimes they are things unseen. The key is calling on the Lord.
In Psalm 124:8 it says “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” There is power in the name.
Sometimes life brings us to the place where we are desperate for God to act. We need Him and we need Him fast. I’ve had several of those times in my life…when my mother was diagnosed with cancer…when I was paged in a toy store and upon arrival at the service desk then told to call the local hospital emergency room to find out that my five year old son had broken his leg…or when I was told that two of my young sons would be hospitalized with encephalitis at the same time.
Those were all times when I used the theme of Munch’s painting in a very different form. There was a silent scream coming from my spirit as I walked the long aisle of that toy store but it wasn’t a scream of agony, although I was certainly feeling that at the moment. No… the scream I experienced was just as desperate but consisted of a single word…JESUS! I was shouting that name with everything in me but no one in that toy store heard it. Only the Father in Heaven heard my cry.
Now, it’s a cry that I send to Heaven often. I learned that I don’t need to be in a desperate situation to cry out to Jesus from the depths of my soul. I can do it when I feel like things are beginning to get shaky or I can do it anytime I feel like I just want more of Him. I can silently shout the Name of Jesus anytime at all and hear it echo through the heavens.
He hears my cry and He hears yours as well.
This season of my life seems to be about listening. I know God is trying to speak to me but sometimes it’s like watching television with the mute button pushed. I can almost see His mouth moving but there is no sound. I wish I could read lips.
I can remember lines from old movies where one character is trying to make a strong point to another character and emphasizes his point with the phrase, “read my lips.” There have been times where I’ve been tempted to use this line with my children when they are reluctant to accept my answer to a request and they keep trying to get me to change my mind. It’s probably not the best parenting tool but it might be effective.
So why is it that, in this season and at perhaps a time when I am trying harder to listen than ever before to hear God’s direction, that I seem to be deaf? Is there a barrier between us? Something I’ve put there because, like my children, I’ve heard His response to me and I’m waiting for a different one? One I like better?
Or is it that I’m really trying to listen and there are no barriers between us…just so much noise in my life that I can’t hear the still small voice of my Father. Either way, the issue is not that God isn’t speaking. The issue is within me. There are hundreds of verses of Scripture that tell us to listen. But listening requires something of us. It requires that we be quiet, that we be still before the Lord.
My excuses as to why I can’t seem to be quiet before the Lord are actually pretty lame. It’s really very simple. It’s about considering to what degree I’m willing to sacrifice in order to hear God. I must put aside my own selfish desires and just stop. Stop and wait. Stop and listen. Be still.
To what degree am I willing to alter my plans, my thoughts, and my busyness in order to hear God? Is there ANYTHING worth more than hearing the voice of my Lord? How much to I really desire to know God?
Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to Me and I will answer you and I will tell you great and might things, which you do not know.”
It’s important that we call out to God, but if we expect to hear great and mighty things, we have to listen.
I read a blog recently by a Christian musician. He was talking about the challenges of serving God in a music-based ministry. He said that sometimes he felt like he was always playing harmony and never melody. This made me think about how life goes sometimes. We think we’ve heard God’s call and we’re trying to be obedient but sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to see how what we’re doing is making a difference. It’s like we are playing the harmony and can’t identify the song.
When I was in middle school the band director tried to teach me to play the bassoon. Aside from the fact that it was a huge instrument for a thirteen year old to lug home for five blocks every weekend, it also required great effort to play. And it wasn’t exactly a solo instrument. Most of the music was the harmony and rather boring to practice. I only played the bassoon for one year. I just didn’t get much satisfaction from the experience.
But as I read the musician’s blog I saw things from a different perspective. When a composer writes a piece of music each part is important. While the melody is meant to stand out, it isn’t meant to stand alone. The richness of a piece of music is in the way each part is combined together. It reminds me of the verses in 1 Corinthians 12 about the body and how each part needs the other.
But back to the music for a moment. In life we can’t all play solos. We aren’t all created to play the melody. But our parts are just as important. A pastor, for instance, may play a solo on Sunday but even he doesn’t always get to play the melody. The beauty is in the way the melody and the harmony flow together. It’s the countless hours that faithful Christ-followers put in just doing their part…just playing the harmony to the best of their ability… that’s what makes the difference.
