Receiving The Good Given
As some of you know and all of you can see, I have a broken hand. I fractured a number of bones playing softball a few weeks ago. This obviously upset a number of plans that I had for the early summer. With the school year out, I had blocked out a significant amount of time to work on some writing projects. The home projects had piled up. And most importantly, in my house we wait all year long for baseball season: t-ball and coach pitch. My plans had been to get up every day, go to work and get some writing done, come home and play some baseball, and make progress on the house on the weekends. Then the plans changed.
As I drive home from the urgent care, my heart was hurting. Not so much for the writing projects or the home repairs. I was near tears because of t-ball and coach pitch. My boys look forward to baseball all year, and now they were going to be deprived of something that gives them (and me) great joy. Here’s how I fought the fight of faith in that moment.
My main writing project is a book on C.S. Lewis on the Christian Life. So I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and listening to Lewis. Here’s a section from his novel Perelanda that was fresh that day. In it, the hero, Dr. Elwin Ransom, is trying to explain to an unfallen woman how there could be anything that we didn’t want.
“But even you,” he said, “when you first saw me, I know now you were expecting and hoping that I was the King. When you found I was not, your face changed. Was that event not unwelcome? Did you not wish it to be otherwise?”…
“What you have made me see,” answered the Lady, “is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before. Yet it has happened every day. One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before that at the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or a setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished— if it were possible to wish— you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.” (Lewis, C. S. (2012-04-03). Perelandra: (Space Trilogy, Book Two) (Kindle Locations 1039-1045). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)
As I drove home distraught, I said to myself over and over, “One good was expected, another is given. One good was expected, another is given.” Now, I know that a broken hand is not a good-in-itself. The pain and loss is real, and I don’t need to pretend otherwise. But “all things work together for the good of those who love God.” All things. “Give thanks always and for everything.” Always and for everything, including the hard things, the severe mercies.
So my exhortation to you this morning is two-fold. First, you can pray for me. The writing projects loom large and the difficulty typing is frustrating (and dictation doesn’t work so well, since I think through my fingers). I want this book to be a blessing to the church, and I doubt that frustration and anger will yield fruitfulness.
Second, I know that there are a number of you here who have plans and expectations that aren’t coming true. Some of them are significantly more serious and heart-breaking than a broken hand. And some of them are just small goods that God isn’t giving you. Either way, remember: if you love God and are called according to his purpose, God only has good for you. It may not be the good you expect. It may be a hard good, a severe mercy, a swift and great wave that sweeps you off of your feet. And there’s nothing wrong with lamenting the loss of the good you’d hoped for. Our grief may be great. But we grieve in hope because we know that our God is good and does good.
This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let’s seek the Lord together.
Prayer of Confession
Our Father and God, you are good and you do good. And we live in a world that rejects your goodness and recoils from your presence. In ourselves we are proud and ungrateful, and we refuse to receive what you give. We send our souls after the old good, and we ruin both the real good in front of us and the original good that we desired. This is a great evil.
What’s more, Father, as your covenant people, we have not received the goods you have given. We have clung to the old goods. We have made the real fruit taste insipid by dwelling on the fruit that we wanted. We have killed the grass beneath our feet by fixating on what we think is the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Forgive us for thinking that we know what’s best for us, and for shrinking back from what you give. Help us to throw ourselves into the waves that you send us, no matter how difficult or terrifying they may be. Help us to give thanks always and for everything. As we lament the goods we have not got, forbid that we would clench our fists and refuse what you, in your great and wise mercy, have sent to us. May there always be your joy beneath our sorrow.
We know that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst or in our own hearts, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now. . . .
Assurance of Pardon
Whatever good you came in here expecting, here is a real good, offered to you, without money and without cost. The forgiveness of sins is here. Restored fellowship with your Maker and Father is here. This is very, very good. You have confessed your sins; you have acknowledged your iniquity. Therefore, by the authority of Jesus Christ and as a minister of his gospel, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.