The Sons of Korah discover a good work in winter.
I’m back where we started in the last chapter, in Psalm 88, that dispatch from the heart of darkness, that song in the key of desolation. I’m back with those psalmists in the throes of their wintertime, in the grip of their wild harrowing sorrow. They, too, find that their’s work in winter that only winter knows.
The psalmist prays like never before. He prays day and night. He cries out, he calls out, he spreads his hands to heaven. Winter tries to bury him, and he keeps on digging his way out.
Prayer is the ongoing work of winter. But this go either way. Wintertime can poison the life of prayer as much as awaken it. It can deaden it, or revive it. Usually, it forces a fluctuation between the two. Cheryl, my wife, illustrates this as much as anyone I know. My wife and Carol, my colleague, did many things together — shopped, watched movies, attended conferences, planned renovations to my house. Mostly, though, they prayed. Theirs was a sisterhood anchored in intercession. So it was natural, as Carol fell ill, for them to pray together for God to do something big, decisive, impressive — to step in and save the day. To heal her. They prayed many other prayers besides that — prayers for family, for friends, for the church, for courage no matter what. But always, they prayed for healing.
The healing never came. There were hopeful turns of events that seemed to bode well — the day, for instance, Carol’s eyesight, damaged from the first surgery, recovered enough that she could drive again. And prayer oftentimes did give them the courage they asked for. They found redemptive, defiant, subversive power of laughter in the face of adversity, and so made jokes of Carol’s baldness, puffiness, her black eye-patch that made her look like a rotund and hairless pirate. Neither the praying nor the laughing staved off the dying. The disease’s retreat was only ever a regrouping, and the next visit to the oncologist always brought troubling, sometimes devastating, news.
A day came when Cheryl had to pray alone. Carol was too bloated, addled, groggy to join her, and besides, she was moved to a hospice in another town. So Cheryl began a journey that was mostly solitary, almost wordless: the groaning Paul describes in Romans 8, where words fail. This is prayer matched to the rhythm and pitch of the entire broken frustrated creation, that song of lament and protest in a minor key, mournful and defiant as the song slaves sing picking cotton or prisoners sing breaking stones.
During this time, Cheryl was part of a prayer team at church. She headed it, in fact. Every Sunday, people came to her for prayer. Many asked for her to pray for strength and faith to cope with Carol’s illness. Some came with illnesses of their own, or on behalf of loved ones struggling with cancer, lupus, renal failure, multiple sclerosis, congestive heart condition, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, and many other strange or common ailments that mess with us. Cheryl prayed, dutifully. But later she confessed how hard it was to pray believing. Her words un her own ears sounded rote, trite, mechanical, and often she fought down an inner voice that mocked her, that told her that this was an exercise in futility, putting band-aids on mortal wounds, singing lullabies to broken hearts, crossing her fingers as the sky falls.
That’s where Psalm 88 helps. In this man’s wintertime, he prays, too, though his capacity to believe is strained almost to extinction. He prays anyhow, and in this way: according to what he knows of God, not what he sees of God. Or put it this way: his praying is anchored in God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture, not in his firsthand experience of God in his daily life. He doesn’t pray because he can taste and see that the Lord is good. He prays in spite of that, contrary to the evidence at hand. What he tastes is bitterness; what he sees is darkness. Circumstances erode his faith rather than buttress it.
So he pushes himself beyond circumstances. He resists the temptation to equate circumstances with God. He prays not because God’s been good to him but God’s Word says God’s good, and he is betting the whole farm on its being so.
That’s Biblical faith. Everything short of this is a hedged bet. Everything short of this faith based on what I can, at least dimly, see. And to the extent I can see, it’s not yet pure faith.
Winter grows pure faith. It grows almost nothing, but it grows Biblical faith like no other season can. It combines unique conditions that nurture the certainty of things hoped for and the assurance of things unseen. It is the season above all seasons when we walk by faith and not by sight. There is no better ground for growing an abiding faith that weathers the worst life can throw at you. In later chapters, we’ll talk about seasons we love, especially summer (go back and read some of the posts I put on this past summer featuring this book). As delightful, as fertile, as summertime in the heart is, it is almost useless for growing faith. It may produce a bounty of joy, vast crops of thanksgiving. But not faith, that fierce, hardy Scotch broom of a thing that clings to rock and ledge, grows in sour places, withstands hurricanes.
Think about this: when you want someone to pray for you, you instinctively seek one who’s endured at least one long, hard, dark winter. Better if it’s been many such winters. You know, even without knowing the details, that such people have deep faith, faith rooted in season and out, in the character of God revealed in the Word of God, not faith subject to whims and moods, or to life’s wheel of fortune, its random sequence of pitfall and windfall.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
If you haven’t been following the TrueLifeChristianity.com blog since at least this past December, I have tried to relate my life with the book Spiritual Rhythm: Being With Jesus Every Season Of Your Soul by Mark Buchanan. Mark begins with the season of winter, all it’s apparent drabness, slowness, coldness and relates it to True Life Christians and what they go through with their soul.
So for all True Life Christians you can relate to what this book has to say. In the season of everyone’s hearts winter, sometimes it can be slow and hard and cold where your heart is prone to depression, this is the book that allowed me to clarify God’s purpose in my life and maybe your too. I don’t plan on rehashing the first part of my major testimony in the miracle God is performing in my life, although you have to take a long view of miracles because it didn’t happen instantaneously. So, I urge you to go back and read the section of Spiritual Rhythm, as I relate my life to this book.
Praying is the subject I want to tackle in the section of Winter Activities in the book since I did do a lot of praying when I was in this particular part of my life, when I realized this situation was real and not a dream or nightmare that seem to last days on end. Once I realized in that moment that I was going to have to rely on God through everything, that’s when my prayer life took on a deeper level. For the Apostle Paul says:
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
This many years after turning 18 (freshly becoming an official adult in the U.S.A.), I received an unwanted post-birthday present-the car accident), I, on occasion, still have trouble giving complete thanks and rejoicing always for that situation because of the things it left me with (slowness in everything I do, a physical limp, expressive aphasia, etc). However, I can effectively say that I pray without ceasing since I don’t want to quench the Holy Spirit and continue to do so. In fact, at times, most of the time, I can say that I am happy that I went through that horrifying, almost death-inducing car accident in which I went through months of in-patient and outpatient rehabilitation which incurred many different therapies.
In that season of winter, I discovered a closeness with God through prayer that I will never let go, in season and out: winter, spring, summer, and fall. You can to don’t let a tragedy like the one I had to speak to you about closeness with God, but take on the same attitude that the Apostle Paul had when he wrote the Philippians saying:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.
I feel confident in saying this: You cannot go through life not being affected by tragedy, but one of my favorite verses comes from the wisest man who lived in his time or ever, Solomon:
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Take this wisdom and impart it to you and others.
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger