1 LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
–Psalm 88.1-5 (NIV)
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.13 And so you will [have the opportunity to] bear testimony to me.14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.17 Everyone will hate you because of me.18 But not a hair of your head will perish.19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
–Luke 21.12-19 (NIV)
All of us can relate the the psalmist’s prayer of desolation in today’s lesson. It is the darkest of all the psalms and the only shred of hope we find in it is in verse 1. Like the psalmist above, we cry out in desperation and agony to God when we or our loved ones are afflicted with a devastating illness or loss. We cry to God when we see the massive amount of suffering and injustice that goes on in this world or when we see someone who is desperately hurting. Where are you God? Why do you allow my troubles to overwhelm me?
Indeed, we see Jesus warning his disciples that even following him will not make them immune from trouble or suffering. In fact, it will cause just the opposite. But here’s the curious thing. In warning his disciples about their impending persecution, he reminds them that they have an opportunity to witness for him! Why would anyone want to do that given all that is wrong in the world?
No one would want to do that if we look at God as some kind of cosmic Santa Claus who is at our beck and call. Neither would we want to do that if we think that this mortal life is all there is because we would have to assess our success or failure by how many goodies we are able to accumulate. But that is not what life is.
As Jesus reminds us at the end of today’s Gospel lesson, we need to hang on when “it” hits the fan in a big way and we are smacked right in the mouth. Why? Because life is more than our mortal, biological existence. Life is about having a reconciled relationship with the Source and Author of all life, a relationship only made possible by God himself. When we really know that, it makes it possible for us to transcend all that can assail us–with God’s help in the Spirit, of course. We no longer have to be afraid because we understand that the living of our days is but a drop in the comprehensive ocean of eternity and Christians are promised that one day, we will no longer have to life indirectly in God’s presence. We will get to be in his direct Presence forever and he will fully restore all that is wrong with his good albeit broken creation.
That’s why we would want to bear witness for Christ.
Having this kind of eternal perspective and knowing the God who created us will also inevitably move us to work on his behalf to address some of the massive wrong that confronts us in our daily lives to the extent we are able. We understand that we cannot provide the ultimate fix to those wrongs but we can bring Jesus’ love and God’s justice to bear on some things. As we saw yesterday, God has this amazing power to turn bad things into good, especially when we decide to trust and cooperate with him.
What this means for us on a practical level is that we listen for our marching orders each day in prayer. We ask God to give us strength and power to turn outside of ourselves when we are greatly afflicted and then ask him to use us to bring healing and good to others. It also means that we must be content to live with ambiguity and incomplete answers, stuff that typically drive humans nuts because we want it all and we want it now.
But that is not how the game of life works. That is not how the rules of engagement with God are set up and if we are truly to allow him to be our God we must respect his good order of things, even when we don’t think they are so good or even right. This is no small task and is impossible without the very Presence of God’s Spirit in us and the help, love, and support of trusted friends.
When, with God’s help, we are given grace to see life for what it is, we will also discover a power outside of ourselves that will enable us to transcend our fears and hurts. When that happens, you will be on your way to living a meaningful and purposeful life because you will be thankful to God’s gifts to you–including the assurance of your eternal future–and want to respond by giving your life to him, primarily through your loving service to others. Remember, Scripture’s most frequent admonition to us is “don’t be afraid.” When we really know the God of this universe in the person of Jesus Christ and the abiding Presence of his Spirit, we will also discover the secret to obeying this command.
If you do not yet know this God who loves you passionately and equips you to live life abundantly and with proper perspective, what are you waiting for?