Tuesday, January 26, 2016

When Life Feels out of Control

As the end of 2015 approached, we all held onto our hopes and dreams and questions, and we sucked in real deep and held our breath. One phone call can change the entire landscape of a family. We waited with heads bowed. In a room full of twinkling lights and Christmas joy, we confessed that joy seemed far away, but we asked for it anyway. We begged God to move. In the middle of that family prayer, I began to recognize an intense desire to build. As I grappled with questions I couldn’t answer, dreams I couldn’t keep, and dread I couldn’t shake, I sensed God’s gentle invitation:

Stop building and start worshiping.

I found myself wanting to build case for God, as if He needed that from me. I wanted to make sense of what God was doing so that I would feel better, but attempting to manipulate and rationalize a mysterious, holy God is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s a tower that needs to fall.

We are all broken, and because of this, we all build. Building only gives the illusion of control. We build when we don't trust or when we don't like that God is telling us to wait. We build as a way to cope. Building busies us. That's why we like it. Satan likes it, too, because as long as we’re building, our eyes aren’t focused on God. 

Worship is the opposite of building; worship is surrender.

There’s a strange comradery I always sense as I read Genesis 11, the account of a people caught trying to build their way to heaven. God told the sons of Noah to scatter and multiply across the earth.  They didn't like God's plan too much, so they put their heads together and decided to try real hard to make a name for themselves. And they found it wasn’t that hard after all. 

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:3-4

They were building a tower God knew would fall, so in mercy, He rescued them. I’m sure it felt nothing like being rescued, though. I’m sure they felt the full weight of frustration and panic, but the confusion God allowed came from a deep well of never-ending love. 

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” Genesis 11:5-7

Bricks symbolize a heavy burden God never intended for us to carry. We weren’t made to reign and rule; we were made to worship. God created us for relationship. He designed our hearts to love Him.

Worshiping God recalibrates our hearts to do what they were designed to do.

Left on our own, we’re confronted with the same reckless desire as the people who thought their tower of bricks and mortar could reach the heavens. There is something in our collective DNA that wants our name praised. If we’re honest, the thought of sitting on the throne thrills us. Bricks offer the fastest, easiest way to build what we believe we’re after: control. Humility that accompanies worship reminds us that God alone is on the throne. Bowing before a loving God who can’t lie and won’t change is much simpler than the burdensome pursuit of control. 

Worshiping God repositions us before the throne.

Worship realigns our posture, compelling us to drop our bricks and pick up something much lighter instead. Fast forward through time and space all the way to the opposite bookend, Revelation, where this beautiful exchange is played out.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9-10

Every language spoken on earth is fused together through this one proclamation of praise. Hands that once held bricks now hold palm branches. Light, airy, and beautifully vibrant palm branches.

In the Old Testament, at the same time each year, temporary tents were constructed with palm branches. The people lived in these ‘booths’ for seven straight days. Rejoicing and feasting were had by all. God wanted His people to remember how He had rescued their ancestors out of Egypt. These temporary shelters reminded the people how God had provided for them in the wilderness. The palm branches reminded them that God’s presence was their shelter.

I find it more than a bit ironic that many of the Jewish slaves were given the arduous task of making bricks by their Egyptian taskmasters. Bricks represent bondage.  Palm branches represent victory. God invites us all to experience the freedom that comes when we exchange bricks for branches, and we don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to make the trade. Jesus, as He hung bruised and bloody on the cross, satisfied the wrath of God towards sin. As He walked out of the grave three days later, Jesus defeated sin and death and darkness permanently.  Victory belongs to Jesus, and when He takes up residence within us, victory becomes our inheritance.

Worshiping God renews our minds so we understand what is ours in Jesus.

It doesn’t mean that we’re exempt from pain, but God offers something that has the power to change the way we walk through every struggle we face. Control isn’t really even what we crave; it’s Hope. Jesus is our Hope.

As 2016 begins, we will all be confronted again with the desire to build. Losses, disappointments, and hardships will cause us to examine whether we’re holding bricks that weigh down our hearts or branches that proclaim God is good and all He does is good. Worship always brings us back to Jesus, the One who has already overcome every struggle we’re yet to face.

May we kneel, right where we are and just as we are, to worship. May we drop heavy, stone-cold bricks and stretch out our arms to wave palm branches instead. May God recalibrate our hearts, realign our posture, and renew our minds as we worship together in one voice the One who holds all things together.

Jesus Loves You,

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