The difficulty with faith is not so much belief in what can be, nor the maintenance of what is, but in the merging of the two. Does that make sense? It seems that at times, everything is so clear and biblically-centered, and then the next moment, I am struggling to remember what God has already done for me. He has interceded in real ways, and that affirmation was not simply something that I wished would be; it was real and tangible.
This struggle is not new. In fact, it is the age-old problem restated. The Israelites find themselves in some particular problem, they remember what God has done for them in the past, and then they live into that reality, renewed by remembering who God is and what He has already done. It is not a hope for what will be; it is an expectation of what we know will be, a sure and certain hope.
Like an old, familiar story, we know the outcome already. We might not know how it will play out completely, but we do know that it will have a happy ending. For some, that idea may seem like it comes from an eternal optimist who is looking at everything through rose-colored glasses. But despite our contemporary tendency to solve everything through wishful thinking, historically, the church has looked to the Psalms for realistic encouragement and renewed strength.
In The Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, Eugene Peterson sets out to revitalize the Psalms of Ascents for today’s readers. Like the ancient Hebrew audience, we should pray everything we experience and feel and think as we follow Jesus, not just what we think is proper to pray about in church. (paraphrase of p. 12) The Psalms show us that we will encounter difficulties and despair, but they also show us the truth of reality, something that is often clouded by our everyday struggles.
One such Psalm of Ascents that Peterson translated was Psalm 126, which he has labeled Joy. Many of you probably read my plea for help a few weeks ago, and some have probably read Tawdra’s Facebook post of praise and thanks both to God and to a host of you who have reached out in tangible ways to keep us moving forward. But it is important to share some details of our journey that may resonate with your stories as well.
Four days before leaving for a long-awaited week at Ponce Inlet, I felt that I had hit rock bottom. The work which I had been struggling so hard to generate was becoming a reality, when I suddenly realized that I was not going to have the means to minister to those I had been working to find. Sustainability, a word that has been rattling around in conversations for several months, seemed like so much pie in the sky.
I always joke that I am a little more trainable than a monkey, but I think that God finally helped me make a breakthrough. I am sure that I will continually have to be reminded, but for now, that underlying joy that we hear about, but rarely glimpse, became visible. It was a moment where I fully understood that joy is a consequence of following God and not a sustained avoidance of hardship (p 101).
In the midst of the struggles, personal and professional, God showed us His faithfulness.
We remembered about monies in a 401k that we had available.
God coordinated a week at a condominium in Ponce Inlet for our family to relax, decompress and simply love on one another, provided by the unbelievable generosity of the Lopdrups.
Finally, those of you who have been faithfully following our journey affirmed God’s call through your outpouring of love, friendship, and financial gifts.
All of your responses helped me realize that this ministry is more than an idea in my head. It is rather a growing work of God. A guy who has less than two pennies to rub together should not be able to sit on a nearly-empty beach in the middle of July to soak in the sun and listen for God’s small voice, but there I was. I couldn’t deny it.
Since returning, my focus has been sharpened, and new ideas have been flowing. In the coming weeks, we will be testing new initiatives that will, we hope, lead to self-sustainability and the funding of new opportunities.
In the commentary for another Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 130, Peterson writes: “The “bottom” has a bottom; the heights are boundless.” (p. 145) To me that translates: concentrate on the small things and dream God-sized dreams. I need to hold fast to the basics and aim for the fence. But just what should those basics be, I wondered.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, Tawdra said, “You should read the Prayer of Saint Francis. I think it lays out exactly what we are trying to say we want to be.”
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
So we know our daily marching orders. Now, to dream God-sized dreams...