For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.(2 Corinthians 5:1-5)
When I was younger, I looked at the elderly and wondered what was going on that caused them to walk stooped over and to make groaning noises when they moved. That question was raised in a day when the house I was living in was a strong, low maintenance abode. At 63, I’m no longer curious. My groans come mostly from degenerative discs (a structural component of my current house). At least that is what the legion of doctors I have seen tell me.
I also have a legion of well meaning people who volunteer their cures when they hear me groan. There’s a fascinating array of them. These cures may involve doctors, pills and potions, herbs, fasting, diet, oils, magnets, color, sound, touch, chemicals, the earth (grounding), repentance, communion, vitamins, rest, yoga, faith, prayer, confession, or proclamation. I don’t mean to, but I’m sure I’m leaving someone out. Oh yes, there is prayer. Prayer is sometimes recommended as an additive to the above list.
Sometimes (like now), I express my groaning with sarcasm. This may even be picked up as frustration or anger (which, on some days, it may lapse into). While those negative elements are sometimes present, I hope that readers will also find something winsome in my words because, while I am usually trying to make some eternally minded point, I am attempting to do it through an ornery and playful spirit. Truly, we are in this together, this being a place of vast mystery packed with uncertainties. Humor, questions, and sarcasm all surely appropriate here.
In western culture, we have all been given an impressive buffet of options to free us from our suffering. No doubt, some of them are legitimate. I believe the Spirit, whom He gave as my Helper, leads me in sifting and sorting through all the options proposed to relive my pain. Is this an infallible process? Does this kind of interaction with the Spirit yield airtight solutions? Guaranteed results? The short answer is “no” because certainty, a condition God does not offer his apprentices, would preclude faith. A bit longer answer follows.
I believe that the Spirit, in Paul and all who are trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior, have a distinct mission on earth. It is a very important one if Jesus’ words mean anything:
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. (John 16:7)
And we might ask, “So then, what is this advantage the Helper (his Spirit) will give us?” In a nutshell it is that:
He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. (John 16:13-14)
How does He do this? You would think that if the Spirit were active in this way, His movements would be the daily headlines of every news agency. Is it possible the Spirit is so embedded into our lives that we simply miss the stories? This is my bet. Here is just a small byline from the story I believe He’s writing in my heart. It won’t make the news, but I would like to report it nevertheless.
On the drive to work this morning, there was no coffee yet in my system to fuel much mental activity. I was still burning through the fog of a night’s sleep, trying to keep at bay a clutter of thoughts hounding me for attention. As soon as I recognized I was not really on duty, I simply turned my mind to the Lord. My first intentional act of this day was to say, “Lord you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” My next thoughts evolved into a question, “Many are aware of this claim who do not experience the reality of it.” In my heart, I ask, “Why is this Lord?”
Some might retell what I am about to describe as a crystal clear I said and then, The Holy Spirit said-conversation with God. I can’t do this in good conscience because I did not hear the Lord say, “Robby, Here is how it works with me. You see…(and then fill this space in with whatever word-for-word download I thought he offered).” Instead, my thoughts were prodded (I believe) by his Spirit, who is leading me into all truth, just as he promised. The advantageous and helpful thought which followed was roughly: “They do not believe these words because there is a great shortage of those who can tell others and model how (beyond their salvation) Jesus becomes their Way, their Truth and their Life.”
So…were these 1) God’s thoughts 2) My thoughts or 3) a combination of the two. I have chosen door number 3. But, I just report. You decide.
Instead of reporting to the world, some personal thus sayeth the Lord, I will simply and unapologetically report that these words were my impression of what He said. However, even though it was an impression, it was not just a shot in the dark; I have been living by these types of impressions for 40 years. You may ask why would I have ever gone down such a vaguely marked path? Answered simply: because his words have been a light along this path and they always seemed to have been leading me somewhere.
My impressions have typically been derivatives and distillation of scriptures, which I have hidden away in my heart, words which I have interacted with and which have progressively transformed my heart and mind. Over time, the testing of these words, by faith, have proven to me that they were in fact His advantageous and helpful words. As I have embraced them by faith, testing them in the rough and tumble of real life, the outcomes have proven to me that God is faithful and true to his words. It is out of this living-exchange of ideas and words, in the regular course of living, where a relationship with God has been forged. Based on this ongoing experience, I write and report about an intimately personal relationship with God.
Returning to our main passage, what is God saying about groaning and the myriad remedies and options we must sift through? For me, I report that while I have listened and will continue to listen to my friends and family, my sole remedy remains to be Jesus Christ. He alone really is my only and ultimate Truth, Way, and Life. I believe all of us who trust Him will find that the Spirit’s mission on earth has always been (above all things) to point us continually to Jesus, who is our very Life. It seems his mission in my heart has been a steady push to establish this reality so that I can know him now and that I will not end up standing before him having trusted in anything other than Christ alone.
Have you ever made a list of things you have confidence in, which if adhered to, will produce an improved quality of life? I suspect this exercise will tamper with our perceived pathway to the good life, but is it not the very things on this list which compete with Christ alone as our Way, Truth and Life?
I have spent an inordinate amount of time seeking a cure for degenerative disk disease, and the results have led me to ask, “Is this circumstance my thorn in the flesh?” This question will make some of my friends cringe because they know that by his stripes we are healed. I can almost hear the voice of some of them rebuking me for such an apostate question. And yet, the voice I hear says:
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So Lord, just how am I to take courage? I hear his answer:
Always give thanks for all things (especially trials) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and be subject to one another in the fear of Him. (Ephesians 5:20)
So…always on a journey, always passing through mysterious landscapes, I see I am joined to a body of people with a myriad of thoughts about God and his ways. I see a pathway intentionally paved with uncertainties by a sovereign and loving God who is leading us into, and through a blessed gauntlet of circumstances all for the sake of truly knowing him today and for the day when we will stand before him and give a final account of what we have trusted in. That’s pretty much my story. I’m gratefully stuck to it.
For the record, I am quite open to glorifying you right now with a report of either partial or total healing. Even in the presence of a little degeneration, thank you for all the advantageous and helpful thoughts and words that you are using to continually lead us into all truth. Take all the small bylines of our stories and somehow publish them for your name’s sake. Let them be shouted from the housetops. May you alone become our headline. In Jesus’ wonderful name, amen.
Thank you, Father, for my degenerative discs which will contribute to your glory as a faithful Lord, my healer now or my deliverer then, when I receive my new body which will know no degeneration. It’s all good because you are always good. Until that day, whichever comes first, I am so, so grateful that my spirit is being renewed daily as it lives courtesy of Your Spirit who is transforming me into the image of your Son, just as you promised.