Lately I’ve been feeling frustrated. Frustrated with the condition of my heart, with life, and with ministry. One would think, however, that after the most intense wilderness time of my life, my heart would never wander or go astray again. For it’s true that God uses the wilderness to draw His own to the deep satisfying intimacy only He can bring. It seems logical to think then that the depth of closeness I’ve experienced with Christ over this year would be easily maintained. Doesn’t it? After all, He has taken me through my unimaginable.
I think it’s almost comical that the struggles of feeling distant from God, struggling for illumination from the Word, wanting my own way, making my own plans, and telling God what I think should happen, have all crept up again. I’ve been a Christian for almost 17 years, so these struggles are not new. I’ve experienced the ebbs and flows enough to be familiar with them.
But certainly, shouldn’t I have figured it out by now!?! I mean God taught me to trust Him when the bottom fell out. He brought me to new depth of intimacy with Him. He made me to experientially know that He alone satisfies. I’ve received His astonishing grace. I’ve tasted and seen that He is good. I have been able to say, “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ! Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!” and REALLY mean it! So how then, does my heart still go astray? How then do I find myself still seeking satisfaction in other things? Shouldn’t following Jesus be easy now?
I suppose I should not have been surprised to realize that as the “place of abundance” (Psalm 66) peeks over the horizon, how quickly I’m allured by the abundance more than my great Savior. My heart persists, as Luther said, in being “an idol factory.” And as in Lewis’ famous illustration I continue to be a child making mud pies in the slums when I am offered a holiday at sea.
So think I’ve reached some important conclusions.
I am still desperately needy.
I am still at war with my flesh. Caught between the already and the not yet.
God is faithful, while I am yet faithless.
Jesus is the true satisfier of my longing soul.
In any relationship real intimacy is two-sided. Mutual pursuit.
I must surrender my will, my plans my desires. To be a living sacrifice is a continual action.
I thank God for His steadfast loyal love.
Let me elaborate a bit. Psalm 107 identifies four groups who’ve experienced exile in different ways. Some wandered in deserts and were hungry and thirsty. Some sat in darkness, held captive in prison. Some through their own foolish sin experienced affliction and poor health. Some were caught in angry storms. But all finally saw their great need. “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress.” (v6)
The redeemed received deliverance, and their hearts were moved to praise. As you’ve probably guessed, this Psalm foreshadows ultimate redemption in Christ. “The steadfast love of the Lord becomes flesh and blood reality before our very eyes in Christ.” (ESV, Gospel Transformation Bible) In Jesus, God once and for all answers the cry of the needy. Sometimes deliverance is a change in situation. But not always. Sometimes it’s a change in heart.
Today, deliverance for me was realizing again that Jesus “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry He fills with good things.” He fills. He is THE good thing. In my struggle, I again find rest beneath the cross.
Likewise, as God pursued faithless Israel, so does He constantly allure me with His jealous love. He desires intimacy with me. Yet still I’m wayward. It’s deeply distressing to think that I still make idols after just how much God has done for me. But I do. Though I hate them, I still create little gods to worship. But praise God that He is jealous for my affections! Praise Him that He is not willing to share first place! Because of His Son, He will NEVER stop pursuing me! So He draws me back. He causes me to realize that empty pursuits don’t last. They don’t satisfy.
As an aside, I heard a fantastic sermon this weekend by one of our elder candidates on this very topic. I love how the Holy Spirit does that! Sometimes I think sermons are just for me. Paul Dawkins expounded these truths beautifully and powerfully from the book of Hosea. Go listen to it here. Seriously. I mean, I can’t be the only frustrated Christian out there? It’s well worth your time. You’ll be strengthened and encouraged. In the sermon Paul said, “If God allows you to be frustrated in your faith, sometimes it’s an invitation to greater intimacy.”
Both in wilderness and in abundance God desires deeper, growing intimacy with His own. To His people, He calls Himself “Husband.” (Hosea 2) And just as in human relationships, intimacy with God doesn’t just happen. It grows because of commitment, devotion, and mutual pursuit. It takes effort. By that I mean that it is foolish for me to think my own devotion to God cannot fade. It’s foolish to think that my natural tendency will not lead me astray. I often need to be led back.
With my faithlessness in mind it’s even more astonishing to think that God will ALWAYS pursue my heart. It’s marvelous to think that His commitment and devotion never falters or grows the slightest bit dim. Therefore, as a husband desires willing devotion from his wife, so does God desire the same response from me, devotion motivated by His own unfathomable love and provision for me. Devotion that is precipitated by grace.
So I return. I repent in humility and again surrender life, plans, and desires to Him. It’s a continual action often needed many times a day. I think this is what it means to be a living sacrifice. The effort is not merely “trying harder.” Rather it is obedient surrender flowing from the power of the cross. On my own I will fail. I will make idols. But thank God for His steadfast, loyal love. Thank God that the power of the gospel enables me to surrender, to return.
I suppose frustration is a good thing then. For it reminds me how jealously God desires my affections and how deeply He wants to give me Himself. What greater thing could I ever want?