We may not even be aware, on a conscious level, of the harmony that is being played but if it our part is missing we’d know it. If the musicians suddenly just quit because they were tired of playing the same boring tune the entire piece would suffer.
When we grow weary of playing the same notes, when we can’t even recognize the tune, that’s when we must determine to remain faithful. Our part is important; our harmony is what makes the melody rich. Maybe we are just asked to play the bassoon to the best of our ability. We can be sure that the song the Lord hears is pleasing to Him even if we can’t recognize the tune from where we sit.
Psalm 33:3 “Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy”
Jesus asked His followers, “What do you want?” (Matthew 20:32)
What do I want? Desires…deepest desires…what are mine? What is it that I truly desire in the deepest places in my heart? For a long time I’ve felt this vague sort of longing. I used to think it was just that I was dissatisfied with life. Maybe ungrateful for what God has done for me. It made me feel sort of guilty, like I should learn to be more content and satisfied with the life God has given me. Instead I’m always longing for something more, asking the question, “is this all there is?” Wondering why I can never just be thankful for life as it is. After all, it could be so much worse…right?
In the past few months, God has been hinting at a completely different mindset. Perhaps this longing I have is not selfish or from the perspective of a spoiled child that is never satisfied. Maybe this is a holy yearning for something that can never be satisfied in this life. It’s a longing, a deep desire for the restoration that Jesus promised when He returns for us.
I’ve been feeling like I need to grow up and stop “wanting.” To spend my time serving and living the best I can, as if this life is all there is. But I’ve been wrong. I need to have a measure of contentment as Paul mentions (Phillipians 4:11). But honestly…this life matters little in comparison to eternity. I will never feel fulfilled here – I don’t belong here. We haven’t belonged here since Eve made that one decision that ripped us from paradise to wander in the wilderness for generation after generation. Everybody has this same longing, I believe. We all search for different ways to find some relief, to feel satisfied…some good, some not so good. The truth is, there is no long term relief…not until He comes for us.
The revelation for me is this: This longing isn’t evil. It isn’t something to feel bad about. Better to stop trying to meet this this need or numb it. Better to recognize it for what it is and embrace it…waiting for the day of the promise!
One day Jesus will fill every void I feel. One day I will finally feel complete and fulfilled when I am restored to the person God created me to be from the beginning. Until then, my comfort comes as I reach for Him and draw as close as I can. I will choose to sit in His presence and wait…I won’t be disappointed!
I had a conversation recently with a friend where we were discussing what I call a Holy Tension.
Sometimes when I am praying for direction I ask the Lord for peace concerning a decision I need to
make. When I sense that peace I feel confident to move forward. But recently, I was praying about
moving into an area of ministry that is a new direction for me. As I prayed I asked for peace but I felt a
little unsettled instead. Not unsettled about the decision so much as about whether I am equipped to
handle it. Can I stay humble? Can I keep the fruits of the Spirit as my standard and not become prideful
or arrogant? Do I have enough wisdom and knowledge to meet the responsibility I would be accepting?
This is where the Holy Tension surfaces. Yes, I need to know God’s peace concerning my decisions
but there will always be a health caution when it comes to carrying out His direction. I will never be
completely settled because if I am then I’ve ceased to trust God minute by minute. I will always need to
feel dependent on God, recognizing my own shortcomings and relying on His power to accomplish what
He’s called me to do.
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted
by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are
always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
I never want to become so confident in myself that I quit leaning on the Lord. The peace in my spirit is
the peace that comes from trusting in God’s perfect abilities and the tension comes from acknowledging
that on my own, I am nothing.
My husband is a woodworker. He builds everything from chicken coops to porch swings to fine dining room tables. He is a craftsman who settles for nothing short of excellence. He also restores furniture. I’ve seen him take a broken down piece of furniture that someone brings him and patiently restore it to its former glory. Sometimes the transformation is amazing.
