Earlier today, I received a text from a friend who asked how I and my family were faring right now. I responded simply with, “Surviving well.” Thankfully, my friend and his family are surviving well also.
How about you? Are you surviving well?
As I write this, it’s early September of 2020, the hardest year I’ve ever lived through in my 43-year life.
I’m not killin’ it!
But I haven’t been killed yet, either.
I’m somewhere in between.
I don’t believe mere survival is a good long term strategy. We were meant to come alive and to thrive regardless of our surroundings and circumstances. But sometimes you’re in a season where surviving well is as good as being off-the-charts successful.
Jesus preached to survivors. He was often swamped by crowds of thousands of people living in poverty under the tyranny of local governors and puppet-kings. And he gave them permission to do two things.
- Own the fact that they were tired.
- Come to him for rest.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:28–30 NIV
When I first started serving in pastoral ministry at nineteen years old, I knew everything! I had my bulleted list of key doctrines nailed down as well as my expert opinions on how a church ought to be run.
After all, I’d been going to church for almost two years of my life at that point and had preached at least a dozen sermons. I was an impenetrable fortress of knowledge and ability and whatever might have been broken in the church or the world around me, I was ready to fix it!
Now I’m 24 years into vocational ministry and somewhere in the middle of all of that I’ve had to admit that I know very little with absolute certainty.
That isn’t to say that biblical doctrine cannot be known with certainty. It absolutely can. It isn’t the Bible or the knowability of truth that I struggle with. It’s my confidence in my own flesh that humbles me.
I’ve learned the hard way that knowledge of the Bible and theology, philosophy and history only get you so far. At some point, you experience real pain whether you asked for it or not. And you start to encounter other people and their very real pain as well.
And that’s where the answers get hazy.
You can know today exactly where you stand on the subject of marriage and divorce and re-marriage. And then someone living in a manipulative and psychologically abusive relationship comes to you for real advice.
You can feel assured today that you understand racism and can handle the hard questions. And then a black friend shares their personal story of fear and hurt and rejection that was clearly the result of their skin color.
You can take a hard line against government-funded social programs and then you meet a single mother who earns too much to qualify for help and too little to adequately feed her children and save anything at all for the future.
You can feel very confident about your own unshakeable faith. And then you find yourself talking to a professional counselor about why you’ve lost your motivation to face the world outside your bedroom.
So I’d rather admit that I don’t know it all. I don’t have it all together. I don’t have all the answers. And I’m not always sure that the answers I do have are the correct ones.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not alleging that we are doomed to dispair. I believe quite strongly that our best days always lie ahead of us. That you and I are fully capable of growing and becoming what God intended us to be.
It’s just that, when we believe we have all of life totally buttoned up and figured out, we aren’t really ready for the shake-up’s that come.
Like global pandemics.
And social and civil unrest.
And shrinking budgets.
Or cancer. Or depression. Or losing a loved one unexpectedly.
So in the middle of all of life’s seasons, there are two truths to which I hold dearly that carry me through, no matter what.
You should know that both of these truths are rooted in my belief that God is real, that truth can be known, and that the story of Jesus Christ dying for our sins and rising again is absolutely true.
1. Jesus is present with me.
King David, who had known both great success as well as great failure, pain, and loss, wrote the 139th Psalm, and right in the middle of it, he deals with his attempts to find a place where God is not present.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
— Psalm 139:7–12 NIV
Jesus told his church, “I am with you until the end of the eternities.” (Matthew 28:20)
When everybody is mad at you, Jesus stands beside you.
When you feel invisible to the whole world, Jesus never overlooks you.
When you’re sick, even to the point of dying, in a hospital bed all alone because of Covid-19 precautions, Jesus is in the room, always.
His presence is an unchanging reality. Sometimes I feel his presence. Sometimes I hear him speaking to my spirit. But even when I don’t feel him or hear him, I know he’s there by both revelation and past experience.
And the second way Jesus gets me through…
2. Jesus is patient with me.
Honestly, if Jesus were always present but also impatient, I think I might be miserable. Because I mess up a lot!
But I know that he’s patient. What the Bible reveals about Jesus is one who interacts with sinners on the basis of grace.
- Nathanael, who didn’t think anything good could come out of Nazareth.
- Zacchaeus the tax collector who cheated everyone around him.
- The woman at the well, a Samaritan with five failed marriages.
- The woman caught in the very act of adultery.
- Peter after his denial of being Jesus’ disciple and friend.
- Paul, who tried to snuff the church out of existence.
And me. And you.
Jesus is God, come in the flesh to save humanity. And God is far more patient than we could ever deserve. As God revealed himself to Moses…
The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
— Numbers 14:18 NIV
You may feel that you have nothing else left to hang onto, but if you can hang onto these two truths, you CAN get through anything!
You can survive well, knowing that Jesus is present and Jesus is patient.