Monday, March 8, 2010

Call and Response

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33.3)


Numerous times we’ve been watching a pay-per-view movie when our cable box freezes. We scramble to find an old bill with the service number, run the gantlet of menu options, and brace ourselves for a half-dozen contortions to get the thing going. Either the help desk personnel are woefully under-trained or instructed to take the caller through every step on their diagram, because halfway through the call, we stop them. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” we say, “we’ve done all that. What’s the real answer?” Once in a pique of frustration, Walt asked, “Is there something extra we should know, something we're not doing right? Because this keeps happening.” He turned on the speaker function. Silence. Finally, the operator said, “I don’t know what that could be.”

The parallels with looking to God for answers are striking, though this doesn’t insinuate any inadequacies on His part. We’ll be moving along in our daily walk and suddenly freeze up. We do everything we know to do to jumpstart our lives. We may even see a flicker or two that indicates we’re close to resolving the issue. Yet we can’t quite get going. So we call on God. After we run down the list of possible solutions, we still don’t have any answers. Like Walt, we ask, “Is there something extra I should know?” Silence. But unlike the cable agent, when God eventually responds, He knows what the problem is. There is something more we need to know. He opens our understanding so we’ll be able to identify the problem if it rears back up and reboot our faith.


“Call to me,” we hear God say in Jeremiah 33.3, “and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” In essence, this is an open invitation to learn more about God’s operating system. We’ll never fully grasp its mechanics, no more than we’ll ever comprehend the inner workings of the cable system. “How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” Romans 11.33 exclaims. Yet when everything we try fails and we turn to the Provider, He directs us to wisdom and options we weren’t aware of before. They’re “unsearchable” because we never knew they existed or weren't ready to explore them until now.

The silence prefacing the answer is a superb time to consider that last point. “Freezes” aren’t uncommon when growing in faith. They signal expansion—availing ourselves to more of God’s Word and way—which often requires mastering new skills and broadening our concept of how faith works in our lives. Much of our exasperation arises from sensing there’s functionality we’ve not yet tapped, and while we intuitively know it’s there, the same intuitions don’t offer any insights into how we access it. We try every imaginable combination of faith, prayer, Scripture, and meditation. We scour our behavior and attitude for a clue. We may even turn to friends for answers. Strangely, we take more comfort from those who say, “It’s beyond me,” than those who’ve already struggled with similar issues. Their answers always sound too pat: “That’s easy. Here’s what you do,” they tell us. “It’s a little tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it.” When we hear that, we hear an inner voice wonder, “What if I don’t get the hang of it? Will I be stuck indefinitely?”

Why God Answers

These thoughts crowd our minds while we wait out the silence. And since thinking is all we can do until God answers, we might ponder this: why does God answer at all? That’s where the customer service analogy breaks down. God responds to our call because it pleases Him. “Come near to God and he will come near to you,” James 4.8 advises us. Turning to God for answers brings us closer to Him, allowing Him to come closer to us. If the entire plan and approach were laid out in simple terms from the first, we could do this on our own. When something didn’t go our way, we’d reach for the handy-dandy troubleshooter’s guide and fix it by ourselves. But we must remember the underlying purpose in following Christ is reconciliation with God. This journey never was intended to be easy and smooth. The stalls and panics are designed to prompt our calls to God so He can draw nearer to us. We cry, “Help!” and He answers, “Let Me show you.” As we step closer to Him, He comes closer to us. Reconciliation begins.

“I will tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know,” He promises. Every crisis that causes us to freeze puts us on the brink of revelation. Our minds must be clear to absorb what He says, though, which is why there are frequent silences between the call and response. It takes time for us to let go of our instincts and plans, to be ready to hear and do what He tells us. When we call on God, it’s unnecessary to explain what we’ve already done to fix our problems or what’s always worked in the past. He’s watched us all along. It’s not a matter of what we’re doing wrong as much as what we’re not learning by doing it the way we always have. And particularly during this desert season, when we purposefully seek greater, deeper understanding—when we wander into the wilderness with our hearts set on growing closer to God—we’re apt to freeze up. Let’s never forget two things. The freeze is a positive sign we’re maturing in our faith, and God is coming to us, bringing us knowledge and information unlike any we’ve known before.

When we can’t go on until help arrives, it’s because we’ve grown past our current skills. Calling on God brings Him near to us to teach us what we don’t yet know.

Postscript: ‘Tis So Sweet

This was my grandmother’s favorite hymn and it perfectly reflected her faith philosophy. “When there’s nothing else to do but call on the Lord,” she taught me, “that’s when we feel closest to Him.” In a beautiful a cappella arrangement, The Altar of Praise Men’s Chorale sings “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”


claire said...

There is a little book I like very much: Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God. He was a cook in a convent and grew so close to Godde that people would come to ask him how to do it.

Which is why when I work in the kitchen, I think of Brother Lawrence, and imagine Jesus sitting at my table and talking with me. Or just being with me, in silence.
And you're right, there are moments when I need help, because I feel stuck or in the dark or in pain. And I call for help, His help :-)))

Thank you for sharing your grandmother's favorite hymn. It is lovely.


Tim said...

Claire, I love the image of Jesus and you in the kitchen. It feels absolutely right and I believe we all should "practice His presence" as we work and go about our lives. I don't know Br. Lawrence's book, but your recommendation is all I need to get it. Thank you!


genevieve said...

The opening paragraphs reminds me of my days as a tchnician. I wondered if I would ever llearn about electronics. Eventually, I did.

When I cannot go any further in the desert, I need to stop and see where the Lord leads. Waiting is not easy but I have no other recourse. God is teaching even in the 'dead' hours of our journey.

God desires my fellowship with Him. This is a lesson that am learning each day.

Tim said...

Oh, Genevieve, what a marvelous and joyful witness: "God desires my fellowship with Him. This is a lesson that I am learning each day." May we all learn this--and live in it. Once we learn to do that, waiting will be less of a problem for us!

Blessings--and thank you for this,

claire said...

"God desires my fellowship with Him. This is a lesson that am learning each day."

Wow... How beautiful, Genevieve!