He was the sort of kid whose face was constantly lit with incandescence. His countenance revealed a soul that seems devoid of malice. Their family lived a few blocks away from home. His father, a dignified gentleman, was my dad’s social mentor. He seemed to know a lot about the intricate nuance of societal norms. Like his young boy, he had a beam that fills any gathering with some kind of inspiring shine. Our village upheld the honorable distinction of their family’s outstanding mirth.
One balmy afternoon, the boys in our neighborhood planned a trek to a nearby abandoned pool. It was an incautious expedition, yet packed with potential fun. The foul water was murky green, accentuated by uncut weeds serving the parasitic appetites of insects and other creepers. One after the other, the boys took the challenge to engage the chaotic dip like Tarzan. Their laughter was heard from a mile high. Until a disconcerting discovery screeched their party to a dead pause. A boy with spectacles drowned. He had been underwater for some time–his belly bloated, his face ashen and swollen to a pulp. It was the happy kid, now staring blank at the skies, devoid of any glint.
Our neighborhood heard the breaking news almost instantaneously. His father rushed to the scene, quickly draping his son with a thick blanket. He had taken over like a commanding officer knowing the ropes of panic and restoration. After a brief, yet poised conference with his family, he and his boy disappeared with jackrabbit speed. We were told that he was rush-driving to see some necromancer some distant miles away. He was furious in hope to see his son rouse.
Although detached from the action scene, I was one of those who followed the night’s intriguing saga. I was imagining the possible reckoning of magic in anticipating a miracle unfold.
The following morning, there was a sullen silence in the village. The boy’s coffin was being prepared while the gloom of his family echoed the depths of unfathomable pain. Why must light be snuffed out from those who radiate it the most? Why must the murky monster of moss be allowed to prevail in some kid’s interlude? This does not make any sense.
That morning, daylight in our neighborhood seemed confused. It merely flickered and fainted, like one soul drowning while struggling.
The clear absence of blessing on those few hours made me somehow wonder why God allows pain in the most unsuspecting locations. Perhaps, a better-phrased question would be to ask where was God in all these haunting doom.
A song of ascents.
Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD
who minister by night in the house of the LORD.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
and praise the LORD.
May the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.
I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.
John 17:4 NIV
The final word in our syllabus involves the deep language of blessing: glorify. We were made in the image of God to become a blessing to our Creator and for all of creation. When we act upon our mandate to “Praise the LORD,” we are fulfilling our ultimate reason for existence: to glorify God!
The human experience encounters an influx of competing thrusts. There are pressing calls to industry, meditation, transcendence, communication, integration, technology, globalization, organization, religion etc., but there remains the primacy of one true purpose, if we allow the weight of God’s revelation to bear upon who we truly are and what we are rightfully about. In a word, our calling is not to do, but to be. We are called to glorify God by our being. When this is done according to God’s doxological design, everything else integrates in wonderful symmetry.
When life is lived outside the orbit of God’s revealed purpose, we gravitate towards our individual axis and when this fails, we run to the nearby sorcerer and inquire if their connection signal is clearer than our guess. Of course, there is no blessing in this. All there is to this is a reminder of how far we have gone away from who we truly are. We’d rather be sons and daughters of mountebanks, instead of tapping into the infinite wisdom of the one true God.
In our journey as people of faith, it is necessary to constantly monitor our core motivation. If it has nothing to do with the purpose of giving God the glory, then brakes must be applied. No one finds the idea of roaming around the desert for forty years humorous. One generation of nominal believers walked through this the hard way. Amidst the redemption and provision of God’s grace, they chose to glorify their golden calves and the result was a march of death.
The term “Praise the Lord,” must be understood carefully in its biblical context. This is God’s imperative command to start us off into the depths of knowing Him. We are to praise God in all our preoccupations but most especially during the initial strides of any undertaking. As we commit into a rhythm of praising God, we are making sure that our tracks are leading God-ward. As servants of the LORD, we cease depending on what we feel, but rather upon what our Master beckons us to do. As he calls us to praise Him, we do without any slight trepidation.
