Between the silence of the mountains
And the crashing of the sea
There lies a land I once lived in
And she’s waiting there for me
But in the grey of the morning
My mind becomes confused
Between the dead and the sleeping
And the road that I must choose
I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
Could safely lead me to
The land that I once knew
To learn as we grow old
The secrets of our soul
In searching for some factoid last week, I stumbled into a piece about The Moody Blues and their top songs, one of which is “Question” (shown in the excellent video above).
I always liked that song. The plaintiveness of the question that erupts from the heart of the singer resonates.
Many people are looking at life right now and asking how it is we are where we are. Beyond the questions that afflict us all comes that one individual query, the one that haunts a lot of us who scout our personal situations and ask what happened to that place of refuge and hope from long ago, that “land that I once knew.”
I turn 50 in a few weeks, and I guess that’s good enough time as any to get introspective. Now more than ever, I run into fellow travelers paralyzed by the search for the land they once knew, for someone to change their lives, for some miracle to happen that will forever alter the inevitability of the road they find themselves on, the road that winds through the grey mists of morning that lead into forgetfulness and loss.
How is it that some people seem to find their mission and fulfill it, while other people look and look and yet the road never makes itself clear?
How is it that some people can clearly see where they have come from and where they are going, yet they never quite get to their destination?
How is it that some people find the opposition to their entire journey so strong that it never truly begins?
Where the trouble for me begins is that I know a lot of Christians who are stuck in these No Man’s Land locations. For whatever reason, they’ve been sidelined. All those things they hoped to do now seem less likely than ever. The vision that lit up their early lives now flickers, a cooling ember inside a broken heart. You can see that cool nostalgia in their eyes and hear the tremor in their voices when they tell their stories, especially when they reflect on what might have been.
Some wonder how it was that they had a yearning for foreign missions, yet every opportunity to do those missions blew up or met with seemingly pointless resistance.
Some wanted nothing more than to work with young people, yet the vicissitudes of life kept pulling them away, and now they no longer understand youth.
Some wanted to change the world for Christ, yet they got drawn into the embrace of the American Dream and saw their youth and enthusiasm sucked dry by it.
And some reflect on it all and wonder if they are the ones who put their hands to the plow but then looked back. And they wonder if there is any redemption for that very human failing, a second chance, a ticket back to that land they once knew, where they could start again and do it all right this time.
I think there are a lot of people who found that Someone who changed their life. And yet the finding somehow didn’t shield them from broken hopes and dreams, especially when those hopes and dreams were to be all they could be for that Someone.
There is no joy being caught in that time of discernment yet unable to tell the difference between the dead and the sleeping. When the road we take from here seems obscured. I don’t know what to say to people when I see them struggling to find how to move on when there appears to be no place to move to. I hope that whatever words come out of my mouth have some of God’s life in them, but I don’t know myself how to answer the questions of how one finds himself here, because I’m not so sure of my own location.
At this point in my life, I wonder about systems and how people end up mired in them. Government, institutional religion, personal expectations, other people’s expectations– they seem to conspire to cloud rather than clarify. And the “land that I once knew” seems farther off than ever.
What do you do when you tried to do everything right by God and yet it led to this far off place that feels so alien and removed from where you think you should be?
I wish I had an answer to that question. I wonder if it lies back in that land we once lived in, but I don’t know how we get back there.
24 thoughts on “Question”
I’m on the road that I find myself on, I’m sure … I just haven’t found myself yet. Maybe I should wear a red carnation so I’ll recognize me.
I’m 57. It needs to happen soon.
Happy upcoming birthday! And many happy returns.
“What do you do when you tried to do everything right by God and yet it led to this far off place that feels so alien and removed from where you think you should be?”
There are probably as many answers to this question as there are people, but I think this verse asks the same question:
“Where then is that sense of blessing you had?” (Gal 4:15)
Here’s my feeble attempt to answer.
The blessing comes when we receive from God, when we know that we know that we know that He loves us and that Christ died for us. That is our first love, when “He first loved us”, (1 John 4:19) that overflows to everyone around us.
Then our flesh rises up, our independent streak, our sense of “self-worth” – all those things that take our eyes off the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2) – and we try to prove that we are worthy of that love. We forge ahead with our own ideas and our own goals, taking Christ out of first place.
“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3)
If we listen and repent, our blessing returns. If not, we lose the leading of the Holy Spirit:
“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.” (Rev 2:4-5)
All those man-made systems you mention are born of pride. “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1Pe 5:6-7)
I pray this helps. You don’t deserve it – none of us do – but it’s my hope, nonetheless.
