Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It's Not Over Until It's Over

When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23.9-10)

Excitement Overload

My brother both goes out of his way not to say, “I’m worried” or “This worries me.” Steve “works on” situations he can manage and refuses to “get excited” by those he can’t. On a recent call to see how he’s faring after minor surgery, he said, “Nothing exciting to report—just a little soreness.” That set my thoughts spinning about how quickly we let anxieties drive us into excitement overload. Things we should calmly work on turn into frantic attempts, and those we can’t work out escalate into full-on panic. We lose touch with Jesus’s teaching about worry. In Luke 12.25-26, He asks two questions: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Absolutely nothing about worry prolongs or improves life. Indeed, it has the opposite effect. Anxious excitement is a thief that steals everything fine and good in us: our confidence, joy, imagination, courage, and companionability. Worst of all, it convinces us there’s honor in becoming excitement junkies. We start believing our constant frets and moans prove we’re deeply invested in our predicaments, when we’re actually milking them for excitement. On some level, we perceive our agitated state as a sign of importance. No matter what “we” do, “they” just won’t get it together. What would become of the excitement bingers among us if their problems all worked out. What would they do?

Doubts on Hold

On our worst days, we have nothing on Job. He’s completely wiped out. His possessions, family, health, and reputation are destroyed, and—right on time—here come three excitement junkies to check things out. Ostensibly, they’re there to solve his problems. But they run into something they didn’t anticipate, because two things Job hasn’t lost are his mind and his faith. Yes, Job’s difficulties concern and disturb him. Before he allows himself to get overly excited, though, he wants to understand the purpose behind these apparently random disasters. Differences between Job’s mindset and the mentality of his three friends give us the Bible’s most distinctive picture of what separates people of faith from worry addicts. While his friends immediately launch into, “Here’s what you’re problem is,” Job essentially says, “I don’t know why I’m besieged by so many problems, but I’ll find out once they’re over.” It’s less important for him to theorize possible answers while he’s in trouble than come out knowing its real reasons when it ends. So Job puts his doubts on hold.

His friends have plenty of explanations, all of which basically come down to “you’ve done something wrong, Job.” Yet Job knows he’s lived a righteous life. Their overexcitement brings no clarity to his condition. And when he insists he’s done nothing wrong, his friends insist he prove he hasn’t displeased God. Job can’t, because God’s not talking. “When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him,” he says. (Job 23.9) The excitement junkies leap on this as a sure sign God has singled out Job for punishment. They’ve not listened closely to what Job says. He doesn’t believe God has left the scene; he’s merely confessing God can’t be seen. Rather than operate on crazed assumptions, Job’s willing to wait on the right answer. In verse 10, he confesses his faith: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Knowing God Sees

When we’re beset by trouble, we remember it’s not over until it’s over. God’s reasons may not be within reach, but we must trust they’re right. And a core feature of that trust comes in willingness to put doubts on hold until we’re able to see what actually happened. On a perverse level, there’s satisfaction to be gained by jumping to conclusions about our trials. Applying premature logic leads us to think we’re still in control. The danger in relying on what we see at any moment becomes an even greater problem when God can’t be seen. Since we depend solely on our faculties, His invisibility translates into absence, which is never the case. Revisit what Job actually says. “Although I can’t see God, He sees me—He knows the way that I take.” Knowing God sees is all it takes to pull us out of excitement overload so He can accomplish His work in us. When He’s tested us, we’ll come forth as gold.

Philippians 1.6 tells us to be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” That’s our part in the refining process—remaining confident. The extent to which God tests us is His concern. In midst of our trials, we must come to grips with the fact that transparency and full disclosure aren’t typical in God’s process. Much of the time He can’t be seen because He’s working behind the scenes. He’s carrying out His plan. Like Job, we realize that what we experience will change us. We can’t understand what’s happening now because we’re not ready to understand it. Rather than get wound up in needless worry and excitement, it’s best to remind ourselves it’s not over until it’s over.

In the midst of our trials—when we’re lost in the desert without answers—we get everything turned around. Not until it’s over can we accurately see what took place.

Postscript: Refiner’s Fire

Job teaches us the value in putting our doubts on hold and submitting to God’s refining process. That’s where understanding happens. Lent gives us a prime opportunity to practice this principle. Today’s musical selection: “Refiner’s Fire.”


Anonymous said...

Such a perfect post Tim. Worriers are self centered egoists! I know, since I am one. The other day, someone mentioned the "melt" and I immediately started to speak about how this would effect me--when I suddenly realized that she was referring to the possibility of large scale flooding affecting thousands of Iowans. I shut up quickly, and realized that my worries were small and thus was I...
Thanks for the reminder.

Tim said...

Sherry, there was a great BBC comedy series in the 90's called "Absolutely Fabulous" about two wealthy ne'er-do-well women. (The show was a runaway GLBT hit here in the States.) In one episode, a wild chase involving a half-dozen characters, including a gay couple, ensued through a high school. At one point, one partner looked at the other (who just happened to be in full-on drag) and said, "What's happening?" To which the other replied, "I don't know. I'm just caught up in the drama!"

I think that's what happens to us. Worry sends us on a wild-goose chase and much of the time we have no idea what's really going on. We're just caught up in the drama. This most surely feeds our egos, because we see ourselves as the stars of our crises. It never occurs to us that what's happening may be bigger than us and God intends to use it for our refinement. The real "drama" isn't around us, it's within us--and like all great drama, we can't know what it means until it's resolved. That was Job's case. At best he was a supporting player in the epic struggle between good and evil.

On the bright side of your "melt" story, despite the difficulties it brings, I know you're happy to see the melt come and winter go!

Thanks, as always, for adding light to another post. Your comments are always a joy!


claire said...

As I read your post, I realize that I have not yet taken in Jesus' teachings on worry.
Instead, I feel so central to everything that I am convinced that by worrying I protect everyone from the worst...
Somehow this reminds me that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly...
Another great post, Tim. Thank you.

Leonardo Ricardo said...


I really NEEEDED (as in needy) this post...thank you so much (I liked it so mucho that I used you...again)!

Blessings to you and yours,

Leonardo, Len, Lenny, Leo, Leonard (all of us)

Tim said...

Claire, removing ourselves from problems to enter a state of blind trust is one of the more rigorous forms of self-denial, I think. We literally have to shake off all preconceptions so we can view what's happening as a new thing. "Less of me and more of You" turns into "None of me and ALL of You." To our minds--particularly when our circumstances urge us to assume protective roles--this is neither natural or sane. But then, what of our walk with God ever appears that way? (PS: I love the observation about angels; there's much to learn from that.)

Leonardo, Len, Lenny, Leo, Leonard, we (Tim, Timothy, Timmy, and Timbo) can fully relate to how your feel. This is something we all need to keep in the forefront of our thoughts, because it's so easy to let worry snatch it away. And because we're constantly changing, as well as the world itself, the newness of every problem can cause us to forget how many times we didn't understand what was going on in the refining process until we went through it. We forget how many times we came forth as pure gold! (And, my dear friend, I'm always deeply honored when you "use me"! Any time...)

Blessings to you both,