I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall.
He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
Men especially have difficulty paying attention to their emotions. Some men would admit to having only two primary emotions: Anger and Hunger. But when I pay attention to my heart attitudes and emotions, I realize that the Holy Spirit and my brain are sending SIGNALS to my consciousness that there’s something going on deep inside of me. Emotions, like those red warning lights on the dashboard of our cars, are often the means that the Lord uses to bring about change and repentance. So I am learning to pay attention when I feel anger or anxiety. I’m learning to notice when I feel too confident or arrogant. And I’m starting to wake up to myself when I’m tempted to lose self-control or when I feel depressed and hopeless.
Here’s what our emotions could be telling us about our lives:
- Anger = often reveals an inordinate and yet unattained goal that your heart feels worthless without.
- Anxiety = often reveals an exaggerated need for security.
- Arrogance – reveals an inordinate confidence in a human attribute that in your heart makes you feel superior.
- Tempted to lose self-control – reveals an excessive appetite that your heart needs satisfied to be happy.
- Despair – reveals a false reliance on something that you once possessed but now you’ve lost and your heart thinks there’s no hope for you.
So when we find these emotions present in ourselves, it is a signal that I need to spend some time with God, His Word and His People. We need to talk about these things to someone (God and/or a trusted, wise Friend, or counselor) who can understand and empathize with our situation. Paying attention to the emotions and seeking to understand their source is a big part of keeping short accounts with God, confessing our sins and living a life of repentance.
Why is it that the middle of everything is the most difficult? The beginning is usually filled with excitement, anticipation and expectation and the adrenaline usually carries you for a while. While the end has its own celebration of patience, endurance and perseverance and the satisfaction of a job well done! It is the middle where all of the battles are fought, all of the decisions are made and challenges, obstacles and hurdles are faced. And some of these take us off guard, surprising even the most prepared among us.
The middle presents us with questions we were never forced to entertain before. Questions like “Now what?” and “What does all of this mean?” In the beginning we entered with certainty and confidence, but the middle throws us for a loop and we experience uncertainty, fear, frustration, disappointment anger, shame, and doubt. From the initial perspective in the beginning, the future was always bright, but the middle is ruled by the dankness of the mundane and ordinary. This sometimes produces disorientation in identity and direction and we wonder internally, “Is this all there is?” or “Has my life been a waste?” In the middle, we interact with our own thoughts asking deeper questions about ourselves and our lives while rarely admitting them aloud:
Who am I?
In the beginning, I thought I knew who I was. I was able to define myself based on the job I performed, the important role I played, or the special relationship I had. But in the middle, I don’t feel as valuable and worthwhile as I once did by defining myself as I did. Things have changed. Now I wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I feeling this way?” and “Why am I talking to myself?”
Where am I?
In the beginning, the future seemed clear, secure and filled with exciting probabilities. But in the middle, the support system that once provided security hasn’t proven reliable. Now I’m left to find a safe way forward to a uncertain future. As I try to figure things out in my head thinking up strategies to be safe, I’m filled with anxiety and dread. Now I wonder, “Will I have to face the future alone?” “Will everyone abandon me?”
How am I doing?
In the beginning, life felt like a struggle to be won and my efforts to control relationships and circumstances through my own strategies helped me to stay on top. Fixating on my assessment and judgment of things has helped me to prevent being dominated, tainted or upset. But in the middle I’ve exhausted my abilities to be able to control everything and everyone in my life and now I’m just resentful or angry. At who? At everybody!
The Middle is part of a Divine Conspiracy
In the middle, all of our exaggerated needs are exposed, the sinful passions that have always ruled our lives fail us and our shallow heart commitment to the Lord is exposed. But the middle sets us up for a deeper encounter with Christ to have our deeper personal questions of identity, significance and direction answered and to experience God’s goodness and favor at a level never before grasped. The middle is the opportunity for the Lord to impart hope to our souls as we learn to be satisfied in Him. In the middle we learn that God is Enough!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the lack of depth and experience in our personal relationships as well as the lack of experience in our relationship with God. Evangelicals have basically coined the phrase, “personal relationship with God,” but when pressed further about its experiential meaning, the answers merely revolve around the forensic (legal) language of substitution, atonement, imputation and propitiation (all of which I hold firmly). I understand that Christianity has been a battle for ideas, especially in the early years and during the time of the Reformation but we have become polemicists (masters of disputation and debaters of ideas) instead of children of God who deeply experience our Heavenly Father and so there is no one there for our hearts. So, because our leaders and teachers are great at defining the battle over the ideas of the gospel, we have learned and followed but the results have been that we have largely missed the God of the Gospel. Oh how easy it is so easy to accept ideas about God as a replacement for an experience of Him. Even the language of the Scriptures is rich with experiential language calling us to koinonos (an intimate companion, mutual sharer and partaker) and its derivative, koinonia (communion by intimate participation) with Him.
Listen to and experience the intimate language of John’s first epistle,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and indeed our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Earlier this week, I heard from a missionary friend overseas who privately commented regarding my blogposts from Monday and Tuesday. With his permission, I will relate some of our conversation. He said that he has seen that particularly the generation of younger 20’s and early 30’s seem to be struggling with an inability to build true relationships with others. He and his team felt that young people are substituting social networking for real relationships and that because of this they lacked the real ability and skills to connect with each other on a personal basis. The effect of this substitution is that so many more young people are feeling lonely and isolated. He also said that the irony seems to be that this generation craves community but they turn to social media as their source of community which is no real community at all and they are left wanting.
This is not to completely debunk the social media phenomenon which has great potential to connect people in ways that we were never connected before. (i.e. – my friend reads my blog from a link on a social media website and sends me a message about it via the same social media.) But my friend and I agree that social media is not intended to replace normal relationship building and emotional bonding. It is not the primary way to connect us to others, it is only an add-on or a layer of connection.
I love technology and I love social media. They are not the problem. The problem is that our hearts turn these media into a counterfeit for koinonia so when we look to facebook to be our relationships, we miss the real thing. Could it be that once again our own hearts are our downfall and that we are naturally moving to lesser desires not greater ones? Could it be that we are becoming satisfied with the “relational connections” and “friendships” that social media provides and we are losing our appetites for the real thing? Likely this is one more example of what CS Lewis said in His Weight of Glory address,
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Today I am more connected than ever before. You can contact me via my three phone numbers, my four email addresses, instant messenger and my skype account. Did I mention that you can also facebook me, send me a tweet, or even comment on my blog? Oh, and I am also available for lunch today. But while there is this 360° communication field about me that is available 24 hours of every day and there is more information about me, the way I think and my preferences available for public consumption than ever before (just google john estorge or request me as a friend on facebook) I struggle more to be truly known and to truly know others than previous generations. Could it be that my virtual connectedness has become a substitute, even an unrecognizable counterfeit for true connectedness to others and to God?
As I talk and counsel with folks in their forties down to their teens, what lies behind all of their struggles is a lack of healthy inter-connectedness to God, self and others. What is missing is an experiential knowledge of God, self and others. A.W. Tozer comments, “We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.” While I may know facts about God, do I really know Him? And when I need Him, which should be daily if I really knew myself, does my heart even know how to find Him? Once again in our relationship with God and others we have substituted the knowledge of ideas and facts for true experiential knowledge. Maybe I’m weaker than most, but my heart can’t survive in a world where ideas are substituted for experience. Johann Arndt adds, “There are many who suppose that Theology is merely a science, or an art of words, whereas it is a living experience and practical exercise. Every one now aims at acquiring eminence and distinction in the world; but no one is willing to learn how to be devout.”
My heart longs for a greater inter-connectedness and mutual experience of koinonia with God and others. I desire to participate with God and others in genuine, experiential ways. To have communion by intimate participation, to know and be known by God and others. This is what He desires for us. This is what is wrapped up in koinonia. And I’m afraid we’ve settled for less.
We translate the greek word, koinonia using words that have become almost meaningless to us today. We use words like “fellowship” “participation” or even “partaking.” Sometimes we will use an even more ambiguous word, “communion” These words don’t really do justice to the meaning. I have attempted in the past to draw attention to the word and even attempt to re-define it as “communion by intimate participation,” which might temporarily arrest us to look again but I admit that my definition has only minimal impact on how we could view our connection with God and each other.
But the Biblical writers intended a greater inter-connectedness and mutual experience for us in the use of this word. And to a world that experiences life, relationship, connection and even church from behind a firewall, grasping the intended experience of koinonia with God and each other is crucial lest we continue down a path to a surrogate society of isolation where we are only virtually connected to God, church and others. We are living in a reductionist society of ideas and virtual realities and while we can explain our realities better than we ever could we have a lesser experience of them.
Julie Canlis in her book Calvin’s Ladder cites Owen Barfield in saying,
“When a Greek person living in the classical world experienced the world around him, he did not do so via a system of ideas about his experience but instead felt an “extra-sensory link” between what he saw and his own self… The participation of the ordinary man was a livelier and more immediate experience… . This was due to the koinonia-consciousness of the classical world (which persisted in varying forms right up until the scientific revolution).”