Ref: I’m currently reading The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ by T. Austin-Sparks. It’s helpful in this regard.
I have always defaulted to this, which says it better than anything:
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?”
—Isaiah 45:9 ESV
I know a lot of good Christian people who sacrificed a lot, crawled out on the limb of faith, followed God as closely as was directed, and yet now they wonder what it all means in light of how that limb-crawling turned out. When it all goes pear-shaped, how do you get back? And what happens when so much water has passed under that bridge that there may be no going back?
We are told that our treasure in heaven depends on our activity on earth. This bothers the sidelined. They WANT to be used–or perhaps used again like they once were. But they are either not wanted or have been marginalized by others in the Body. Nothing could hurt more.
A theoretical case: A dedicated female youth worker gets accused by a teen guy with a chip on his shoulder of some inappropriate behavior. The accusation begins to filter out from the church, and the next thing you know, it’s common knowledge. In time, the kid comes clean, but to the permanent detriment of that youth worker; she gets that extra scrutiny wherever she goes now. Can’t find work in the aftermath. Ends up out of youth ministry entirely and even finds churches in her area aren’t really friendly to even having her sitting in their pews on Sunday.
I want to be able to say something to that person and people like her, but I don’t know what to say.
Is this simply a pride issue? Isn’t this also the heartcry of the person who desperately loves God but has been sidelined for no reason beyond bad luck and poor timing?
I’ll toss out one more example:
You met a wonderful girl who shared your love for the country of Namibia. Both of you felt a strong calling on your life to missions work. Other people confirmed that calling. You get married, get trained, scrimp, save, do everything you can to raise support while you eat ramen every day. You finally get over to the field. Then a baby or two comes along. You endure constant hardship. In addition, your mission gets new leaders who play games and yank you around, both in the field and back in the States. The lack and the pressure of fighting weird administrative battles, constant separation from your wife and kids due to fundraising trips and marketing promotions just to keep everything running and supporters informed…well, it starts to take a toll. Administrations change again. The nonstop turmoil enlarges cracks in your marriage. On a furlough in the States, your wife announces she’s leaving you for someone else—in the missions office. She gets custody of the kids too.
You’re 44 years old, off the field, attending some church out of your denomination and in no way affiliated with the missions organization that once loved you, paying so much child support you have to live in a studio apartment just big enough to squeeze a mattress into, and the girl you loved is marrying that guy who used to manage your mission’s U.S. finances.
I want to be able to speak something worthwhile into that guy’s life because the questions he has are brutal, and I’m sure most of them go beyond the norm.
And yet it’s not like I’m making up anything. That whole scenario above is a composite sketch of real people I’ve known. That sense of “if I could just go back…” is radiating off them like a blast furnace, and yet very few of them can admit that they’d do anything differently. They were following as best they could, but this is where they ended. And for too many of those people, it was the end of any further usefulness to the cause of Jesus. They were baked to a crackly crunch and were just looking for some answers.
How does someone reach that guy?
I have been pondering those questions for longer than I care to admit. All I know is even that has to be an offering to God. The book of Job is a very strange but really genuine place of comfort for me, is all I can say.
[This is in response to your two comments, Dan, although for some reason I got them as email but can’t see them on this post.]
The problems in both of your examples involve the institutional church and/or para-church organizations. What is God to do if He believes, like I do, that the IC is counter-productive to the cause of Christ?
If He wants better for His people, and I believe He does, then He will try to lead them out. He will encourage them to depend on Him, instead of the bureaucrats.
I would be encouraging these people to look to Christ instead of the institution man has built. I would point them to any myriad of books that will show them a better way – including the Bible.
And I would ditch the attitude that these people have been “sidelined for no reason beyond bad luck and poor timing.” If you no longer believe that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” (Rom 8:28) then perhaps you shouldn’t be giving them any advice at all. Truly, brother, I hear echos of the four-year-old who just discovered the world does not revolve around him, and the teenager who realizes that life is not fair.
I’m not understanding your reply. Let me summarize what you are saying:
1. The institutional church and parachurch organizations may counter the work of God.
2. Rom. 8:28
Your two statements seem to contradict each other.
Bureaucrats, crazy people, outright sinners—they all work for good, don’t they? Isn’t God greater than lousy institutional churches and mismanaged parachurch organizations? If so, then shouldn’t everything that happens to the missionary (in my example) who gets ground up by “misfortune” apply?
