“God, I feel stuck!”
Those were my words to God that morning. I’d been wrestling with him in prayer for the millionth time. This time, my pursuit of God seeed to be taking the form of a collision between two opposing dynamics. Like a surface gale fighting a strong ocean current headed the other way.
“God, I feel stuck!”
Let me try to describe how I got there. There are things we desire in this life. How we handle those things is one of the most profound tests of our faith. Like many, I remember when I first began feeling the weight of permanent disappointment. It was in my mid-twenties. The sense was suddenly clear: some stories just never have a happy ending. At least not in this life.
As I pushed into God’s opinion on such things, I discovered two very opposing forces at work.
I’d see that Jesus spent a lot of time offering his help to our earthly troubles, in everything from demon possession to a wedding party that ran out of wine. But I also learned that if even Jesus did not have his every prayer answered, we certainly will not. “Many trials” are part of the deal.
“God, I feel stuck!”
You can see this divide in today’s theology. On one hand, you have a number of famous preachers out there telling people that God’s will is always blessing, always breakthrough, always answer to prayer. They want to give people hope. But they ignore that trial and costly obedience have great value of their own, and they rarely share Jesus’ highest priority: the gospel of salvation.
But in response to this sophistry, you get a number of other teachers compensating way too hard in the other direction. They’re tired of watching people get their hopes up and then get let down. So they avoid making promises and teach that God isn’t really concerned with our earthly hopes. They teach obedience and letting go. Sometimes they go so far as to pounce on anything that smacks of God’s “power or promises”, and spiritually shame people for seeking them.
Do you see the maddening pendulum?
I certainly did. On some days, I’d be inspired by a sermon reminding me of Jesus’ power to rescue and bless. It seemed ridiculous that he, the Bible’s ultimate author, would jam-pack the Gospel with miracles with the intent that humans would walk away talking about “all the people in Israel that he didn’t heal.” Talking about hope was more exciting. It made the world easier to live in.
But then – through either a sermon on suffering or simply my own life experience – I’d find myself being careful. I knew that I could not simply “claim” any old outcome from God. I wanted to be respectful; I wanted to be correct. And maybe I was just fearful of a no. Those days were undoubtedly the more difficult.
As the years of wrestling stretched on and answers remained absent, I found myself bouncing back and forth between the two concepts, like a harried cook trying to stay on top of two stoves. I’d find hope – but then I’d get mistrustful of it and run back to resignation. I’d stay there because at least it felt more true to life and to some parts of the Bible. But then I’d read about another miracle and want to believe. Then back to caution. Then back to faith. Then heavenly things. Then look to the hills. Over and over and over.
Does this sound familiar at all?
Finally, my conundrum had crystallized enough for me to put words to it. (Sometimes our growth is simply waiting for us to put words to our ungrowth, so God can address it.) I did this crazy thing and decided to bring it before God.
“God, what do I listen to? I feel stuck! Stuck between hope and surrender.”
God’s simple, elegant response to me was something I never expected.
I was taken aback. I figured God would tell me to minimize one and maximize the other. In retrospect, though, his answer makes perfect sense. The constant push-pull was exactly where he wanted me!
God was teaching me that a complete Scriptural image of him could not omit either hope or surrender. Instead, we must include both.
To leave out surrender is to leave out our humility, our Biblically mandated release of this world, and the knowledge that God’s ways are best for us. This we know. Hopefully. But to completely dismiss hope – yes, even earthly hope – is to also dismiss God’s generosity. It leaves out his giving nature and his attentive ear. He commands us to set our eyes on things above, but that doesn’t mean he’s stingy, or limited, or unconcerned with the things that concern us on earth. He is very kind, and absolutely capable of multi-tasking.
Like water sloshing around in a pipe trying to find its balance, my race back and forth has slowly steadied. Unable to fully Scripturally ditch either hope or surrender, I find myself in a comfortable niche between both.
It’s actually a very good place to be.
Don’t lose either one when you next approach him.