Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When My Friend Feels Forsaken and Forgotten

[This post follows a sermon titled "Feeling Forsaken and Forgotten".  Click on the title for the audio.]

As we looked at Isaiah 49-50 this past Sunday, we saw a people who declared that they felt forsaken and forgotten.  Even as God declares His comfort and compassion for His people (49:13), their ears can't hear it.  Their hearts can't accept it.  They still feel God has abandoned them...turned His back on them (49:14).

Have you ever felt this way?  Maybe you have had times when you hear the goodness and grace of God declared through your pastor, but you couldn't really hear it.  Maybe you sang songs of God's care and compassion in Sunday worship, but in your heart, you were skeptical about the truth of the lyrics.

Maybe you have read Isaiah 43:3, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."  Then, as you close your Bible, you think, "Obviously, I'm the exception to that promise.  God has left me to drown...to go down in flames."

As the passage develops, we saw four things to do if you feel forsaken and forgotten.  Admit it, understand it, respond to it, and seek to change.  Admit it: In Isaiah 49:14, we see the cry of dereliction on the lips of God's people.  Understand it: Though some feel forsaken for other reasons, Isaiah 50:1 says that these people feel forsaken by God because they have fosaken God.  Their sin has created the separation they feel. 

Respond to it: Beginning in Isaiah 49:15, this is what God does.  He doesn't let the people's emotion stay that way.  In grace, He comes and speaks...responding to their feelings.  Seek to change: The truth that God speaks is meant to change the people's mind, will, and emotions.  He speaks to them of His love, power, and grace.

Ultimately, He expressed His grace in the coming of His servant (50:4-11).  And the only way to fight feelings of being forsaken and forgotten is to look to that servant...Jesus Christ.  Because of our sin, we deserve being forsaken...we deserve to be forgotten.  Yet, in grace, God sent Jesus Christ to the cross, where the Father turned His back on Jesus so that He would never have to turn His back on us.  There, Jesus uttered the cry of dereliction ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") so that we wouldn't have to.

Now, having reviewed all that, what can you do if a friend feels forsaken and forgotten?  Well, let me suggest three things.

1. Continue steadfastly in prayer (Col. 4:2).  Whatever the situation, the Christian who feels forsaken and forgotten is ultimately believing a lie.  They may be seeing their suffering through unbiblical lenses.  There may be sin of which they need to repent.  However, God does not forsake His children.  He does not abandon those He has adopted.  He does not turn His back on those He has embraced. 

And any time a Christian is believing a lie, you can bet that the father of lies (i.e.- the devil) is nearby.  Spiritual warfare surrounds these kinds of emotions, and our chief weapons in the trenches are God's Word and prayer (Eph. 6:17-18).  So, fight for your brother.  Fight for your sister.  Fight like it matters...because it matters!  Find passages of Scripture that speak to God's character, especially His faithfulness, and pray that God will give them "a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of [their] hearts enlightened" (Eph. 1:17-18).  Pray they will "have strength to comprehend...what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:18-19).  Search the Scriptures for things your brother/sister needs to hear, and pray them steadfastly.

2. Weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).  The pain of feeling abandoned is real.  It can get dark.  It can be overwhelming.  And in those moments...God designs that we enter into our brother or sister's pain.  Of course, the easy thing to do would be to just keep your distance; in fact, there are times when the person says, "I just need to work through this on my own" or "I just need some space."  While we want to be sensitive to the needs of our brother/sister, permanently distancing ourselves from the one who is hurting can actually increase the feeling of being forsaken and forgotten.  If that request is made, use other means...cards, phone calls, emails, texts...to let the person know he is not forgotten.  Keep inviting...keep striving.

3. Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).  The book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (3:7).  It will take wisdom to know when to speak, but it will be necessary to speak.  You need to pray before you speak, but you will need to speak.  Just as God spoke into the lives of His people in Isaiah 49-50 to confront their wrong feelings, God has given us to one another in the church to do the same.  But what do you say? 