Regarding Rom. 8:28, I’ve written elsewhere that I wonder if we are interpreting that Scripture correctly. Some people interpret it to mean that everything that happens here on earth ends well as long as one is a Christian. Yet what are we to do with evidence to the contrary? I’ve seen a lot of bad endings in other people’s lives and I’m not yet 50. This is not to say that the verse is not true, only that it may not pertain to life this side of heaven. I think both of us can agree that when we see all of eternity come together at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, when every tear will be wiped away, Romans 8:28 will indeed be fully fulfilled and with no asterisks.
But life on earth can be long, and while heaven is always something Christians should long for, we still have to make do with this present life. The young guy whose young bride ends up in a coma after her car is hit by a drunk (who always seems to walk away), that guy’s new wife may or may not come out of that coma at any time during the remaining 60 years of his or her life, yet he must deal with his wife’s coma every day until one of them dies. Isn’t that hard? Doesn’t that require something of us beyond telling him, “Dude, man up. Remember Romans 8:28!” I sure hope so.
I don’t believe in “bad luck and poor timing.” In fact, I believe in quite the opposite, which is part of the point of my entire post. But there are a lot of Christians who DO chalk up misfortune to bad luck and poor timing.. And they use that as an excuse to excuse themselves from getting involved in someone else’s pain.
No, life is not fair. But what is even less fair is when people who claim to be Christians find a way to vanish when they can’t explain why the nice missionary guy got ground up and spit out, and they subsequently don’t want to question anything related to that event (either in the spiritual realm or in the natural), so they deal with it by ignoring the nice missionary guy and everything that happened to him.
And somehow, that big ignore gets chalked up to Christian maturity when it is anything but.
Someone has to walk beside the people who won’t get their reward in heaven for another 60 years or so, because life down here is rough, and we still have to deal with it.
What we CAN’T do as Christian is act as if it’s not.
If God’s ultimate purpose is conforming us to the image of Christ, then, yes, even those scenarios can be walked through and looked at thru the lens of Romans 8:28. I have my own stories to tell, plus I have had ringside seats at the tragedies of others-this isn’t academic to me.
We are not promised a happy life on this side of heaven. We see through a glass darkly.
You know, the people who have had the greatest influence in my life are not the ones who have had perfect lives. No, they have been the ones who have been chastened by life, who have hurt, but yet have found the Healer. People who can understand my pain because they have had pain of their own. We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have been comforted with. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit is the only source of comfort we have but then our scars become our authority to minister to others.
Frankly, Dan, I don’t trust people who haven’t had to walk through pain, who haven’t been broken in some form or fashion.
All I know is Christ, and Him crucified. My own personal pain has driven me to Him and to His word. I don’t have all the answers, in fact I don’t have many at all, but I do have Him.
Thank you for your reply.
I wonder why it is that so many people are left alone at a time when they should have people alongside them for support. I wonder why it is that some Christians think the best thing for a struggling person is to let them continue to struggle, as if God’s best way of dealing with folks is always to let them twist in the wind.
I don’t see it that way. Nor do struggling people see it that way. And yet that is the response they get.
The people who have had the greatest influence on my life are probably the same types of people who had an influence on yours. They were all scarred in one way or another.
What I do know is this: Sometimes Jesus has to come to people in a different way. Sometimes He comes by Himself alone, but my experience has been that this is not the primary way. Sometimes, he comes through other people. Sometimes, He comes through a choice word wisely spoken.
There are a lot of gifted people who had bad things happen to them. They’re at a stage in life where they are on a shelf and they wonder if that’s where they will still be when they eventually die. Sometimes they put themselves there. Sometimes, other people keep them there. Sometimes, it’s just lousy circumstances. But I know those people are not done and useless. They’re not the toys from the Island of Misfit Toys. They still have value. Finding a way to help them find that avenue for service and continued ministry, even hope for the future, is something I want to be about.
Because the number of these people is far larger than we are willing to admit. They’re sitting in the back pew at some church somewhere wondering if they can still be used, wondering if what they did before made any difference at all in the Kingdom of God. Not because they are out to make a name for themselves (and oddly, it’s the people least desiring of being a Christian celebrity that most often end up cast off), but because they love God and want to serve Him to the best of their giftings.
You’re right, Dan. You’re not understanding my reply. Let
me try again.
Let’s suppose that the highest, most glorious life that God can provide for us on this earth is lived outside the institutional church, outside the camp with Jesus Christ. Because all our lives have been spent hearing the opposite, most of us are not inclined to leave the IC under our own
steam to find that life.
