Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Dear Friends in Christ,
I don’t know why, but over the past year or so Marilyn and I have become mesmerized by the large number of Alaska shows on satellite TV these days. From “Alaskan Bush People” to “Ice Road Truckers” to “Buying Alaska,” there is no small number of programs that are now filmed in our country’s 49th state. And one of my favorites is “Ultimate Survival Alaska” which features teams of 3 that race to a flag that is located at an extraction point far away. If they don’t make it to the extraction point in the designated 60 hours, then they are out of the game. To get there, however, they sometimes have to climb or rappel down sheer mountain cliffs or cross crevasse-filled glaciers or swiftly flowing streams. And then there are the times when they have to navigate their way through white water rapids which is always kind of terrifying to watch because inevitably one or more of the rafts tip over and the person on board finds himself flailing about in icy cold water while at the mercy of the rapids, which, to put it rather bluntly, are not very merciful at all.
It reminds me of an experience that Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, once had years ago and that he wrote about in one of his books. He and his wife, Shirley, were white water rafting on the Rogue River in Oregon with another family when they came to the most difficult and dangerous part of the river known as “The Coffeepot” because it was there that the river narrowed and the water percolated through that narrow part in a ferocious manner. Dr. Dobson was in a smaller raft by himself and should have never attempted it on his own, but apparently his competitive nature got the best of him, so he decided to take on the challenge, no doubt regretting that decision once he got into the Coffeepot. For at one point he lost complete control of his raft only to have it tip over and spill him into the water. After being dragged under multiple times by the fierce, swirling currents and experiencing waves of panic as he feared for his life, he was able to finally catch up with the larger raft where he was pulled to safety.
What a harrowing experience that must’ve been for him, but what an excellent analogy of what we human beings sometimes go through during our lives on this earth. Indeed, there are many in our congregation right now and in our circle of acquaintances who find themselves in the coffeepot of life. Just look at some of the names that appear on our prayer list today…
And on and on it goes. I would imagine if we were to go around the church this morning and give all of you an opportunity to share what’s going on in your lives or your families right now, we would discover that probably about 100% of us either have been or are in the process of going through the coffeepot. Though our problems may not be quite as severe or significant as those of the people I’ve just mentioned, they are there nevertheless for life in the coffeepot can manifest itself in many different ways. So how do we handle it? What can we do when we find ourselves in the coffeepot of life and God seems so distant, so far away? Well, this will be the focus and emphasis of my sermons over the next few weeks as we diligently search the Scriptures and look to God for answers to these questions. And I want to use my time this morning as kind of an introduction, a launching point for this sermon series as I lay the groundwork for 10 main points that we are going to look at in my next several sermons.
And the first point I want to make today is that problems are universal. The reason I want to start with that point is because if we fail to recognize this basic fact of life, if we think that because we are Christians all of our problems will suddenly and miraculously disappear and life will become a beautiful bed of roses, then that leads to false expectations which in turn can create profound disillusionment and disappointment when the problems of life actually do rear their ugly heads.
It’s kind of like marriage. Sometimes couples enter the marriage relationship with blinders on, with this romantic image of marriage that they may have been creating and fabricating in their minds from early childhood on, that once they tie the knot, they will, as the fairy tales used to say, live happily ever after. Now those of us who have been married for a while know from personal experience that those are unrealistic expectations, that sooner or later disagreements are going to arise between husband and wife. And if a couple is not prepared for those times, if they think that they will live with each other in a state of never-ending perpetual bliss, then boy are they ever in for a rude awakening and for great disappointment when that first argument arises, perhaps followed by another one a few days later, and so on down the line. But if they approach marriage realistically, recognizing that there will be times of disagreement and that it won’t always be a romantic fairytale experience, then they will be much more ready and prepared to handle those difficulties when they do come along.
And so it is with life in the coffeepot. If we know that sooner or later we will find ourselves there, then we shouldn’t be so shocked and surprised when it happens. And certainly the Bible makes it very clear to us that life in the coffeepot is pretty standard for all human beings. In Psalm 34, for example, we are told, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” In Acts 14:22 we discover that a common saying among the followers of Christ in the early days of the church was: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And nobody could have stated it more clearly for us than Jesus did in John 16:33 when he said, “In this world you will have trouble.”
So my friends, no one is exempt from life in the coffeepot, not even those closest to the Lord. I think for example of Job in the Old Testament. In the very first verse of that book he is described as a man who was blameless and upright; as one who feared God and shunned evil. A few verses later we even find God himself bragging on Job to Satan. He says, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” And yet in spite of his faithfulness and closeness to God, God allowed Satan to put Job right into the midst of the coffeepot and to experience the loss of everything that was important to him. In just one day’s time he lost all of his livestock, his servants who tended them, and even his 10 sons and daughters who perished in a freak windstorm that blew in from the desert. Not long after that, he lost his health as his body was afflicted with painful boils. That’s what you call life in the coffeepot!
