By Pastor April, Delivered January 16, 2011 As many of you know this weekend that we commemorate the birthday of MLK, Jr. Tomorrow morning, many of us from Summit Church will be attending the MLK breakfast at the convention center along with thousands from across the state and the country, the largest event of its kind to remember Dr. King’s work. We will hear stories of the ongoing work being done to continue in the battle for civil rights and racial equality. And so as I read the scripture today and I have been thinking about the work of Dr. King this week, I have been thinking a lot about the topic of struggle…I’ve been thinking about why we seem to consistently struggle as humans and where God seems to be amidst that struggle.
Some of you might be aware of another struggle that went on recently. Some would say it was less important, but nonetheless it was a struggle. I always said when I started here at Summit that I would cheer for the Buckeyes every time they played, unless… Unless they were ever to play Arkansas – I grew up in NW Arkansas, I’ve been a Razorback fan all my life. And I felt this was a pretty safe place to be since Arkansas and Ohio State had never played each other. Until recently… so in preparation for this great struggle between two great teams, I foolishly made a bet that if the Razorbacks lost – I would preach my next sermon in a Buckeye necklace. And… I am a woman of my word.
O – H – !
I don’t have to say much to convince you that there are a lot of people going through a difficult time in their lives now. I’ve spent time with a number of people in the last year who are discouraged, depressed, and wondering where God is in their lives. And as I have sat with people over the years, I find that I consistently hear a question being asked – it isn’t always asked in the same way, but the heart of what I hear is wondering… “Why is God doing this to me?” Sometimes I hear people say – God must be really mad, I must have done something really terrible, or God just doesn’t care. And I’ve been just as guilty of asking this question as well Many of us have been there before…
And since this is such a common way we approach the struggles in our lives, I want to say a few things about this question why before we go any further. The first thing is that it is a really normal, human response – it comes out of a natural desire to make sense of our experiences. We aren’t bad people for asking it, but we need to understand that when the question “Why is God doing this to me?” – it’s problematic. First of all, the question is not really taking us anywhere toward healing and transformation – there is no answer to this question that will provide us with comfort or healing… but even more than that – behind the question is the assumption that God’s favor and God’s love and care for us are mostly revealed by the situations happening in our lives. That if things are not going so well in our life that God is withholding love for us, even being cruel to us. And that if God really loved and cared for us, that everything in our lives would go the way that we want them to go.
I remember a time earlier on in our marriage and money was tight and somehow I had miscalculated some things in the checking account and a decently large check had bounced. And I remember sitting in front of my computer saying out loud to God – "How could you let this happen?"
Now, God has given us some pretty great promises in Scripture. Some promises of peace being with us, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the promise of mercy and grace and forgiveness… but nowhere that I can find is there a promise that we won’t face difficult things. Nowhere is there a promise that we won’t struggle, that we won’t experience loss, that we won’t have days where we wonder what is next. Nowhere are we promised that we will never bounce a check. Nowhere are we promised that our quarterback will not throw an interception with less than 2 minutes to go in the 4th quarter when you are on the 25 yard line and 5 points behind. Nowhere are we told that the proper order of the universe is for things to be going our way all the time. But somewhere along the way our western culture has taught us and we’ve bought into the idea that things should be going our way all the time and if they aren’t that God is somehow to blame. So, the first thing we need to do is expose this lie that we can sometimes buy into.
So, if God is not in fact, angry with us or distant from us in times of struggle, if that in fact is not true – then what is? And if turning away from God, blaming God, getting angry at God is not the faithful response when we struggle, what is? What are we called to do in moments when life is difficult and we don’t know where to turn?
My favorite place to go in Scripture when it comes to struggles are the Psalms. I think it’s fair to say that they are a collection of the most open and honest conversations with God recorded in Scripture. The Psalmist today is in the midst of a great struggle, v. 13 – tells us that their struggles are so great that can’t even count them. But the psalmist does some things that I think can inform us deeply.
The first is that he starts the psalm not with a desperate cry for help or a laundry list of complaints… the psalmist starts with remembering who he is talking to. The psalmist recounts all the ways that God has been there for him in the past:
When he found himself in the slimy pit, God lifted him up. When he waited on God in the past, it was not in vain. God gave him a new song to sing. And in verse 6, he remembers that it is not sacrifices that God desires most, but God has given him an open ear. The literal translation of this phrase is “Ears You have Dug For Me.” And these ears have made it possible for the psalmist to not only hear God’s voice but to remain faithful even in the midst of trying and difficult times.
Ears you have dug for me.
I don’t know about you, but in the midst of a difficult time, I don’t always find myself opening my ears to God. I’m not always saying, where can I be faithful? Where can I listen more? I’m usually doing most of the talking.
And so, I find this reminder really helpful.
Ears you have dug for me.
Help me to listen. Help me to be faithful.
I can’t help but wonder whether it these ears and this intention to listen is what allowed the psalmist to hear the new song that God was seeking to give him.
Ears you have dug for me. And a new song you have given me.
No longer a song of "why?" But a song of trust. I need you. I trust you. Show me how to be faithful. Teach me how to listen.
In a brief essay, Martin Luther King wrote about suffering and faith, he said,
“As my sufferings mounted, I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course…” He goes on to say, “The suffering and agonizing moments through which I have passed over the last few years have drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God.”
God has dug ears for us, to listen to the voice of a Spirit and to sing a new song. In the midst of the challenges you are facing in life now, where is God inviting you to listen to a new song? Where is God inviting you to expose the lie that everything should always be going your way and inviting you instead to seek to be faithful amidst the challenges?