So God, in His infinite wisdom and love, allows circumstances in our lives – circumstances that may not seem pleasant – that lead us out of the IC towards that glorious new life. That is Romans 8:28. That is trusting that God’s understanding of our circumstances is better than our own.
If, however, we sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, we won’t find Christ out there or realize the blessing that God is providing. If you and I merely sympathize with these people, and agree that they have been “sidelined for no reason beyond bad luck and poor timing,” [and, yes, those were your words from your first comment on this post] we are not helping them, we are hurting them.
And truly, I never said that we should just leave these people out there on their own. I said that we should help
them “look to Christ instead of the institution man has built.” Yours is a rather dishonest characterization of my words.
FYI, these are not theoretical words. They portray the attitude I requested from others when, at age 49, I was suddenly unable to walk.
I’m not seeing the dishonesty in my characterization. You’ve reiterated that God’s best can be found only outside the institutional church, which seems to make Rom. 8:28 conditional on one having never been involved in the institutional church at all. It’s almost as if you are saying that God can work around any bad situation and turn it to good, but you’re on your own if that bad originated from something that happened within the institutional church.
I fully admit that I have questions regarding Rom. 8:28 the way it is commonly used by those who want to turn every badness into goodness this side of heaven, especially when I see instances of people being crushed and not recovering all that well. A missionary couple divorces and their kids suffer the fallout. I’ve seen that. It’s not pretty. It’s really hard to find anything positive to say about that this side of heaven. It’s even harder to say that whatever the final outcome is this side of heaven, it’s somehow better than what it would have been had the couple worked out their problems and stayed married. And yet, that is how this verse is often used (or abused, depending on how one looks at it).
And even if I fully assent that God can redeem every badness this side of heaven (and does), this does not excuse us from the process of healing. What are you and I doing to help people who are crushed? I feel sometimes as if the “proper” Christian response is to let people stay crushed, and to stay out of their crushing, because hey, you and I might be interfering in something God wants to do in that person’s life.
I see that attitude everywhere, but I can find no biblical basis for it. Bartimaeus cried out for healing and the “wise” people told him to shut up and be happy with his state. But he wasn’t. And because he wasn’t, he got the healing he desired. The Lord saw his complaint as faithfulness, not unbelief.
I see this bizarre cult of suffering arising within some sectors of the Church. While suffering is certainly an aspect of life that is unavoidable, Christ came and brought a Kingdom entirely opposed to suffering. That Kingdom’s goal was to attack the source of suffering. That Kingdom brought healing where there was pain and disease. That Kingdom is both here and now and in the future, and yet some promote suffering! Even a cursory reading of the NT shows suffering as aberrant, and yet some would opt for suffering rather than healing. It makes no sense.
Dan: “It’s almost as if you are saying that God can work around any bad situation and turn it to good, but you’re on your own if that bad originated from something that happened within the institutional church.”
I agree with akaGaGa. You’re not getting what she’s saying.
God can work good in rotten situations. But if you choose to stay in a rotten situation, He’ll still work for your good, but meanwhile don’t be surprised if your life is still pretty miserable.
I can think back on my involvement with a certain ministry long ago. Sadly it started out well, but degenerated within a few years into a kind of cult, a very dictatorial one too. It had some pretty awful effect on my life at the time. Now, God still worked throughout it all), but in retrospect I can see that he was trying to show be that it was time to get out. Now, I could have been pig headed about it and stayed even longer, and continue to endure some pretty awful stuff. Well, oddly enough, and I can’t go into more details, but it finally took getting a flat tire on a busy freeway to finally wake me up to what I needed to do: there was no longer any reason to stick around in that ministry. Years later, the leader died rather young from some STD he contracted.
I am probably not explaining myself well enough, but I think I can understand what akaGaGa is getting at. Hey, that is somewhat part of what I have been trying to say when I mentioned the “Four Worldly Laws”. Lots of institutions have stopped listening to God years ago, but they continue to chug along, even very successfully. You can do a lot using the Four Worldly Laws, although God doesn’t get the glory for it.
It’s funny how you magically see all the typos once you hit the “Post Comment” button.
The “trying to show be that” should read as “trying to show me that“
Dan: “I see this bizarre cult of suffering arising within some sectors of the Church. While suffering is certainly an aspect of life that is unavoidable, Christ came and brought a Kingdom entirely opposed to suffering. That Kingdom’s goal was to attack the source of suffering.”
