Joy in a Minor (Prophet) Key

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and other fruit of the Spirit can be hard to come by during political campaign season.  Social media and traditional news outlets are usually geared toward sharing bad news in normal times, but during campaigns the mudslinging and negative attitudes go nuclear.  Hyperbole is not supposed to be taken literally, like if I said, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” but in politics it seems every election is the most important ever and the other candidate or party is going to destroy everyone.  Responsible civic participation is a must in a healthy society but when it becomes apocalyptic, it may be a sign we’ve put government in a place only God should be.

Photo by Jessica Delp on Unsplash

Around 600 BC the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk was stressed out.  Ancient Israel had the law of Moses and the temple in Jerusalem.  They had God’s prophets, priests, and kings.  Habakkuk’s circumstances should have been ideal.  He saw his political, religious, and economic systems as the best possible, because they were from God Himself.  However, it had all been corrupted by sinful man, often for the benefit of the powerful.  Therefore, God told Habakkuk that He was about to do something utterly terrifying, unexpected, and unbelievable to His people:

Look among the nations, and see;
            wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
            that you would not believe if told.” – Habakkuk 1:5

God gave Habakkuk really, really bad news.  Everything around him was going to crumble, because God was going to use the horribly wicked Babylonians to judge Israel and violently take them captive into exile.  To us, this would be like God promising us that all of our worst political fears would be realized and that there was nothing we could do about it.  Naturally, Habakkuk couldn’t believe it, so he asked God to teach him and waited for an answer:

I will take my stand at my watchpost
            and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
            and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” – Hab. 2:1

In God’s reply, He tells Habakkuk that “the righteous shall live by his faith.”[1]  Not only will God ultimately judge the Babylonians, who were just tools in His hands, but His people must trust and be patient in the meantime, even exiled from the Promised Land without Israel’s institutions, which had proved useless anyway.  Habakkuk felt much better, finding peace and even joy!  He ends his book with this powerful prayer of faith and joy in Habakkuk 3:17-19:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
             the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
             the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
            He makes my feet like the deer’s;
            He makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.”

Habakkuk’s joy was real, although his situation was horrible.  None of this is hyperbole, so why don’t more people have the unshakable joy of Habakkuk?  For most of the world’s population, it isn’t because their circumstances are worse than his.  So, what is it about politics and the fear of losing an election that robs us of joy and peace?  Sometimes there’s no quick solution and a lot of long-term self-examination is required.

Sometimes we must also say:

I will take my stand at my watchpost
            and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
            and what I will answer concerning my complaint.”

So, over the next 4 Saturdays, I’ll be re-sharing some old posts related to reducing the political temperature.  Maybe we can even find some joy in knowing our sovereign God is real, He is in control, and He knows what He’s doing, whatever our circumstances.

[1] Habakkuk 2:4b

A Spiritual Lesson from a Roller Coaster

Intimidator 305 at King’s Dominion. The first hill at the top, with the following airtime hill in the middle.

My teenage son is a roller coaster enthusiast.  He memorizes how tall they all are, how many inversions they each have, who the manufacturers are, how they work, and anything else he can find out.  He takes lots of pictures of roller coasters, including the one I used for this post.  Fortunately, I like them too.  We’ve been on well over 100 different coasters together and will ride anything, but we do have slightly different tastes.  Usually, he likes airtime more than I do, and I like intensity more than he does.  As an enthusiast, he’s the one who told me what a greyout is: “a transient loss of vision characterized by a perceived dimming of light and color, sometimes accompanied by a loss of peripheral vision.”[1]  Caused by low brain oxygen levels, a greyout can happen on roller coasters and can be a precursor to fainting.

Intimidator 305 at King’s Dominion in Virginia was my first greyout.  The ride, with a 90-mph top speed on the 300-foot first drop, is themed after NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, whose nickname was “The Intimidator.”  At the bottom of that first drop, the track banks into a 270-degree turn to the right, and the first time on it, the edges of my vision began to fade as blood rushed to my legs and feet.  I felt the intensity rising, and my field of vision gradually narrowed into a small pinpoint, and I nervously tensed up.  However, before I knew it, I was fine and back to enjoying the ride.

