November 20, 2017

Reorientation: Quickened Again, In Every Holt and Heath

early spring 1

By Chaplain Mike

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage…

• Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (modern English version)

The third season of the spiritual life we will discuss is that of reorientation, or, as it might be better termed, new orientation. These are the glory days! Scriptures of reorientation celebrate those times when God breaks through our darkness with a new burst of light. Weeping has worn out our night, but joy awakens us at dawn. As on Christmas morning, we stumble downstairs and behold surprising stacks of new gifts under the tree with our names on them. Our jaws drop at the generous display of grace that appeared overnight while we were asleep to the possibilities of God. Like the birth of a Baby, the sight of the Master walking on water in the midst of the storm, the appearance of One raised from the dead standing in our midst, we can only squeal and gape wide-eyed with childlike wonder and praise.

How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
So merciful, this God of ours!
The Lord protects those of childlike faith;
I was facing death, and he saved me.
Let my soul be at rest again,
for the Lord has been good to me.
He has saved me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
And so I walk in the Lord’s presence
as I live here on earth!

• Psalm 116:5-9, NLT

Psalms like this are songs of testimony, offered after God has intervened in the life of an individual or the community. In Israel’s worship, they may have been accompanied by thank offerings, fellowship meals, dancing, paying vows, and other celebratory elements. The “new song” of thanksgiving called those who heard to join in festive acknowledgment that God took note of my cry from the “depths” of disorientation, that he “drew me up from the desolate pit” and set me on solid ground with firm footing and renewed strength for the journey (Ps 40:1-3).

Many evangelical churches have a strong tradition of “giving testimony.” “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so!” (Ps 107:2) Christians are “Good News” people. We have a story of salvation. The Hebrews had a story of Exodus and return from exile. David had story after story of God’s deliverance in the wilderness. Jonah had a story of being brought up from the depths. The disciples had a story about their lives being spared from a storm at sea. Lazarus had old grave clothes and a story of being raised to life from stinking death. Slaves became a nation and the persecuted became king. A rebel became a revival preacher. Frantic fisherman found peace. A family received their brother back whom they thought lost forever.

I’d like to step up to the mic today and share a story of redemption from my own experience.

When I was at an important time in my life as a teenager, I became involved in one of those congregations that practiced the sharing of testimonies. Through them I received help and ministry from friends and a gifted youth pastor, and the influence of that church led to a spiritual awakening in my life. That was the spring of 1974.

In September, 1973, my family had moved from the Chicago area to the suburbs of Baltimore. It was the start of my senior year in high school. At first it was like an exciting adventure, but it wasn’t long before I realized my whole life had changed. All the friends who had meant so much to me were a thousand miles away. Familiar Midwest culture was nowhere to be found. All the activities in which I had participated were left behind, and I had to start all over again in a new setting. The familiar landmarks were missing, and I felt insecure and overwhelmed.

I did not realize it at the time, but this was my first serious battle with depression. I tried to deal with it as many do, by self-medication through alcohol and drugs. It was the early 70’s, a time of real confusion for many young people in our culture. I was among the confused, and many of the friends and activities I chose only led to further bewilderment. To say I was disoriented would be an understatement. I was lost, and the wilderness was harsh.

Thankfully, I became acquainted with several Christian friends who showed concern for me and whose lives, while far from perfect, radiated a joy and love for goodness that was attractive. They may have had their flaws, but they pointed me to Jesus. I became involved in their church, began studying the Bible in depth for the first time, and started glimpsing a way out of the pit.

In the spring, many things came together for me. The end result was that I responded to an altar call on a beautiful spring morning in a worship service and publicly confessed faith in Christ. My life that year had followed the course of the seasons. I had a painful “fall” in autumn. A dark winter of deep discontent followed. And then, a warm wind freshened and blew my way. It was like springtime came to my heart and life. “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8)

That was a new start in my journey, just as Chaucer described in his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. April was no longer “the cruelest month” as T.S. Eliot complained, but a month of “showers sweet with fruit” that generated new life and fecundity and created in me a “long[ing] to go on pilgrimage.”

From that point, I began following Jesus in a new way. A renewed sense of purpose and meaning began to grow in me. I was hungry to know more of the Bible, and I had a desire to learn how I might somehow be of service in God’s Kingdom. It was this turning point, this “conversion,” this “reorientation” that eventually led me to Bible College and into the ministry. It set the course for the rest of my life, a life in which I have experienced a number of such “reorienting” breakthroughs.

