Saturday, 21 April 2012

Rejoicing and weeping

Isn’t it great when every thing in life seems to be really good, thing’s just seem to fall into place and life is easy? We find ourselves in times of great joy and yet sometimes we forget to rejoice. When things are harder we then realise how easy we had it and that we should have been more grateful. By nature we are selfish. We expect that life will go our way and when it does we forget to say thank you and when it doesn’t we struggle.

Romans 12:15 teaches us an amazing lesson and if we can grasp hold of this and let it root itself in our hearts, our hearts will beat with the heart of God. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” NASB. (Some translations say ‘mourn with those who mourn.’)

Our Wedding day was arguably the best day of my life. I was excited and full of hope for the future. We invited others to share in our joy and it was a great day of rejoicing. I am very grateful to God that we have each other and our journey together began that day, but there had also been some very sad times and as a result amidst our rejoicing there was still a deep sadness. My husband’s brother had been killed two years before in a car accident and there was a hole where he should have been at our wedding.  His wife was with us to share the day and though she came to rejoice with us, we were also weeping alongside her. It’s not easy to go to a wedding and hear ‘til death do us part’ in the ceremony and be facing the reality of that just two years in to your marriage. But she came and we rejoiced.  We rejoiced as a family and as a family we wept too. The pain of losing a son, a husband, a brother or grandson does not go away. It changes but it remains.

When I think about this verse it sounds easy to say ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’. It’s easy to rejoice and be so pleased for others when you are happy. I often wonder though, if we get so consumed in our joy sometimes that we fail to notice those around who are sad. It is right that we rejoice. God has done, is doing and will do great things for us! We should rejoice with everything we have and with each other too but let’s be sensitive in that. Don’t be robbed of joy but don’t be insensitive. Real rejoicing is felt deeply it doesn’t have to boast; it makes your heart glad and doesn’t need to be arrogant. I want to seek to get the balance right.

If we look then at the part where it says, “Weep with those who weep”, again this poses a challenge. We can shed a tear at someone’s sadness, in that brief moment we can feel the pain of someone who has just lost someone close to them or has received bad news, but then we can easily carry on with our day. I believe that when the verse says ‘weep with those who weep’ it means keep on weeping, remember that they are in pain. Of course it is unrealistic to think that we can do that for every single member of our congregation all the time but you can do it within your circle of influence and if everyone did that we should have it covered.

We forget, when there is a lot of rejoicing, that there are many who are weeping. Time heals to an extent but it also forgets if we let it. The person who is weeping however does not forget. It is a challenge to us all to remember those who carry pain. A simple “ I was thinking of you today’, ‘that must have been hard for you’ or ‘ we still think about that person you lost you know, they won’t be forgotten’ means everything and it actually frees the ‘weeping’ person to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ because someone has remembered that they still carry pain and took the time to bring a word of comfort and to lift their head.

If you carry sadness it can be hard to find your place. It can feel like no one really understands and so you don’t know where you fit, but there are many who understand and if we remember that, it reminds us that we are not alone and that our experience could be of use to someone. God always works all things for good if you let him, no matter how bad it was or is.

Sadness is not your friend. It may be present in your life but don’t make friends with it. It may feel like you don’t know how to function without your friend ‘sadness’ because that is what you know and you can’t get away from it, or you might actually have got yourself comfortable there or even worse, that your sadness has turned to self pity. Please don’t get me wrong on this one. I am not saying that pain isn’t real, it is, but if we get stuck in a place where sadness has become a ‘friend’ then self-pity can get in and self-pity stinks! Pain is real and raw. Self-pity clings on to a time when pain was really deep and it tells you that you deserve to feel sorry for yourself and that you deserve for others to feel sorry for you even if actually the pain is not as bad as it was. We must get this balance right and be responsible for our actions and decisions. Check yourself to see if actually your need for others to weep with you is about attention. Check that you are not using something that has happened to you as a reason for not rejoicing with others because you get attention from it. It doesn’t mean that it is not hard but you have a choice to make to try and move away from self-pity for the sake of someone else’s joy. In fact, the antidote to self-pity is ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice’ genuinely! You might have to force yourself to do it at first but it will turn from a choice you made into your natural joyful reaction before long.

I came across this challenging quote:

‘Those who show pity and are always ready to help during times of trouble are seldom the same ones who rejoice in our joy: when others are happy they have nothing to do, they become superfluous and lose their feeling of superiority, and so they easily show their displeasure. Friedrich Nietzsche.’

