The Holidays can be Lonely

If the holiday season goes from joyous to lonely, well, join the club. Loneliness is epidemic in our society and for some the holidays just makes them feel more alone than ever. There are lots of reasons for this but in this post I’m going to focus on some “biblical therapy” from Psalm 25.

The Psalmist David was often a truly lonely man. When this emotion overwhelmed him he counterintuitively reaffirmed his belief that the Lord is worthy of his trust: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” This lonely man reaffirms one fundamental thing. He is unequivocally convinced that the Lord is worthy of his trust. Almost. Immediately he adds “Do not let me be put to shame,”

 Allow me paraphrase that for you: “Don’t let me be embarrassed, Lord, by the fact that I trust you. Plenty of people look at my circumstances and say, ‘Where is your God?’. They’re going to delight in the opportunity to increase my loneliness, Lord. Do not let me be embarrassed. Don’t let me down.”

He next affirms his belief that the Lord shows the way to those who are willing to follow:  “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me our paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” He firmly believes that the Lord guides into truth all those who are willing to learn. He is absolutely convinced that the Lord delivers from trouble all those who trust him. Yet in this dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross would describe it, he has to remind himself of these things because the darkness comes flooding in. Strong emotion, if we’re not careful, can cause us to lose sight of what we truly believe.

He next affirms that the Lord is merciful: “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.” He believes the Lord is merciful because he’s proven himself over and over and over again in the past.  David is a member of the covenant people which means he understands that God has chosen Israel to be his unique people. God chose Abraham. God chose that out of Abraham would come a people for himself through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. He took an initiative and established a covenant with these people, and he had been merciful to them. He also know that the Lord’s mercy does not mean instant gratification. Israel became slaves in Egypt, but the Lord led them out – after 400 years.  Israel crossed the Red Sea only to wander in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, but the Lord provided for them. The Lord brought Israel into the Promised Land and defeated all their enemies. The Lord gave them riches they didn’t earn. He gave them bountiful crops they had not planted. The Lord proved himself merciful over and over again – on his timeline not theirs.

So in the dark night of his soul, in his loneliness, in the intense inner turmoil of his heart, David reflects on the fact that God has proven himself merciful. This is what we have to do. 

David also affirms that the Lord will give forgiveness to the repentant.  I find it interesting that when he’s consumed with loneliness, when he’s distraught, he becomes concerned about the sins of his youth: “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” I have no doubt that he’s confessed these things many times and realizes the damage they have done to his own life. He’s come before the Lord and sought the Lord’s forgiveness for them. But in the dark night of his soul, the Evil One is reminding him of these things. And he prays, “Lord, remember not those things. As far as the east is from the west, remove my sins from me.”

When we’re down, the devil is no gentleman. He’ll kick us. One of the ways he kicks us is to remind us of all the things we impulsively did in our youth. Even if we’ve confessed and been forgiven for them all, Satan will go on dragging them up. He’ll whisper, “The reason you’re in this fix is because of all the bad stuff you did in the past.”

Jill Briscoe, a Christian speaker and writer, recounted this imaginary conversation with the Lord: “Lord, do you remember that awful thing I did?”

God said, “No.”

She said, “Lord, you absolutely must remember this.”

The Lord said, “Listen, you are perfectly free to go on remembering that. I have chosen to remember it no more.”

And that, of course, is what forgiveness is all about. David is being convicted of past sins. Satan is making him question the Lord’s mercy.  He prays, in effect, “Please assure me at this time of my intense inner turmoil, of my loneliness, of my affliction. Assure me that I still matter; I’m still significant; you still have something in mind for me.” It’s a healthy thing to know where to turn to reaffirm our faith.

To recap: In the midst of loneliness and turmoil we need to affirm these three beliefs:

  1. The Lord is worthy of trust.
  2. The Lord knows what is best and is working what is good in our lives.
  3. The Lord is merciful.

Ignore evidence to the contrary and hold to these affirmations if you find yourself with holiday loneliness instead of holiday joy!

Make Your Mark

Last week I was privileged to attend the 10th annual Catalyst Conference.  As usual it was an incredible experience.  This week I want to share some of the great lessons I learned at Catalyst.  Catalyst is always opened by Andy Stanley and Andy is always good but this year his message was the best I’ve ever heard from him.  (Of course, that may just be because I needed to hear what he had to say).  Andy’s message was “”Make Your Mark”, which was also the theme of Catalyst 09. 

In the Ridley Scott movie, Kingdom of Heaven, the Orlando Bloom character (the blacksmith) has a phrase inscribed in his shop in Latin: “What man is a man who does not leave the world better?”  Andy used that phrase to set up this tension: If you have the leadership gift, you want to make your mark, to leave the world better. But the truth is most of the time the defining moment, the mark you will leave, will happen when you don’t know it’s happening. So the problem for leaders who want to leave the world better is “What should I do since I don’t know the thing to do that will make the biggest difference?”   Andy drew insights from the Book of Joshua to help us break that tension.

When Joshua entered the Promised Land, he was on the verge of making his mark.  But instead God marked Joshua.  He was a couple of days out from attacking the city of Jericho when Joshua 5:13 records that Joshua saw a man in front of him with a drawn sword.  Joshua asked him, “Are you for us or against us?”  The man (angel) answered, “Neither.”  This angel, speaking for God continued: “I have not come to be a part of your story; I’ve come to see if you’re willing to play a part in my story.”

Joshua obviously was because much later, when he was 110 years old, he addresseed the nation and said in Joshua 23:8, “Cling to the Lord your God as you have done this day. … Take diligent heed to yourselves to love the Lord Your God…. Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Like Joshua I would like to think that at the end of my life I will be able to look back and see that I have made my mark. I would liek to be known as one who loved the Lord God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and to be able to say to the next generation, “There is no greater thrill and joy in the world than to play your part in God’s story.”

Andy told several touching stories about the marks his dad (Charles Stanley) had left on his life.  He told us his dad’s motto:  “God takes full responsibility for the life wholly devoted to Him.”  Andy related how even when his dad was literally punched in the face during a church conflict, even when he was verbally attacked while running for President of the SBC, he did not falter because his job was to devote his life wholly to God and then what happened in his life was God’s resposibility.

“God takes full responsibility for the life wholly devoted to Him.” 

Instead of being concerned with who is for us or who is against us we should be consumed with Who we are for!    This brings freedom and is modeled for us by Jesus: “Not my will but yours be done.”

I was challenged when Andy said “Making your mark isn’t worth your life.  Living to make your mark is too small a thing to give your life to. But to be positioned to be open to whatever mark God wants to make through you, that IS something worth giving your life to.”

I think this challenged me because in all honesty I’m not always sure that my energy is going into making my mark or devoting myself to God so that he can make His mark through me. 

How about you? Are you energized more by making your mark, or by devoting yourself to God, thus allowing Him to make His mark through you?