Fourteen years ago, God moved my family from Tennessee to Texas. Teaching at the seminary and speaking in churches has been a delight. Even richer has been the hours I have spent with my wife and son. At the same time, virtually every day for fourteen years someone in my family has been in a medical crisis. My wife has had five major surgeries and nine “minor” ones (as if any surgery on the body is minor). My son has had a debilitating illness that has become more serious for four years, leading eventually to being bedfast 24/7.
At the same time, my dad (my head cheerleader) died and then my mother experienced a slow and agonizing death due to bone cancer. For months I would get up in the morning, trying to decide whether to drive to West Texas to be with her, or to help my wife in the hospital recovering from failed hip surgery, or with my son who needed groceries.
All this affected my body more than I knew. Twice I went to the ER with what the doctors and I assumed was a heart attack. Extensive testing revealed my heart was fine. My body had just said, Enough!
I share all this, not to whine, but to provide context for this posting. Non-stop crises have (finally) allowed me to recognize a profoundly important truth: On Present Earth, things never are going to be “just right.” That only comes on New Earth. Believers experience far more frustration than is necessary because we keep expecting and working toward that which ONLY will be ours in Glory.
Dr. Larry Crabb is a biblical counselor but he also is one of my favorite theologians. I tend to read his books carefully. Related to the topic of this posting, one of his books has been especially helpful, The Pressure’s Off (WaterBrook Press). Your purchasing and absorbing the book will change you, I almost can guarantee it.
Crabb says, “I’m troubled by how unquestionably we live out our determination to make this life work. All our hopes for happiness are bound up in it. It’s as if we believe this is the only world we ever plan to inhabit.”
We Christians are a bit like the child standing at the Whac-A-Mole game. We feverishly bop the heads of whatever pops up. We keep thinking that someday we will make all the bad things go away at the same time. No wonder we sometimes end up in the ER.
Crabb says we are “. . . assuming you can do enough right things to bring about the Better Life. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. You therefore live with uncertainty and pressure, and you demand to know the way to live that will make your life work the way you want. You maneuver; you do not trust. You negotiate; you do not worship. You analyze and interpret to gain control over what happens; you do not depend. You seek the Better Life of God’s blessings over the Better Hope of God’s presence.”
Every molecule of the cosmos is infected by the Curse. Why would we ever expect that we can make everything “all better” at the same time? Dr. Crabb would suggest an alternative:
“There’s another way to live. The Bible calls it the new way of the Spirit. Those who take this route through life find themselves flowing toward the Father in rhythm with the Spirit as He opens their eyes to see the beauty of Christ. This new way leads through a life that doesn’t work very well into a mysterious certitude that anchors us in storms of doubt, in to moments of ecstasy that keep bigger hopes alive when good dreams die, into the terrifying experience of death to self that allows our true selves to walk out of the tomb into the light of day.”
It all comes down to a moment of decision.
“Right now, at this very moment, you’re walking one of two paths through life. Either you’ve decided that what you want most out of life is within your reach, and you’re doing whatever you believe it takes to get it or you’ve realized that what you most want is beyond your reach, and you’re trusting God for the satisfaction you seek. You want Him. Nothing less, not even His blessings, will do.”
“The second path is the New Way. In this arrangement, God first plants a desire in your heart, a longing that actually values His presence over His blessings; then He invites you to live out that desire, to abandon yourself to what you most want. It takes you out of control, but it sets you free. The New Way promises a better hope than the good things of life. It promises nearness to God, and it delivers, though not right away and often through suffering.”
My son is as sick today as he has been for four years. I fully expect my wife will have to have the other hip replaced. And the list goes on and on. But I am trying right now to learn from Paul.
Crabb notes: “Paul’s life was not a pleasant experience. By admitting it and by abandoning all hope that it ever would be pleasant, the pressure was off to figure out some way to make life work. Paul lived to know God, not to use Him. He lived to draw near to God, to become like Jesus, to follow the Spirit, not to live a certain way that would please God enough to get Him to pour out the blessings of a better life.”
Bottom line, “There’s more to Jesus Christ than we’ve ever dreamed. We experience so little of Him when we approach Him only with requests. We taste so little of the mouth-stopping, complaint-ending, desire-deepening awe that His presence creates when we think more about our problems and how to solve them than about meeting Him.”
So here is what I have been doing about 4:30 am each morning. Maybe you will join in a similar prayer:
“Tell God, with tears if they’re there, with whatever genuineness is alive within you, that you want Him more than any other blessing—to know Him, adore Him, enjoy Him, serve Him, reveal Him, and become like Him.”