How long, O Lord?

The Psalmist wrote: “How long, O LORD? Will You hide Yourself forever?” (Psalm 89:46).

For many Christians that refrain becomes not just a lament of the moment, but a searing reminder, day after day, year after year. “How long, O LORD?” A sense of abandonment by God. Perhaps you are thinking such a thought is unacceptable for a Christian to utter. For one who has been through the agony, the thought is a frequent companion, and the words express the painful, long, unending wait.

The person calling out to God does so in a loud wail and in a soft whimper. The intensity is not shaped by the volume but by the breaking heart.

Sometimes the plea is met with a bargain, “God if You… then I…” Other times with a complaint, “What have I done to go through this?” And even with a condemnation, “Yes, Lord, I have sinned and this is my punishment.” But even that does not remove the plea.

It can be hard for others to minister to a person who has the ache of “How long, O LORD?” The drain can be overwhelming just listening to it, let alone living it. It is little wonder that many feel the loneliness even among Christians. I treasure each person who walked with us at various stages of our own 37 years of uttering the cry within our hearts.

Having lived that cry of “How long, O LORD?” for 37 years, I have a few observations to make about myself and others. See Too important and The ugliness of the missing. At times the intensity of my cry was such that a full day was too much to handle. If I could make it to mid morning… if I could make it to lunchtime… if I could make it to bed time… if I could only get to sleep, one night.

Tears, anger, frustration, pity, edginess, sadness, helplessness, yes, they were part of my diet for 37 years. Sometimes the periods of relief (no calls from the police, etc.) were so welcomed that I would feel guilty for the break.

Time was measured, waiting for an answer to “How long, O LORD?” For years it seemed as if time stood still. Looking at the clock seemed the obvious solution, as if the time would pass more quickly. But for what benefit? My own discomfort, angst, relief? Yet, measuring time only amplified the sense of “How long.” Yet 37 years gives me a perspective of Paul’s desire for the unbelieving Israelites in Romans 9:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:1-3)

That, too, was on my heart.

Not “How long?” But “How Amazing!”

A little over a week ago our son sent a letter to us, confessing his faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote about this being the first time he had peace in his heart. Bible reading has become a staple for his daily spiritual life. Not only has he received forgiveness from God, but he is learning to forgive himself—as Paul wrote: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). Knowing what he had been through physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, this is monumental!

In the letter he also thanked us for always loving him, even when he was the worst. He had often said over the years that he could not figure out how we could still love him after all he had done and said. I told each time that it was because of God’s love in Jesus that we could love him. (We love, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19). Now he is believing and receiving it.

Paul also wrote,

for He says, “at the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.”
Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation” — (2 Cor. 6:2)

So what has changed? We obviously are rejoicing. But as I do so, I am quietly reflective on all this. Was the 37 years of pain, uncertainty, fear, heartache worth it? Absolutely! Was it a living hell? Many times it was, but I would not trade one minute of the 37 years for the joy now of our son confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. In other words, I no longer think in terms of “how long?” But rather, how each moment was part of God’s working in his heart, even unknown to us. Indeed, how amazing!

Our son is learning this truth every day:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

“How long, O LORD?” is now answered with: “Forever!” Because of our common confession in Jesus Christ, we have an eternity to share with our son. I won’t even have to count minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, or decades, as I had been. Now is the time, today is the day of salvation.

And we give thanks to God for His patience, love, mercy, and amazing grace—to all of us! The plea changes to praise in song!

Amazing Grace

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Who Am I? Pt 5

Part 4 (with links to parts 12-3)

Forgiveness and justification were life-giving words to me. But the forgotten twins of guilt and shame frequently haunted me on my journey. Through the wounds that I have experienced and suffered some stand out boldly to me in almost every conversation regarding faith. Forgiveness and being justified, contrary to the world view, are true words of freedom. But these deep running wounds often resulted in feelings of guilt and shame, which clung to the memory of my sins.

From my own personal experience the weight of guilt and shame hung around my neck like a millstone. Guilt overwhelmed me in two ways: false guilt (guilt for something someone else had done), and true guilt (guilt for my own sins).

False guilt came through the physical abuse that I suffered from my father’s hand and the berating of my step-father’s words. I continually felt guilt that I had done something wrong, even when I had not. These feelings of guilt affected how I viewed myself.

Genuine guilt (from my own sinful words and actions) often arose by asking the “if only” questions of life. (“If only I would have not said that…, if only I would have behaved…, if only I would have made better choices…, if only I would have stayed in the military…”). Both types of guilt only served to sink deeper into the pit of despair.

Even more I learned the hard way that a life full of regret and disappointment fosters a sense of shame, shame before others and especially before God, for what I had done.

The burden of guilt and shame weighed heavily on me. With every job application, interview, and personal meeting I had with people, the shame of my choices became my constant burden. Even now I struggle with guilt and shame as my poor decisions resurface to drive me back into a pit of despair. The message of the scripture for us to, “…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water,” (Hebrews 10:22 NAS) was often lost on me in dealing with these emotions.

In my limited ministry experience I have encountered these feelings of guilt and shame on numerous occasions. Going back into prisons and jails to minister to others, I fight the “if only” statements ring resoundingly like being stuck in a bell tower at the noon hour. “If only I wouldn’t have gotten caught…, if only my parents would have loved me more…, if only the cops wouldn’t have been so quick to get there…, if only I would have made better choices…”

While every circumstance and situation in this environment is different, I discovered a common refrain: the heart felt plea/question of the individual is like my own. This is not limited to a prison life. Recently I sat with my best friend who was taken to the ER for a serious blood clot. Sitting by his side and with his family their words echoed in my head, “If only we would have eaten healthier…, if only I would have gone to the doctor…, if only I wouldn’t have yelled at my dad….”

The separation that sin causes that robs us of the peace, comfort and hope that only Christ can offer; and guilt and shame rise up to push harder against the gospel.  I have also learned that two passages help me deal with the guilt and shame:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21 HCSB)

Note that Baptism saves, and cleanses the conscience. Further, my battles with shame were not unique as expressed in the Psalms and Isaiah prophesied (fulfilled in Christ, therefore mine by faith in him):

Guard my soul and deliver me; do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You.  (Psalm 25:20 NAS)

“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, (Isaiah 54:4 NAS)

In Christ, everything is given freely in Christ: forgiveness of sins, cleansing of conscience, and freedom from shame.

In the wounded healer ministry the gospel alone serves as the sole source of comfort to me or anyone who if feeling the weight of sin.

“A minister is not a doctor whose primary task is to take away the pain….When someone comes with his loneliness to the minister, he can only expect that his loneliness will be understood and felt, so that he no longer has to run away from it but can accept it as an expression of his basic human condition…No minister can save anyone. He can only offer himself as a guide to fearful people.” (Wounded Healer)

The wounded healing of the wounded healer is comprised of making his own wounds a hospitable place for those who are wounded and looking for understanding and consolation. Understanding my own wounds and healing serves as the starting point of ministry with others. It is only when I begin to look at the miraculous restoration and healing that Christ has worked in my life that I can begin to understand that in my woundedness that I can become the source of ministry for others.