God: Frustratingly, Forgettably, and Unendingly Faithful
No matter where you fall along the political spectrum, these are tense days – days when God can seem frustratingly absent. Or if, like me, you believe that Jesus sits on the heavenly throne even while humans slug it out for mere earthly thrones, then God’s outworking of his will can be rather frustrating to endure at the moment. Where’s God’s faithfulness amidst this hot mess?
With all this drama and political noise, the faithfulness of God is easy to overlook or to even forget entirely. It’s here that I want to bring to mind some wisdom my senior pastor shared with me when I first started out in youth ministry over a decade ago. Hopefully it will encourage you as much as it has me over the years.
God’s faithfulness can be frustratingly slow – but his faithfulness is assured.
I was in my mentor’s office for our weekly meeting. As the seasoned senior pastor of our church, he sat behind a desk, his large form leaning back in his chair. I, the new youth minister, sat opposite with my elbows on my knees and my head slumped in my hands.
At the time, I was deeply frustrated with how long change was taking – in me, as well as in the youth with whom I was working. “Why does it have to be so slow?” I let out.
My mentor gave a kind chuckle like he always did when I was in such a state (which happens more than I’d like to admit to this day). He asked, “How long does it take for God to make someone like Christ?” I knew him well enough to recognize this was a trick question of some sort, so I just sat there until he continued. “It takes only a moment, but it also takes a lifetime.”
He led me to Hebrews 10:14 where the author paradoxically states, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Jesus has perfected those who are his – past tense – even as he continues in the present to make us more like himself. And one day, when we go to be with him after a lifetime, or if he returns first, our perfection will finally be made manifest.
My pastor gently reminded me that I could trust Jesus for the end as well as the process. Perfected, but in progress. God’s faithfulness is assured for both. And if God’s faithfulness can be patient with us in the process, then we too can grow in patience with ourselves and others in the longsuffering of becoming. In fact, God’s faithfulness is the very thing that moves us towards patience and steadfastness in the face of frustration.
God’s faithfulness is like oatmeal, essential but often forgettable.
In another one of those weekly meetings with my mentor, I was frustrated (again). This time, I was frustrated because I had become painfully aware of how little the youth were retaining from my Bible teaching. Again, my mentor posed a question, “What did you eat for breakfast two weeks ago on Tuesday?”
My reply was something like, “Uhhh…” In reality, I had no idea what I had for breakfast two weeks ago on Tuesday. It ends up, that was the point of his question.
Whether or not my breakfast was memorable, it had sustained me in the moment and helped me get to today. He went on to compare pastoral ministry to oatmeal – it may not knock anyone’s socks off in the moment, but if it’s nutritious, God can use it to sustain his people.
In John 6:48, Jesus makes what must have come off initially as a bizarre claim: “I am the bread of life.” Certainly there’s a lot to be unpacked from that statement, but at its heart, Jesus is making the claim that he alone is what our bodies need for life – he alone can truly sustain us. And bread, like oatmeal, is pretty basic. It’s not usually flashy. It’s not often the most notable or exciting part of a menu.
But Jesus’ faithfulness, like bread or oatmeal, provides the sustaining strength we need from day to day.
We don’t normally experience God as a pillar of fire, a cloud overshadowing a mountain, a voice from the heavens like thunder, or anything so spectacular as that. Most of the time, the faithfulness of God is more like oatmeal – easily forgettable, but utterly essential for life.
So, while the world clangs its gongs and the political powers clamor for their earthly thrones, it’s understandable to be frustrated and weary. It’s hard to keep our footing when the world shakes so violently around us. But we can and must still our hearts to remember that God is faithful – both for the end and in the process. We must continue to feed on Jesus, our daily oatmeal, seeking his fullness to find rest and sustaining grace for the day – no matter who sits on the earthly throne once the election is over.
When I am feeling restless, I find music and poetry helpful. Your students and children may too.
Two songs that remind me of God’s faithfulness are:
A favorite poem is Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things:”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.