I agree with you here. I see some of this too, the attitude that “my affliction and misery, whatsoever it may be, brings glory to God”, or that “He’s putting this on me.” It’s kind of like assuming that God and Satan have this back room agreement going to make sure your life is miserable so as to make you “better for it.”
Well, to put it in a somewhat twisted manner, if misery always makes us more saintly and that is a good thing, then Heaven will continue the misery since that is a good thing and Heaven has every good thing possible. Therefore, if you’re sick or crippled here, then you’ll be sick and crippled there, since it makes you a better and more saintly person.
Of course, this is complete nonsense, because there is no such agreement! God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. And Satan has no claims, not even the slightest toehold, on the Kingdom of Heaven.
For example, I see such a great need for the gift of healing to be restored in the church. But very few people believe that God really wants to heal them. In fact, they are often taught the complete contrary, either explicitly or implicitly. And if people talk as if they had no faith, that is very likely because they have learned to have no faith. Practically every evangelical church I have ever been in has always leaned in that direction.
The one source of suffering that we were definitely 100% promised is that all who live godly in Christ will be persecuted.
Let me add that the number one reason why the gift of healing so badly needs to be restored is, if anything, so that people would better understand, and have it vividly driven home into their hearts, what the character of God is and what the nature of his kingdom is.
Many disagree with me, but I see a stark difference in the Scriptures between “suffering for Christ” and suffering because of the effects of sin. The Bible says that the Kingdom of Heaven comes so as to deal with the latter and overcome it. One may incur the former because of seeking to address the latter, but that’s part and parcel of the distinction the Lord makes.
I’m not sure we can ever go back to that land we came from. It seems too far away. For me, this life is a journey on the back roads. Sometimes the way is clear, with sunshine and gentle breezes. Sometimes the road is narrow, choked with weeds and shrouded in fog. Sometimes I end up off the road in a thicket or cave. Sometimes I just have to sit still and wait.
The only thing I can do is try to follow Jesus, and throw my trust on the Father’s mercy. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to do.
Really, Dan? You’re blocking my response? What a mature, Christian way to deal with disagreement.
Why assume the worst? WordPress automatically put your reply in “Pending” for some inexplicable reason. I only now opened the site and saw this. No malice. Really.
When have I ever stifled disagreement?
One issue that has come up, now that I’m older and long for that land where I once was, is that I reflect on the Scriptural truth that not all blessings are for me and my life. Some pass on to the next generation. (My six-year-old nephew just sat down next to me and asked what I am writing. Ha, ha.) I won’t see what I’d like to see while I’m alive. Think Joseph. He certainly had a lot of “bad luck,” which turned out to be a great blessing for his immediate family, but also for every Hebrew after him. He never returned to that land, except to bury his father and long after he died.
Think David and the temple. He would not build it, but he put together the materials that would be used in its construction.
That we think we need to see it all in our lifetimes is very American of us: very individualistic. Even many family-oriented American Christians have a hard time thinking about the legacy of their children, grandchildren, and beyond.
I know one person for whom this was the case. Her grandparents wanted to be missionaries in Japan, but they were sent to Brazil instead. They never made it to Japan.
“A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Proverbs 13:22 KJV).
“Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Psalm 2:8 KJV).
Their granddaughter went to Japan as a missionary and met her Brazilian husband there.
Anyway, I could write this point better, but my nephew wants to watch a Veggie Tales movie on the computer. Ha, ha.
I love “Question” too! “Why do we never get an answer when we’re knocking at the door” somehow fits into all of this. My husband and I are in our fifties and wondering how we ended up where we are, as it is not how we envisioned our lives. I don’t think “Bible answers” from well-intentioned friends would be of any help to us, however a sit alongside and just listening to us and sighing would go a long way. Whatever our condition however, whether we feel useful to God or put up on the shelf by inner or outer influences — God still loves us while life continues to be unfair, unpredictable, unkind — or unexpectedly hopeful.
“What do you do when you tried to do everything right by God and yet it led to this far off place that feels so alien and removed from where you think you should be?”
“We are told that our treasure in heaven depends on our activity on earth. This bothers the sidelined. They WANT to be used–or perhaps used again like they once were. But they are either not wanted or have been marginalized by others in the Body. Nothing could hurt more.”
Oh man, you couldn’t have put my heart into better words. I feel so lost I don’t know if there is even a place to go back to. I sure can’t find it. I thought I followed God to this place, quit a great job, left my friends, moved a 1000 miles from home, only to find it’s no different than where I was – maybe even worse.
I hear you. Prayed for you just now.