It is a question that rattles around like that pebble in our shoe that just won’t go away. Irritating us. Rubbing against our foot. Distracting our minds from the walk.
We fear what will happen if we shake that stone lose. If others see, they will know that we have been walking on rocky terrain. We worry what they will think about our journey.
But perhaps even more than fear of the asking is the fear of the answer. What if we shake that question lose, only to put our shoe back on and find the nuisance still there? What if asking doesn’t make it go away, but only makes us notice it all the more? What if it is replaced by another, and another, and another question until the load in our shoes is so heavy we cannot walk on any further?
These pebbles have various shapes and sizes and forms, but they are of the same color, fallen from the same rock.
It is the stone of disappointment.
We all face it somewhere on our journey of following Jesus. Often, in more than one place. What was once a smooth path is suddenly blocked by a rock built of unmet expectations and broken dreams and lost relationships. We breathe hard and our muscles ache from trying to climb to the other side. And then, even if we find the strength to heave our way over that boulder, we still wind up stuck with a pebble in our shoe. A remnant that we bring with us in the form of an unanswered question:
Is God really trustworthy?
Because this boulder we had to climb? That sure doesn’t seem like what we signed up for. What we heard from others their life was like, what we heard from God about that path we should take.
For me, today, this rock comes in the form of an unrealized dream. A dream I believe that God has put on my heart. So why hasn’t it happened yet? I say that it has not yet been God’s timing. I say that I still need time to grow and learn. I say that one day, it will happen. And mostly, I believe those things. But as I move forward, as I see others achieve the dream that I hold close, sometimes this walk feels more like a climb than I thought it would be. And then I have that pebble nagging at me from my feet.
Is God really going to come through?
What I love about the Psalms is that they put words to every human experience. None of our feelings are foreign to God. People have experienced them for centuries.
In the case of Psalm 44, the questioning of God’s trustworthiness was not just the pondering of one person, but the frustration of the entire nation.
We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us. Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love. –Psalm 44:1-2, 9-10, 23, 26
Their ancestors told them God was good, but they have not yet seen the evidence. Their nagging question cannot be kept silent anymore. Will God really come through for them?
There may have still been battles in which they wondered why the outcome was not what they thought it would be. And when that happened, this Psalm was one they could cry in frustration.
But in the end, those three words that end this Psalm are the key: your unfailing love. For the Israelites, that meant His covenant. For us, that means His Son.
Is God trustworthy? The answer is yes.
Not because we won’t be disappointed, but because of Jesus. We can dump out that pebble, be honest about how it felt, look up into the eyes of our Savior, and keep on walking towards Him. Until we get the next pebble, And then we do it all again.
Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.
I tried to stop listening, but I couldn’t. The conversation I overheard from the next booth at the restaurant was like a slow motion train wreck. The words rang in my ears and sank deep into my heart. I wanted to shout, beg for it to stop. Instead, I just prayed for the adolescent boy whose shoulders sank a little lower with each utterance.
“I can’t believe you did that. You don’t see me acting that way, do you? No. I am responsible. You could learn from me. You know how your dad’s health has been poor, don’t you? You are going to give him a heart attack if you keep acting this way. I am so disappointed in you.”
I don’t know what this boy did. And I feel empathy for the mother. I really do. My boys are not yet teenagers. And I’m sure when they are, there will be times I will grasp into thin air, searching for words to use that could parent them through sticky situations.
But it was so hard to hear this mother talk this way to her son. All I heard from her mouth was shame. Each sentence, she plunged the knife wound deeper, digging for a reaction, hoping for some remorse.
I have imagined myself on the other end of a conversation like this many times.
Too often, it is how I’ve viewed God’s holiness, especially growing up. I saw the gap between His perfection and my sin. I knew how far I was from meeting His standards of behavior. I sunk into my chair as I heard my Father say, “I’m so disappointed in you.”
But then? Grace.
There came a point when I encountered the unconditional love of God. At last, I was washed over with the grace He lavished on us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. I sunk into my Father’s arms as I heard Him say, “I’m so filled with love for you.”
That is such a better place to be. Yet, sometimes, I forget. Sometimes I forget that God’s grace does not undo His holiness. I am still a sinner who is far from meeting God’s standards.
God is disappointed when I sin.
But, there is a key word that is different from what I used to believe.
God’s holiness means He knows what perfection feels like. His grace means He wants us to feel that too. God knows how much better things could be in this world and in our lives, if we would just trust Him. He longs for us to surrender to the narrow way, the way that seems so restrictive, because He knows that it is the way to freedom, peace, and joy.
Yes, our sin disappoints Him. But not because He is ashamed. Because He is love.
How do you see the interplay between God’s grace and His holiness in your relationship with Him?
I don’t know if you are a football fan. If not, you might not understand just how disappointing this was to me. The Packers were 15-1 for the season. There were high hopes of a Super Bowl appearance this year. THIS YEAR, the year I am living in Indianapolis, where the Super Bowl will be.
I’m not sure I have wanted a win as badly as I wanted the win this past Sunday. Which is what made the loss all the more difficult to bear.
Sports are full of wins and losses. And it seems that just as “the thrill of victory” tastes sweeter to the underdog who wasn’t supposed to win, “the agony of defeat” stings harder against those who were favored.
Sports can reflect a lot about human nature.
Low expectations are safe. When losses happen, they roll off our back, because we knew it would be that way anyway. When wins happen, they come to us as sweet surprises. High expectations are dangerous. When wins happen, we sigh with relief. When losses happen, they come to us as bitter surprises.
Crushed hopes hurt. They make us wonder if it is worth hoping at all. We fear being disappointed again.
Life with God is a story of hope. A hope that life can be more. Hope of forgiveness. Hope of reconciliation. Hope of love. Hope of an eternal relationship with God.
Yet, sometimes, doubts rise up. What if, when we get to the end of this life, we find out we were wrong? What if God isn’t really there? What if our hopes are dashed?
I think fear of crushed hope keeps many people from following God. But, Romans 5:1-5 tells us we don’t have to be afraid,
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Hope in God will not disappoint us. That does not mean we will not have trouble in this life. In fact, these verses tell us we will. But, we can see that trouble through an eternal perspective. Trouble does not indicate that our hope is in the wrong place.
But still, how do we know? How do we know God is real? How do we know there really is an eternity to look forward to?
Because unlike football, life is not a game. A sudden injury, bad call, or dropped pass will not destroy our hope. God has given us a guarantee. He does not just say, “wait until the end, and you will be with me.” He gives us His presence now. He gives us His Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not just our conscience. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence. The Holy Spirit is the manifestation of hope.
We don’t have to wait to find out if we have peace with God. Our hope is fulfilled the moment we believe in Jesus. The moment we seek forgiveness through Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. Our hope is alive and real.