To the Greek world of the first century, Koinonia was the way to experience the world now. Koinonia was originally understood in the context of a historical setting when individuality and the boundaries of self were not harshly drawn and we cared more about what we experienced than merely about the ideas that described our experience. George Hunsinger underscores the importance and elusiveness of koinonia for us today.
“Koinonia means that we are not related to God or to one another like ball bearings in a bucket, though a system of external relations. We are rather, something like relational fields that interpret, form, and participate in each other in countless real though often elusive ways. Koinonia both as a tern and as a reality, is remarkable for its range and flexibility and inexhaustible depth.”
How do you humble yourself before a true enemy? How to you love and serve someone whom you know is going to turn on you and sell you out? How do you wash the feet of the one you know is going to betray you in just a few hours?
At the Thursday gathering of the disciples during what we call the Last Supper, the gospel of John tells us that the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray him. (Judas was a wicked man whose evil flame was intensified by Satan’s fan). As Jesus one by one washed the feet of the disciples, at one point He came to Judas. While there is no recorded dialogue during this interaction, the understanding of the Scriptural text of the evening is that Jesus washed Twelve sets of feet. I marvel at the composure of mind possessed by the Savior during this scene! How do you wash the feet of the one whom you know is going to betray you?
John gives us some insight into the psyche of Jesus when he says in John 13:3, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God. The composure of Jesus was a result of His self-knowledge, His relational identity with His Father and His clear sense of destiny. He possessed a full consciousness and deep awareness of self, identity and purpose accompanied with an experiential knowledge of His Father that carried Him through difficulty. This heart-felt knowledge, acceptance, affirmation of being, and love that He had received from all eternity from His Father overflowed in Jesus so that he could give Himself away, serve everyone, live with people’s dirt and even in love, wash the feet of the traitor.
Jesus could stick with the plan of redemption and maintain His clear purpose for coming to the earth because He was rooted and grounded in the love of the Father. He experienced the breadth, length, height, and depth of the Love of God which surpasses knowledge. He had this composure of mind because He had already obtained victory over death, His eyes lifted to his glorious triumph which was soon to come. And He (like us) was already seated in the heavenlies! What composure! What wonderful patience to endure the washing of the feet of the trusted friend who would sell him out! He knew that His death was ultimately a passage back to the heavenly kingdom (as yours will be) and this brought him a composure of mind in the midst of adversity. Through the entire length of His humiliation as a man, He is not even shaken until he must enter into being forsaken by His own Father, an experience that a child of God will never have to endure again.
Many of us are effective at ignoring the warning signs of our emotions and attitudes when we should be paying attention to these God-given alerts that something is amiss deep down. Often, if we will look with God’s help, we will see something connected to the emotion or attitude that needs to be confessed, repented of and healed. Today I want to write about the emotion and attitude of depression while not getting into a clinical diagnosis. If someone is clinically depressed he needs to seek an appointment with a healthcare professional. Some people experience post-traumatic depression after a military engagement, going through a traumatic event or after the death of a loved one. These feelings are completely understandable and the loss or trauma needs to be grieved by the individual and supported by loved ones. Personally, during my year in Sweden, I battled seasonal depression, when I endured a long, dark winter. But we all feel depressed sometimes and our depression is neither clinical, post-traumatic nor seasonal.
Often, we feel depressed because we had something that made us feel great and for some reason we don’t have it anymore so we sink into a despondency or discouragement over the loss. This depression is the result of the loss of something or someone whom we cognitively and emotionally inflated to divine levels in our hearts. When we are depressed like this, deep down our hearts are saying, “God, I had that thing and it was life to me but now it’s gone and nothing else can help me.” You know that you are involved in some worship-oriented depression when you have lost something that was too important to you and now you feel that your life is over and you can’t move on. We get depressed when we have elevated some finite value to the centerpiece of our lives, bestowed upon it an ultimate source of meaning and then we lose it. Augustine defined this heart attitude of depression revealed by loss as idolatry. He said, “Idolatry is worshipping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshipped.” We know that our hearts have created an idol when we can’t imagine a happy or meaningful life without it. The idol, which is usually a good thing that our hearts have inflated inordinately, becomes so important to us that when circumstances threaten to rob us of it, we would consider turning our backs on God for He is negotiable but this thing is not.
Pray: O Heavenly King, I confess that my depression comes from the fact that I have magnified some earthly thing to be more wonderful and powerful than it really is and now it’s gone. Thank you that your providential removal of this idol from my life is your loving attempt to console my heart with a deeper, richer satisfaction in you. Thank you that I am no longer under the influence of that false functional savior who controlled my emotions and often disappointed and even devastated me. Satisfy the deepest longings, hungers and thirsts of my soul through your tender compassion and extravagant generosity. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.