It is not always the case, of course, that people need to feel superior in their pain to have a role but there is a danger of it. Please don’t become someone who is superfluous because you have nothing to do if people around you are rejoicing, instead find your place in the midst of rejoicing with others and let go of self-pity.

There is a challenge to all of us to ‘weep with those who weep’ and not think so much about ourselves, but I think that actually it is a bigger challenge to ‘rejoice’ when we are weeping. It is very hard to feel joy when you are jealous that someone has the thing that you desperately want or if you are just genuinely filled with sorrow. Their rejoicing can feel as though they are being smug but often they are just rejoicing and it is our view that is distorted. People should be rejoicing and if we are suffering it is a massive challenge to join them in their joy but it is to our honour if we can try.

In Mark 9 we read of a story of a boy with an evil spirit. When the spirit sees Jesus he sends the boy into convulsions and Jesus asks how long as he been like this? His father tells Jesus that it has been since birth and he says, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” Jesus replies, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”

We can be sure that the one who knows our deepest pain is Jesus and that he pities us. He feels great compassion towards us. The father of this boy says ‘take pity on us and help us’. We can say that to Jesus when we feel sad. We can make a choice to rejoice with those who rejoice, even in our sadness and ask Him to help us. If we want to rejoice we will be able to rejoice because ‘everything is possible for one who believes’. I am reminded again of Philippians 4:13  ‘I can do all things through him who gives me strength’. It can take all the strength we have, and then some, to make the choice to rejoice but we can do it through Christ, who is our source of strength.

If we understand again what Jesus did for us, we can rejoice. I remember one Sunday morning at church, I was in the worship team and we were singing a song called ‘rejoice’. At that time, life was great for me, but then I saw someone walk into the back of church and I knew that her sister had died that week. It felt flippant to be singing ‘rejoice’ when she had had the worst week of her life, but actually it wasn’t flippant. It was deep and true. “Let all that seek the Lord rejoice” we sang. I watched her and she lifted her hands to God in worship and I knew that she understood that the joy of the Lord was her strength that morning.

If we rejoice we don’t forget our sadness and equally, if we cry with someone we don’t forget our joy. There should always be lots of rejoicing but also lots of remembering: lots of praising God for His goodness but also acknowledging the need for His help.

Rejoice with those who rejoice: Weep with those who weep.

It is no coincidence in my mind that these two opposites were pulled together into the same verse and this verse describes the family of God. Let’s try to get the balance right.

Monday, 9 April 2012

In the waiting room

A waiting room is a strange place. Sometimes it is filled with lots of people all waiting to find out the outcome to their predicament and other times you are alone and the waiting seems to take forever. We have all spent time in one at some point in our lives. For some it feels like we spend our lives in a waiting room. For others we find ourselves in a waiting room at certain points for different reasons. For others we may pass through them from time to time and it’s not usually pleasant but it doesn’t last long. However you see the waiting room when you are in it, it is very hard to look beyond the thing that you are waiting for. You might be able to distract yourself momentarily with a magazine or a game on your phone but it is momentary: ultimately you are there for a reason and you want to leave the waiting room to find the outcome of your visit. God is in the waiting room with you. It may not always feel like He is but He is.

You may feel that you spend your life in the hypothetical waiting room. It may feel like others join you but they get to go in first. You may have seen that happen time and again. People walk in, and walk out with a smile on the face having received good news. You may feel as a result you have been overlooked and so you go to the desk and say, “Have I been forgotten?” And they says, “No we are running on time. Please take a seat!” you may have asked God and had no response. So you wait… and…wait and you reside yourself to the fact that you are stuck in the waiting room and it may feel like life is passing you by.

For others you may find yourself unexpectedly in the waiting room. You never thought you would be sitting there at this time. You thought you would nip in and out with the outcome that you wanted and now you are forced to wait and it’s not fair and it feels lonely. It might be life changing and the waiting room is not where you want to be.

You might be someone who is comfortable with waiting rooms. You find it easy to chat with people and are happy to smile while you wait. The waiting room has never been anything more than somewhere you go every so often because you have to but it is usually quick and painless. It is inconvenient but that’s all it is.