The imagery of ministers by night in the house of the LORD implies the challenging setting of making oneself available for God’s kingdom work. Through the hard and difficult efforts, our calling to lift up our hands in praise of God remains unabated. The praise of God shall sustain his servants. When we do not feel like praising God, out of exhaustion or out of depression, we command our being to defect from our personal shadows and unto God’s desire, we praise God anyway. When the cadence of this praise-driven existence becomes ingrained into our souls, we become glorious personifications of God’s workmanship. We glorify God by being the kind of people he desires us to be: glory soaked vessels!
A life that follows God’s purposes is laden with freedom. God brings and takes away fluff and stuff from us, as He deems. We cease to usurp his role and rest in the wonder of His beautiful work.
Even when illness or catastrophes strike, we remain at peace knowing that God’s lovely purposes are forever at work. Nothing happens by accident in God’s universe.
When Christ hung on the cross of Calvary, all mangled and disfigured, he never ceased to glorify his Father. There was not a single word, nor a single cry that was devoid of praise to Him who knows what is best. Even at the point of death, his breath was an exclamation of doxology to the One who has the power to raise him up.
His death answers every question pertaining human tragedy. God chose to enter our world of suffering by taking it all upon Himself through his agonizing demise. Human pain is never experienced in isolation. Tears from heaven are as real as the historical sacrifice of Christ, our Savior.
Christ rose as an affirmation of what God does to those who fully seek to exalt the Father’s glory. All our days have been designed to experience the language of praise: all for the glory and honor of our Mighty GOD!
Byron was born without a jaw. That same week, a deeper infirmity was discovered: the newborn had a congenital anomaly impinged on his tiny heart. I drove some sixty miles, rehearsed and poised for just another crisis call. Being a pastor for more than three decades has somehow tamed my gumption to the homogeneity of human pain. I was ordained to chaperone every prevailing thorn, I guess.
The children’s hospital was ornate with medical efficiency. This backdrop contrasted my demeanor when I saw the child’s exposed chest cavity. The staggering visual rogue sent me to an excursion of curiosity. While both parents wobbled in tears, I was subliminally distant, sorting out the technical profundity of their boy’s misfortune.
I sat at the parking lot with a deep sense of incongruence. This was one of the most poignant sights of human pain, but why was I inexplicably aloof? While Byron’s parents languished in misery, I was subversively in some sort of a Discovery Channel inspection mode. I was force-feeding empathy to shove my tears, but there was none to pour. Like a man abruptly awakened by some terminal illness, I knew I was the one truly in need of a hospital.
Where has my heart gone? Years of pastoral care must have eroded my points of tolerance. My prayer was terse but serious: “God, expose my heart.”
I did not realize how expedient God hears our pleas pertaining matters of affection. A few months later, I was diagnosed with a rare oral tumor. An involved twelve-hour surgery took my lower mandible, lower teeth, fibula leg bone, skin grafts, and more aggressively, a metaphorical incision funneled straight to my heart. It has been more than a year of unremitting procedures, somehow understood by my emaciated senses as more like ten decades.
Pain has become a faithful valet. The monstrosity of my present darkness however had produced grounding for depth. Through the desert, I found myself led to the abundance of ironic grace. The gravitas of unexplained joy has dawned exponentially in and through the context of my present suffering.
Whenever throbbing discomfort flares up from within and without, I have come to appreciate the option to choose its concealed blessing. I read the chapter of my agony as an outsourcing of God’s incredible loyalty. It is not freedom from pain that matters: it is the breathtaking marvel of his abiding nearness exhibited even through life’s deepest travails. He is not all about primarily answering our prayers for relief. God is our riposte. With God on our side, we remain eternally safe and strong. Even death has been conquered by the miracle of his presence.
All through our life journey, his glorious company is all that we need.
God’s glory has become the substance of my journey.
God has become my on-going story and my psalm: giving God’s glory, both now and towards eternity.