The nights of crying your eyes out
give way to days of laughter.

…You did it: you changed wild lament
into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band
and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
I can’t thank you enough.

• Psalm 30: 5, 11-12, MSG

As with any spiritual exercise, the practice of giving testimony can and has been abused.

  • At times, the pressure to give a word of praise or thanksgiving has moved us to claim that we have experienced far more than we have actually known of God’s work in our lives.
  • It may also cause those who don’t have a “great story” or outgoing personality to feel intimidated and less worthy than their brethren who have a flair for the dramatic.
  • I have observed that an emphasis on God’s extraordinary interventions may lead us to ignore, miss, or downplay the ordinary, everyday work that God does through his gracious acts of providence.

Nevertheless, if we believe in a living God, a crucified and risen Savior, and the life-giving Spirit, then we will trust that he can intervene in history and in our lives with gracious acts of kindness and salvation. If we believe in the power of the Gospel to turn sinners into saints and raise the dead to life, then we will not be ashamed of it but will make the good news of Jesus and his reorienting redemption our “boast.”

In the assembly of all your people, Lord,
I told the good news that you save us.
You know that I will never stop telling it.
I have not kept the news of salvation to myself;
I have always spoken of your faithfulness and help.
In the assembly of all your people I have not been silent
about your loyalty and constant love.

• Psalm 40:9-10, GNT

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*Note: Today’s artwork from the website of yvonne meissner.

Comments

  1. I agree with your points, but i have an additional desire to hear a testimony

    “I am messed up, my spouse is messed up, my kids are messed up, my life is falling apart…and God is nowhere to be found”

    • See the “Disorientation” post, Allen. What you are describing is LAMENT. I agree, it should be part of our faith practice, and I say so in that post.

      IMO, what we need in church and worship and in our lives is a recognition of all the seasons of faith, with their appropriate practices. The season of orientation should lead us to practice and value vocation. Disorientation, lament. Reorientation, testimony. All are valid and necessary in the life of faith and community.

  2. two thoughts:

    1) “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8)

    i love that you included this verse in the discussion. yesterday, while reading through the comments, this verse came to mind. God is in control and He has His own timing(s) and agenda(s). i think that it would be good for the church to remember this instead of trying to automate God into something that resembles the predictability and efficiency of an assembly line.

    2) ‘I have observed that an emphasis on God’s extraordinary interventions may lead us to ignore, miss, or downplay the ordinary, everyday work that God does through his gracious acts of providence.’

    i agree with this wholeheartedly. it seems to me that so many christians take for granted the very breath that God has placed into their lungs. so many christians seem to pine for God over here, or over there, while all the while God is moving, and active, and gracious in the “mundane drudgery” of their everyday lives.

    imho, (and i know that this is a broad generalization), christians are not a very grateful or satisfied people. most christians that i know are trying to super-size the blessings that God places in their lives. it’s just not enough to wake up and to be alive. if someone is grateful for this and they seem to stay in that place, then they will most likely be told that the god that they serve is too small, as well as their dreams. they say, ‘god has bigger plans for your life.’

    as i’ve said here before, it would be comical if it weren’t so damnably tragic.

  3. Chaplain Mike points out that each season has an appropriate response, and the key to this lesson is to respond to each season in the appropriate way. Probably much Christian failure and misery springs from people trying to do a task that is inappropriate to their condition. Certainly many serve poorly who serve while disoriented to God’s Will. For the person who is in disorientation, the ONLY right action is an immediate and whole-hearted seeking for reorientation.

    Thomas Carlyle, the florid and cranky Victorian, says it this way:

    > What is to be done? By thee, for the present, almost nothing. Thou there, the thing for thee to do is, if possible, to cease to be a hollow sounding-shell of hearsays, egoisms, purblind dilettantisms; and become, were it on the infinitely small scale, a faithful discerning soul. <

  4. Chaplain Mike: “Nevertheless, if we believe in a living God…..” Yes we do. I believe our testimony is the most powerful thing we have, our redemption story. I loved hearing yours. I can remember several times in my life that God has revealed Himself to me after I had wandered off the path when I was young (and not so young) You just never forget those times. And you are right, He is there just as much in the ordinary moments of everyday living. Just the fact that we believe at all and that He wants to know us, have a relationship with us, fills me with awe at times.

    Thank you for posting this……Lori