Thursday, 27 October 2011

How can I ever move on?

Whether you’ve been divorced, discarded, bereaved, betrayed or overlooked, it remains an uphill task to put the past behind you and move on.

Perhaps, the real reason is the extent to which we invest in trying to convert the status quo into what we want for the future. In most cases, we have no grasp of how the things we hold on to today might hinder another stage that is crucial to our progress for the future. We may even realise that the things that we crave are irreconcilably toxic: the unsparingly critical partner will not suddenly become tolerant; the dismissive employer might never consider your best efforts as meriting acknowledgement and promotion. Yet, we want the best of both worlds: retaining precious tokens of the past, as we strive for a future that may be completely incompatible with the restrictions imposed by obstacles we cannot currently recognise as preventing our advancement.

The book of Proverbs provides a vital insight into this type of emotional turmoil: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when joy comes it is a tree of life’ (Prov. 13:12) God may allow us to face loss in this world, but it is only for us to find a way to insulate ourselves from further harm, for our roots to dig deeper and demonstrate that we can find a way to become invincible in His love. We can prosper without the need for those earthly promises that evaporate in the heat of adversity: ‘For his anger is but for a moment, and his favour is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’ If we can hold out long enough, a new day of positive transformation will dawn. Time, patience and God's grace will revive us in the midst of our troubles!

This scripture also explains why so many wander about this world in debilitating aimlessness. The patient in anguish in a terminal ward having discovered that the vital treatment prescribed by the doctors has failed and the husband who is served with divorce papers after completing a last-ditch effort at relationship counselling have one thing in common. Both have seen their earthly hopes vanish with no prospect of restoration. There is nothing more depressing than a life-giving hope that is postponed, or repeatedly denied. In contrast, there is nothing that rouses us more to positive action than the prospect of realising our dreams.

The ‘tree of life’ metaphor is used elsewhere in scripture: ‘But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’ (Jer. 17:8) The underlying theme is to be constantly replenished in adversity. What a striking paradox: green leaves and fruit-laden in the midst of drought!

Why? Because those whose roots are forceful enough will push past short-term fixes to find the lasting providence needed to sustain them through life's harshest troubles. They don’t simply give up, instead they eventually discover new paths to achieve their goals by an approach that maintains integrity. It takes divinely-inspired unyielding resolve to draw upon this eternal reserve of perseverance, rather than to abandon hope while complaining endlessly.

So instead of fainting, we should push downward through all the layers of conditional, pretended assurance that 'fair-weather' friends and short-lived compromises offer us in order to reach that distant underground stream of eternal promises that keep faith with Christ. Like Jacob, we should wrestle tirelessly with God through hardship (who often descends into our experience as an inspired message of insight) asking incessantly for His help until He blesses us with a ladder of hope. So, don’t curse those who abandon you for their own social and material advancement. JUST DIG DEEP AND WAIT FOR THE INEVITABLE DROUGHT. If you hold on , your leaves will stay green, their rootless lives will shrivel!

Jeremiah’s prophecy provided lasting reassurance to the minority who decided to remain loyal to their worship relationship with Jehovah, rather than follow the rest of the nation in defecting to serve short-term aspirations. This means that to become that tree of life, we need to re-commit to our integrity: our sense of being completely the person that God intended us to be in all circumstances. That is so much more preferable than resorting to a poor, uninspiring compromising betrayal of whatever worthy ideals we once pursued. ‘For what should it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.’ (Mark 8:36) Often, we just don’t realise how much we’ve compromised, the values that we've abandoned to reach that state of psychological dependence on another person, cultural bias or creature comfort. Nothing, materially or socially, can restore a failure to maintain complete integrity. Nothing, I repeat, except repentance, restoring our values and embracing the forgiveness that we find in Christ.

'When joy comes, it is a tree of life'. Joy comes from the assurance of anticipating fulfilment. It's delighting in something that we rightfully expect to happen. Paul describes the renewing activity of the Holy Spirit as ‘the powers of the world to come’ (Heb. 6:5). As we surrender to God, the experiences of extraordinary intervention and deliverance in our emotional and physical lives should lead us to rejoice in the assurance that our march towards the new heaven and new earth continues unabated.

Nevertheless, there is one thing we must not do. We must not look back. It was the downfall of the Israelites who died in the desert. They considered any hardship that they experienced in pursuit of the Promised Land as a proof that God didn't truly love them: ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?’ (Ex. 14:10) ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’ (Ex. 17:3) ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!" (Num. 20:5) Is this how you view transitional hardship, that your life will amount to nothing more than a celestial snuff flick? Used, abused and then left for dead? Be assured that God takes no pleasure in needless human suffering.

Lot’s wife also turned back towards Sodom, rejecting the divine effort to help her escape. She clearly hoped to retrieve elements of her former life there: one that was now under the unyielding curse of God. She was consumed by that curse, secretly hoping to continue her old life. Could there be a similar hidden motive in our efforts to hold on to the past? A faint glimmer of compromise with those who have discarded us as ‘dead weight’? The message must be clear that THERE IS NO COMPROMISE WITH BLATANT, UNVARNISHED CONTEMPT.

We must therefore assume that there is no further benefit in perpetually mourning anything we have lost that hinders our progress with Christ. Paul asks rhetorically, ‘What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.’ (Romans 6:21, 22)

He says of his former public standing as a pillar of virtue in the Jewish community: ‘But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Philipp. 3:7 – 11)

As much as it was his heart’s desire for Israel to discover Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah, Paul’s own journey of ever-increasing devotion to God was not to be overthrown by his Jewish opponents. He loved his nation and its place in God’s plan of restoration for mankind, but he accepted that many of his countrymen would not tolerate the idea of Jesus as their promised Messiah. He had found a new family of faith in Christ with new values on his new journey of discovering everything he could about Christ. It assuages our grief to know that, in spite of wholesale ostracism, we are assured that the relationships we lose will be replenished from elsewhere: ‘I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:29 –30)

Should the loves of your life be lost to disease, tragedy or selfishly withdrawn, don’t let your mourning extinguish your own capacity to love and help others. Allow that vacuum of aimlessness to be filled with commitment to work as a channel of God’s love elsewhere. The poor, the disabled, the underprivileged will crave a compassion that others may discard in their efforts to find acceptance and advancement among their peers. Dig deep into God’s love for you and share that love and your possessions generously with those deprived in this life, those who are, in fact, God’s candidates for prosperity in the next. Thereby, you will win the greatest prize of all, Christ Himself!

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