Well, one thing that comes immediately to mind are the images of Isaiah 49:15-16.  God says that even if a mother forgets her nursing baby, He would never forget us.  He has engraved us on the palms of His hands.  Your friend needs to hear about the character of God...the unfailing love of God...the grace of God...the faithfulness of God.  The very Scriptures you have prayed they would understand need to be spoken into their lives.  Faith comes through hearing...and it is strengthened through hearing.  So, let them hear the truths of God from your lips...in love and in compassion.  And encourage them to not forsake the gathering of God's people, where they will hear the Word of God still more.


So, what do you do when you feel forsaken and forgotten?  Admit it, understand it, respond to it, and seek to change.  What do you do when your friend feels that way?  Continue steadfastly in prayer, weep with those who weep, and speak the truth in love...so that your friend will admit it, understand it, respond to it, and seek to change.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Connecting Trials, Wisdom and Faith

[This entry follows a sermon preached by Chad McFadden this past Sunday titled "Embracing God's Perspective on Trials".  Click on the title to find the audio.]

On Sunday, I was truly blessed to hear my brother preach from James 1:1-8.  Whether one is in the midst of a trial or not, Christians need to have a proper perspective on trials (i.e.- God's perspective on trials).  I don't say this as an observer...I say it as one who needs to be reminded of God's purposes in the midst of trial, so that I can grow as God intends through each one.

Here are verses 2-8...just to get our minds set:
(2) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (3) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (4) And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(5) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (6) But let him as in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

What I want to focus on in this follow-up to the sermon is look at the way James connects verses 2-4 and verses 5-8 of this text.  In our Bibles, there's a paragraph break...even in the text I just printed, I put space in between the two sections.  However, the two texts are tightly linked.

What often happens in the midst of trials is that we become myopic in our spiritual vision.  Do you know what it means to have myopic vision?  It means to be nearsighted...unable to see into the distance clearly.  And when we are faced with various kinds of trials, our tendency is to become nearsighted...myopic...focusing only on the pain of the moment...only on the uncertainty of an immediate outcome.  All I can see is the diagnosis, the broken relationship, or the wrong that has been done to me.  It fills my vision.

Don't misunderstand...James' solution to this myopic tendency is not to have us live in a dream world, where we pretend pain actually feels good.  This would actually still be a focus on the here and now...it would still be spiritually nearsighted because our only goal would be relief right now with no view to any long-term purposes.  So, James isn't calling us to focus on the pain in the here and now...and he's not calling us to imagine away the pain of the here and now.

He's calling us to see the trials of here and now with God's perspective so we can walk through them toward God's purposes.  It's interesting that in verse 3-4, James outlines the perspective of God in our trials and then he jumps to talking about prayer for wisdom and faith to believe God will answer.  Why would he do this?  Why connect enduring trials with wisdom and faith?  Because in the midst of trials, two things that seem to shrivel the fastest are wisdom and faith.

Being so nearsighted that we can't see past our circumstances, we fail to see the wisdom of God's plan, purposes, and perspective...we fail to believe that God actually has a plan, a purpose, and a right perspective on our lives.  We feel that our wisdom (i.e.- that there has to be a better way to learn and grow than trials) is superior to God's wisdom, and we forget that "the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men" (1 Cor. 1:25a).

It is when this happens that we must recognize that we are the ones who lack wisdom, we must ask God for it, and we must believe He will supply it.  This is truly the only way that we can successfully walk through trials and experience the change, the growth, and the refining of character God has designed. 

Know this, dear Christian.  God has not sent you into this trial alone. He has not sent you without purpose.  God is with you, and He is for you.  If you feel that your trial is evidence that God has forsaken you, remember the cross...where Christ was forsaken by God so you would never be forsaken. Your trial is not evidence of the forsaking of God...for nothing can separate you from His love in Christ. He is working for His glory and for your good. You can trust Him...don't give up!

Christian, are you enduring a trial now?  Don't let it fill your vision...don't try to imagine it away.  Neither response will help you.  What you need is to live with the wisdom of God's perspective on your trial.  Christian, are you lacking wisdom?  Go to God, seek Him for the wisdom you need to walk with joy under the trial, and believe that He will answer.