We all did it. Made it to church, combed and pressed. Seated neatly in rows, looking our best.
No one knew that only half an hour before my kids were still sleeping, and I was in my PJs,
my hair anything but combed. Weston had had an earache and fever the night before,
and I’d assumed he’d be sick this morning. But when he woke as chipper as a lark,
I’d jumped into high gear. Even had the kids buckled in before Daniel came out the car.
I felt accomplished.
Routine. We sang. We prayed. The same plush pews, sitting in the same row as last Sunday.
Creatures of habit we are.
Subconsciously we switch to autopilot.
We find what works, and without thinking, we do it again and again.
We want more. More of God, more of him in us, but don’t want to move out of our comfort zones.
Prayer time. “Any requests?” A few here and there, and then his hand went up.
A young man, who by all appearances is quite successful.
Owner of a growing business, recently ordained into church leadership.
A lovely wife and two precious kiddos.
But still his hand rose higher and higher. He took the mic and then faltered.
Daniel and I have always deeply appreciated his honestly,
even at times when it would feel awkward to speak your mind.
“I had a terrible week,” he began.
“Fired an employee…
One of my role models became an atheist…
I’ve been praying and praying. Honestly, it seems like God hasn’t been listening…”
He floundered, searching for words to best verbalize this valley, these ashes.
The echo of his own prayers, bouncing off the ceiling.
The emptiness. The futility.
Brothers gathered around him and prayers mingled and rose heavenward.
As soon as the men were back in their seats, another hand went up.
“Brother,” the man spoke up, “I have something I would like to say.”
From another country.
Another set of life circumstances.
But he connected with this need. This helplessness.
For years he had prayed for something, but when it seemed that God was at last answering,
God again seemed to turn his back.
To mock his faith. He felt betrayed. He had prayed so hard for this, and God didn’t seem to care.
“In fact, He did the opposite of what I asked!”
Gone was his desire to share Christ, cause Christ hadn’t cared.
Hadn’t been there when he’d begged so desperately. Or so it seemed.
Then he read Job. After many chapters, after Job and his friends had each had their say, God spoke.
He hadn’t forgotten.
He hadn’t left.
Through the sickness and tragedies, he’d been there: waiting, preparing…
And then God came. Came to Job, and came to this brother.
Filled his heart with the realization of his goodness through it all.
Somehow this God isn’t scared to take us to the the desert, and seemingly desert us.
All that he has promised us seems to mock us, laugh us in the face.
He does it again and again.
Brings us to this crisis where we are falling, falling, falling.
Our fingers reach to the sky, looking like dead winter branches.
All we’ve ever known to do isn’t working.
This God can stand the test of our bleakest moments.
Tears stung my eyes. Made my nose run.
If we are honest, we’ve all been here. Or need to go here.
To this place of shattered dreams and dashed hopes.
Where the theology that if we work hard enough, we will reach the pinnacle of success, is shattered.
Where we see that all our hard work is nothing. Trash. Dust, just like we are.
It’s this cliff. Suddenly before we know it we are grappling for a handhold. Something solid.
And all we find is lose gravel that gives way under our desperate fingers. It’s this falling.
This eternal moment of silence as we feel the impending darkness rushing to strangle us.
The cold silence. When we don’t even have the ability to pray.
I cried, not in despair, but in the breathtaking mingle of horror and beauty.
The gore of this life, the seemingly senseless rejection we feel of having our prayers shrugged away.
Where is this God that “answers” all prayer?
You see, here in this place of nothingness, of utter helplessness, there IS hope.
I wept because THIS is church, THIS is a picture of what we should be as a body.
Recognizing our complete need for God. Brothers gathering around him. Praying.
Really, we all were praying. Standing with him.
Lifting our hands to heaven, pleading for God to be himself again.
To reach down and make breathtaking beauty from these ashes.
To give life, hope, breath, and courage.
This is God, this is our “I AM.”
He is willing to run huge risks, to show us who he really is.
And to do that, he also has to show us who are are. And who we are not.
Today I am celebrating honesty. Being real about life’s struggles.
I celebrating God’s mind boggling perfection.
His ability to use ashes to make life.