After we got off, I mentioned my greyout and my enthusiast son explained why I recovered so quickly.  It was no accident.  Intimidator 305 was designed by people who knew what the ride would do to people, so after the 270-degree turn, there is a 150-foot airtime hill.  As the train comes up this hill, the track bends down at a lower angle than the train would go on its own momentum, which not only gives riders “airtime” as they feel weightless, but also gives a rush of blood to the brain.  So, by design, I experienced greyout, followed by an amazingly quick return to normal, without fainting. 

What’s the spiritual lesson in this?  There are times where our lives feel like we’re in that disorienting 270-degree turn at 90 mph.  Our awareness narrows to where we can only see the problems in front of us and our body begins to feel stress.  In some cases, the stress itself might become the only thing we can see, having forgotten what caused it.  That intense turn can seem like it will never end, and we can’t see the relief ahead of us.  Sometimes it comes after a great success, perhaps right after the thrill of dropping down a hill at high speed…Or perhaps after experiencing a miracle.  Peter had such faith that he walked on water, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’”[2]  Even Apostles felt hopeless sometimes.

Like Peter, when we cry out “Lord, save me” we may need a reminder of 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul wrote: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

We may need a reminder from a Christian enthusiast, or maybe from our Father Himself, that we have a way of escape by design. After every sharp turn we think will never end is a refreshing moment where we feel weightless, held by our Lord in His loving embrace. In Peter’s case, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.[3] In the Father’s wisdom, relief will not always be immediate – it may take longer than we expect, but it is inevitable because He promises it.

That day, we rode Intimidator 305 three more times and every time I wasn’t as worried about the greyout because I knew that airtime hill was coming.  It’s now one of my favorites.  Thankfully, our lives also are in the hands of a Designer who knows how to teach us to trust Him, and also how to heal us when life’s troubles feel like they’re going to knock us out.

[2] Matthew 14:29-30
[3] Matthew 14:31-32

Letting God Pick Our Battles II

Photo by Andrey Grinkevich on Unsplash

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” yet he also wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 that “to keep me from becoming conceited,” a “thorn was given me in the flesh.”  He writes: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

The nature of Paul’s “thorn” has been disputed for centuries, but Galatians 4:13 suggests it was a physical problem, a “bodily ailment” rather than a moral shortcoming.  So, the lesson of the “thorn” is not that God prevented Paul from overcoming some specific sin to keep him humble – He wants Paul (and us) to be satisfied with nothing less than righteousness.

However, one lesson of the “thorn” is that Paul didn’t mean by “I can do all things” that he could do whatever he wanted and succeed.  Instead, the “thorn” is an example of a battle Paul would not win, because this “thorn” had a purpose in bringing Paul closer to God’s grace and power.  In God’s wisdom, Paul was better off with this ailment than without it.

Yesterday’s post said “Picking your battles, rather than trying to fight and win every fight that comes your way, is a good piece of advice.  However, who should pick which battles to fight?”  In the case of the “thorn”, God picked a battle for Paul not to fight, telling him instead to focus on growing in faith.  The thorn had a purpose in Paul’s striving toward righteousness, which was more important than any physical ailment.  Had Paul continued to insist to God that the thorn should be removed, he would still have the thorn, but he would also not grow in his relationship with his Lord.

Sometimes there are battles He wants us to fight in His strength for His glory, and sometimes there are battles He tells us not to fight so we can focus on His grace and power while in this life, in light of His promises to heal our physical ailments in Paradise.

Today’s post closes the same way as yesterdays: “Sometimes life is hard on purpose, so that God alone may be glorified in victory, and also so that we may grow in our faith in His strength.  When we let Him pick our battles, we learn that His righteousness is the only thing that will satisfy us.  Nothing less will do.”