Or let’s move ahead to the New Testament. Who were the three people that were perhaps closer to Jesus than any others? You might be thinking of his inner circle of disciples: Peter, James, and John. But I’m thinking of three others who lived in the small village of Bethany: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Whenever Jesus was anywhere near Bethany he’d stop by and pay them a visit. But then came the day when Jesus was nowhere near Bethany and Lazarus became very ill. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus asking him to come as quickly as possible to heal their sick brother. And though Jesus got the message in plenty of time to do that, he delayed in coming. In fact, so much so that by the time he arrived on the scene, poor Lazarus had not only died, but had been dead for four days and the two sisters were heartbroken and devastated at the loss of their brother.
Later on in the New Testament, in Hebrews 11 which talks about all the great heroes of the faith, that chapter concludes by telling us about all these faithful people of God whose names we don’t even know, yet who were subjected to the most unbelievable types of persecution imaginable, including torture, imprisonment, ridicule, flogging, being stoned to death and even sawed in two, wandering about in deserts and mountains as they were hunted down like wild animals. Talk about life in the coffeepot! And if you’ve been keeping up on the news lately, you know that such persecution of Christians still goes on today as militant Muslim groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda have specifically targeted followers of Jesus Christ for some of the most brutal acts imaginable.
So life in the coffeepot is not something that happens to just a few. It is universal and it happens even to those closest to the Lord. If we operate with that basic assumption and expectation, then we should not be surprised when it happens to us.
Then the second point that I want to make today is that questioning God while in the coffeepot is also universal. Again, we see this happening among some of the most faithful people of God in the Bible. Just look at David in the Psalms. Though he at one point in his life was described as a man after God’s own heart, he found himself in the coffeepot plenty of times and it wasn’t unusual for him to question God during those times. In our text for today he cries out, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” And in Psalm 13:1 he says, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
Or what about John the Baptist in the New Testament? Jesus had such a profound respect for this faithful prophet and teacher that on one occasion he stated that of all those born of women, no one was greater than John the Baptist. And yet when John found himself in the coffeepot, sitting in a prison cell for confronting King Herod about his sins, he was plagued by doubts and questions. So he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are you (really) the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
We talked about Mary and Martha before, two of Jesus’ closest friends. Well, do you remember what happened when Jesus finally showed up on the scene four days after Lazarus had died? Martha was the first to go out and meet him and she had questions for him. She said, “Lord, where have you been? If would have only come when we asked you to come none of this would have happened and our brother would still be with us. Why did you not come, then, when we asked you to come?” When Mary went out to see Jesus she expressed the same questions and concerns.
And don’t forget that even Jesus himself questioned his Father when he hung on the cross, didn’t he? Shortly before he died, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Do you understand what was happening in all these situations, my friends? You see, it’s one thing when a non-Christian, an unbeliever, faces a crisis in his life and has to deal only with that crisis. But when a faithful child of God faces a crisis, he not only has to deal with that, but he also has to oftentimes deal with a potential spiritual crisis that can shake the very foundation of his faith. One author I came across calls this the betrayal barrier, when the pieces just don’t seem to fit, when God’s ways make no sense to us and we feel as though he’s betrayed us, or worse yet, completely forsaken and forgotten us.
Have you been there, my friends? Are you there right now? What do we do at a time like that? How do we cope? How do we survive? That will be the subject of our sermons for the next several weeks as together, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, we explore and examine 10 ways to cope with life in the coffeepot. Let’s pray:
Our Father and our God, we thank you that we can address you not only as our God, but also as our Father, for this reminds us of the very special and tender love that you have for us. And yet, as we’ve heard here today and as we’ve all experienced at some time or another, there are times when your fatherly love and care seem so distant, so far away, and we have trouble understanding your ways in our lives. Help us during those times, Lord, to make it through them with our faith still firmly intact and with the understanding that your thoughts and your ways are so much higher and better than ours and to realize that we are not alone in our suffering, that because we live in a sin-filled and imperfect world we will have troubles. But in the weeks to come, give us insight and wisdom through your Holy Word that will help us to better understand and better overcome whenever we find ourselves in the coffeepot. We ask this in the name of him who has already rescued us from life’s greatest problem, namely, our sins, the One who is our Savior and our very best Friend, your Son and our Lord Jesus Christ.