Which ever of these images suits you best, and maybe it is more than one, the waiting room can feel like a place where you wouldn’t choose to be. You may feel like your place is found in the waiting room because that’s all you know. It will not remain there. You were not born to sit still, watching people go in and out before you. Sometimes we can choose to leave our waiting room. We may have gone there because we thought that was where we thought we should go but the waiting has actually led us to the conclusion that we are in the wrong place at the wrong time so we can choose to change our circumstance and get up and leave.

The Bible says that patience produces perseverance. These two attributes are the fruit of the waiting room. We don’t wait so that God can teach us these things, we wait and these are the fruits that God brings. He will enlarge us in the waiting room if we let Him. At the start of the year Pastor Duane White from Texas came to speak to our church. He said, “There is opportunity in your inconvenience”. There is opportunity in the waiting room to chat with others, to lift someone’s head and to let faith arise. I was stirred to look for opportunities that could come out of my situation: my waiting room. I looked for fruit and I found it.  God gave me ‘beauty for ashes’. Inconvenience is inconvenient. We don’t want it but it will remain in our lives so we have to choose to look for opportunity in it. We persevere. We learn patience and God makes us beautiful. We must also remember that waiting is temporary. It will not last forever.

Someone very close to me recently found herself unexpectedly in the waiting room. Her journey was hard and very painful and the actual hospital waiting room that she found herself in was cold, bare and lacking anything that would bring hope. She decided that she would invest some time into planning how to change that room, and make it warmer and hopeful and take the presence of God into that room. She did not want anyone else to have to sit in there while their world was falling apart surrounded by emptiness. She wanted a sense of hope in that room. She chose to bring something beautiful out of her ‘waiting room’ experience and I believe that in other people’s sad times that room will be a place where God can bring hope again. She handled her waiting room with grace and insisted that good would come from it and it will.

The devil will tell you that God wants you in the waiting room, that it is His will that you remain there until you have learnt your lesson. It isn’t true. God can teach you in the waiting room but He has not put you there to punish you. Throughout the waiting I found it hard to pray “Your will be done” because I thought it meant that I wouldn’t be given what I was waiting for, that I was accepting the punishment that I deserved in some strange way but that wasn’t the case at all. I was scared, but I felt that when I let go and started to pray “Your will be done” God reminded me of the rest of the sentence. “Your will be done ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN”. When we pray ‘Your will be done” we are saying, “God bring Heaven to earth” or “God invade earth with Heaven”. Revelation 21:4 says”

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Sad news is not given in Heaven. People are not lonely in Heaven. We don’t need to cry in Heaven. Heaven is not the waiting room; it’s the real thing. When we pray “Your will be done” it is good. We all want Heaven to come to earth and we see glimmers of it even in the waiting room. I want to do what I can to usher Heaven down to earth, and so I shout without fear but with confidence “Your will be done!”

This verse says that ‘the old order has passed away’. At the moment we live in the old order of things, we experience glimpses of Heaven here on earth, but we live in a fallen world. Things go wrong. They don’t always follow the order of Heaven. Too many of us spend time in waiting rooms, we waste time worrying and tears can become a normal part of the waiting room but they are temporary. Psalm 30:5 says, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”.

Maybe, instead of asking ourselves how long must I be here, we should be asking ourselves the question, how will I behave while I am here? How we behave in those times will determine our future. God feels silent sometimes. But He is there. If He hasn’t spoken to you recently think about what He said to you last time and keep doing what you are doing. When we seek out opportunity in our inconvenience we look for ways to bring glimpses of Heaven to earth.

We have to trust God’s perfect timing. This is not a cliché. It is not something that I say lightly because waiting is hard, but it is true. God knows what He is doing even we don’t. He is on time. Please don’t try to take things into your own hands, tempting as it is, and make things happen, God opens doors, He knows. Habakkuk 2:3 says this: ‘There is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and it does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.’

If God appoints something over your life it will happen, even if it looks like it won’t, it will! And we must keep focused on God’s promises over our lives. Does our vision or dream remain clear or have we let it go because waiting was too hard?

Look for opportunity in the waiting room. What can you do for others in this time? What have you learnt that you can pass on? What does God want to do with you? Will you let Him shape you? Will you trust his timing? Somewhere, something is waiting to be known and it is in our hands to find it. Don’t miss the opportunities because of impatience and heartache but make the most of them. We are clay in God’s hands, look for beauty in the molding and ask yourself this question: Who is God making me into? You can be sure the waiting is not in vain. He will give you beauty for ashes and He will work everything for good.