Lobbying for self-pity

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A few days ago on the linkblog, I linked to Brandon Dutcher's story of a surprising word of reassurance in the midst of tremendous stress, out of the blue in the middle of a sermon:

"Who has chest pains?" he asked. "Stand up."

I was somewhat taken aback, yet I stood up because, indeed, for about a week I had been having some pain on the right side of my chest, the cause of which was unclear to me. Since the pain wasn't severe, I had pretty much dismissed it as a nagging inconvenience that would go away soon enough. It certainly hadn't been on my mind during the service. But as I stood there, this man, his face and his voice exuding genuine compassion, said to me something altogether unexpected: "Don't worry. You'll be able to get all your work done."

Until that moment, it hadn't even remotely occurred to me that stress and worry could be the source of the pain, but in an instant it became clear. Then began to wash over me an overwhelming realization that God really does love me and is intensely concerned with my well-being. Even amid my disobedience ("Be anxious for nothing"), here was Almighty God--who was, after all, quite busy running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments--taking the time and the initiative to attend to one redeemed sinner in Nowata, Oklahoma.

As I sat down I tried to maintain my composure, but this realization was simply too much. I spent the next several minutes in that rickety little church weeping, as God's love--how to put this?--poured over me like warm oil. And he wouldn't let up. He just kept telling me how much he loved me and how he didn't want me to worry.

Michael Spencer is very open on his Internet Monk blog about the challenges and discouraging circumstances in his ministry and his personal life. That openness sometimes brings him "encouragement" from readers of the sort Job received from his "friends." (I've been guilty of offering that kind of encouragement in his blog comments.) On Saturday, Michael wrote about two examples of genuine encouragement from surprising sources. He concluded with this reflection on discouragement:

There is discouragement in my world, but if I am honest, most of it is smaller than I make it. I am the one who amplifies it most of the time.

As I've learned to listen more and more to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I'm learning that Jesus was very dependable when he taught us that the Kingdom of God is upon is. Right here, right now, close by.

I choose to not see it because I am lobbying for that most destructive of emotions: self-pity. Jesus is reminding me that there is sufficiency in the love he extends, and the love he places around us. That love comes in thousands of different ways in a day.

The problem is that I don't expect it, don't listen or look for it, don't live in expectation that his gracious love will meet me throughout the day.

Lamentations 3:22-24 "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."

Saturday night, I drove the family to Bartlesville, to the Kiddie Park. It's one of my favorite places, where I get to watch my children have fun on the same rides that delighted me forty years ago. The two-year-old rode everything he could (except the roller coaster), and this year he liked it all. The almost-eight-year-old is almost too tall for many rides, but she was able to join her little brother on the ferris wheel, the pirate ship, the airplanes, the trucks, the boats, and the bumper cars. We all rode the train and the carousel.

The twelve-year-old can only ride the same rides the grown-ups can, so he brought along the juggling sticks he bought the day before to keep him occupied and walked around the park practicing tricks. He was already pretty good at it. Toward the end of the evening, an older boy walked by, said, "That's awesome, dude," and handed him a dollar. His first tip, and he wasn't even trying!

Before we left for Bartlesville, my daughter's Sunday School teacher called to remind us that she needed to review Psalm 121, as the class would be reciting it during the morning service. So as we prepared to head home from Bartlesville, I looked up the Psalm on my Palm, and handed it back to her so she could practice as we traveled. As she recited, we each had opportunity to ponder the Psalmist's words:

I lift up my eyes to the hills--
where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip--
he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you--
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm--
he will watch over your life;

the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

MORE: David Rollo wrote to remind me that Thomas Matthews, the late sacred music composer, organist, and choirmaster of Trinity Episcopal Church, wrote a setting of Psalm 121, which was included on the Coventry Chorale's CD of Matthews' anthems. Here it is:



(Download 850 KB MP3)

UPDATE: There's a sweet song about the Kiddie Park that they play over the loudspeakers at the end of the evening. There's a page on the Kiddie Park website where you can read the lyrics, read the story of the song, and listen to it.

Summers come and children grow And life goes on you see But time stands still in Bartlesville Where the last train ride is free

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3 Comments

bm said:

wow.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

That is my favorite psalms. It is such a beautiful verse.

Work making someone sick: where have I heard that before? :)

I get how Brandon felt: as another small business owner starting a new thing up after a recent setback, with a wife and one year old at home and a personal community that is in turmoil, I know what it's like to feel the constant pressure of the need to make something work, to keep the mass of mess from finally and fatefully coming apart.

(I've also wondered if part of Michael Spencer's agonies isn't caused the whole work levels issue. There's so much in his writings that it would parsimoniously explain.)

We Evangelicals don't think enough about work any more and its to the detriment of spiritual development. Ian Macdonald & Catherine Burke can see a 30% reduction in domestic violence reports just from reorganizing the work at the plant, work probably matters more than we think. But that would probably also threaten our neatly laid out organizations of our churches by having us reevaluate the orders of pneumatikon in 1 Corinthians.

If I am following God's calling in my life -- and concomitantly abandoning those things that God does not call me to do, as valuable or "godly" as they may be -- there is a purpose and joy even in the hard times because I am working with him, knowing that whatever he calls me to do will glorify him, no matter what the suffering. I look to the hills and indeed see that he is ever with me. If I am avoiding God's callings, I look to the hills in vain.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 19, 2008 10:38 PM.

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