He takes a piece into his workshop and begins by assessing the damage. He doesn’t care where the piece has been or what abuse it may have experienced. He focuses on returning it to useable condition and the purpose for which it was created.
He removes the old finish, sands and glues and sands some more. Then he carefully applies the new finish and watches as the richness of the wood is revealed. He patiently waits for each coat of finish to dry before applying the next.
Our Heavenly Father is also a master craftsman in the business of restoration. He can take a life and strip away the old, stained finish. He can gently sand away the rough spots and mend the broken pieces. He can apply a brand new finish, rubbing the oils of healing into our hearts, causing the richness of His presence to shine in our soul as it was intended from the beginning when He created us and then declared His creation very good.
God doesn’t care where we’ve been or what we’ve experienced. Nothing can disqualify us from being beautifully restored if only we will put ourselves into the hands of the Master Craftsman.
2 Corinthians 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 4:16 “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
Do you sometimes feel like life is out of control? So many things to do that you can barely focus on anything? Sometimes it reminds me of a common circus act from years ago.
Remember the plate spinner? He took large plates and set them spinning, precariously perched on the top of rather flimsy poles. He set plate after plate and had to constantly return to the first ones to add energy to the spin so the plates wouldn’t come crashing to the floor. By the end of his performance he was running frantically back and forth between the poles attempting to keep everything going at the same time.
Does that sound like how our culture has conditioned us to see our lives? We try desperately to keep everything going in our own strength. We become a one-man-show so to speak.
But I believe God has a different idea about how it’s supposed to go. Consider for a moment, the Master of the Universe. Would He need to run back and forth in a panic, trying to manage everything at once? Of course not. God could simple lean against the nearest wall, casually cross his arms and look toward the collection of spinning plates. With a nod of His head and one word He could control the entire activity. A simple command of “spin!” and… all would have to obey Him.
Jeremiah 10:23 says, ”I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.”
It’s not that God doesn’t want us to be responsible to do the things He has designed us to do. It’s when we take it upon ourselves to do it on our own that we get into trouble. We become that plate spinner, focusing on the task of keeping it all going and perhaps missing the joy along the way. No, God probably won’t take over and leave you nothing to do but watch. But you can be sure that if you look to Him for direction and focus on that task…the plate that is His priority at the moment, He won’t let even one of the other plates fall.
The Masks We Wear
If we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that we all wear masks at times. Even our closest friends only see what we want them to see. We hide our true selves for many reasons, but the root is usually fear of what others might think if they knew who we really were. The risk of rejection is just too great so…we hide.
I wish that was as far as it went but I don’t think it is. At times, I find myself even trying to hide from God behind one mask or another. I’m not alone in this….Eve actually did it first…hiding from God in the garden. Of course, she hadn’t read Psalm 139 so maybe she didn’t know that God was intimately acquainted with all her ways, or knew her words before she said them.
Once, many years ago, I was required to participate in a children’s costume party. My costume included a mask and when I was dressed in the complete outfit no one could possibly guess it was me inside. I found a certain freedom to act in any way I wanted since no one knew it was me and wouldn’t judge me for anything I did. But it was an artificial freedom. Because I wasn’t perceived by the children as “real” they interacted with me from a distance, unwilling to get too close . They instinctively knew that what they were seeing wasn’t the whole picture. I felt freedom to act as I chose but I also experienced a sense of isolation. Several of the other adults knew who I was inside my costume and were the ones who would draw closer and interact on a more intimate basis.
Isn’t that how it is in life? Don’t we avoid people who seem “phony”, keeping our distance? Don’t we feel more comfortable with people who have earned our trust by being real? How effective can we be in ministry if we can’t be real? Who will allow themselves to risk a relationship with us if they sense we aren’t what we seem?
One final thought…who knows what’s inside the masks we wear in our daily lives better than the Lord? Who is more willing than anyone to draw close to us? Who has seen everything there is to see in us and still loves us? Jeremiah 23:24 says, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill the heavens and the earth? declares the Lord.”
We don’t need to pretend to be something we’re not. We can be real with God. He knows all about us and loves us anyway.