One of the most important things that I have learned about being a human follower of Christ is to give myself permission to be weary. Not only to be weary but to admit that I am weary. Some Christians see this as a sign of failure or an indicator of a flawed faith. But weariness, one of the symptoms of emptiness, is a natural side effect of being human. Since every believer that I have ever met has been human, I imagine that everyone experiences periods of weariness or emptiness. Some of the great figures of the church, including C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, the apostle Paul and the prophet Elijah have struggled with those feelings of emptiness. Here is what Spurgeon, in a sermon titled “When the Preacher is Downcast,” said:
“Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”
The first Step – Honest Admission
I love this honest statement by an ancient man named Agar in Proverbs 30:1.
“I am weary O God, I am weary, O God. How can I prevail?”
Weariness will happen when you are emotionally weary and physically worn out. It takes place when the circumstances you encounter in life rise up against you. Those feelings form your reality and distorts your judgment. You begin to feel like it is you against the world and the world is winning. It is in those moments that we begin to question everything including our understanding of God. That is what happened to Agar.
Proverbs 30:2, 3
Surely I am too stupid to be human; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.”
So what do we do when we have find ourselves bored with life? What do we do when we find ourselves alienated and alone? What do we do when despair and depression control our emotions?
One of my deepest convictions is that In order for the church to be the healing community that God has called us to be, a grace filled honesty must dominate our fellowship. A Christian is not a perfected being. While we experience new birth in Christ, the transformation from old to new is never complete in our mortal condition. Paul describes it this way. “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). Christians are a group of thirsty people who have found water. Our purpose then becomes to tell other thirsty people where to find water. But we must remember that we share their thirst.
This morning we are focusing on matters of emptiness and weariness. But it is also true as it relates to sin. We are a group of sinners who have found forgiveness. While forgiven, we are constantly aware of our sinful need of God’s grace. Our identity leads us to share with fellow sinners where they can find forgiveness. This means that without redefining sin or ignoring our own sin, we celebrate the forgiveness of our sins. In order for this to take place, we must have a grace filled fellowship.
There are basically two different ways the church has historically treated those who live in a manner that violates biblical teaching the values we hold to be true. Here is how one preacher described those two ways.
We either act like self-appointed judges who, like the Pharisees, act out of our supposed self-righteousness, or we act like needy sinners who never step very far away from the cross. – Paul Tautgas
The church has always been filled with flawed people on the mend. Jesus intentionally invited the lost and the least. He welcomed the blind and the lame. This occurred so often that his critics began to describe him as a “Friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). A title that he accepted and repeated.
We are a church where a person can confess their emptiness without be judged unworthy of fellowship. Where like the apostle Paul, you can admit to having “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Romans 9:2) and still play a role in the church.
Where is God?
In the midst of a life challenge and especially during those moments of emptiness, alienation, discouragement, despair, the temptation is to wonder, where are you God? This question will always go unanswered when the barrier of emptiness creates the false reality that God is nowhere to be found.
The prophet Isaiah was dealing with a nation that had broken covenant with God and was filled with sin, injustice, and dishonesty. Because of their unconfessed rebellion, they were filled with the fruit of emptiness. But that was their impression. God was still there, still near, and still present.
Isaiah 59:1, 2
See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
Here is what we know. God is an immortal being. He is pure in every sense of the word. He is without flaw. So we are safe to assume, He is not hard of hearing. He can hear. The barrier that brings about the appearance that God is not present or does not care is of our own creation. Whether hardness of heart, unwillingness to trust, anger, sin, or just plain despair. But we can rest assured that God is present and hears. We become aware of His presence when we admit our need. When we confess. This opens us to recognizing his emptiness filling presence.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Psalm 139 begins with a declaration that Yhwh knows all about the writer. While personal in nature and specific to the writer, it can also be applied to each of us. God knows everything about us. This is an important text. It describes a God who is active in knowing us. His knowledge about each of us is greater than our own understanding of ourselves. He knows when we sit down and when we are going to get back up. He knows what we are going to say before we say anything. God knows us completely. Our past and our future, what is behind us and what is yet to come. And then this section ends with a statement of utter amazement. Knowing this about God is simply amazing and beyond our ability to comprehend. The God of the universe, creator and sustainer, knows us!
This started me thinking about those times in my life when I was amazed. I was amazed beyond description at the birth of my children and grandchildren. Many of us share this but there are those who are not amazed. I read this week about an artist who had twelve children by nine women. For most of the births, he was not even present. His amazement level was pretty low. I remember seeing the Guckenburg Bible and feeling overwhelmed that its printing revolutionized how the Bible was produced and dispersed into all the world. It was a wonderful experience. But for those who have no love for the Bible it is just a book. I remember being moved by Ray Charles singing America the Beautiful at the 2nd game of the World Series after 9/11. But there are many around the globe that would see this as just another song.
There is something common in each of my experiences that create amazement. My love of my children, love of Scripture, and love of country brings emotional amazement. When we give God value and worth, when we believe and trust in a God who formed and created us, we realize that this is a marvelous and wondrous truth. It is then that we realize that God is always present and always available. When we are full and when we are empty.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence.”
Is God Good?
The foundation of faith can often be traced to childhood. If our parents were active in church and had a growing and healthy faith, we are more likely to possess both. I am grateful that my parents “made” me go to church and saw that matters of faith took precedent over the things of this world. Because of that I remember wonderful things about God from my earliest experiences in church.
Jesus Loves Me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong.
Yes Jesus loves me, Yes Jesus loves me,
Yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
So I had this formed within my faith. God is good and loves me! It is God’s love and goodness that fills our emptiness and cleanses us of every wrong. Here is how this good news is described in Psalm 107.
Psalm 107:8, 9
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
What This Looks Like
Luke 19:1–7 NLT
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
There is little doubt that Zacchaeus is empty. He was caught up in a profession filled with corruption. He cheated and hurt the poor in order to provide the comfortable living he desired. Yet his emptiness drove him to see Jesus. Notice what happens when Jesus blessed him with the desire to have fellowship. No mention of his emptiness and no condemnation of his sins. He expresses a desire for fellowship. This despised tax collector, condemned by the religious leaders of his day, was filled with great excitement and joy by the goodness of Christ.
Romans 2:4 NLT
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord