I have been standing in the midst of a storm for the last several months. Chaos and strife that surrounds me has sucked me in. For the last several weeks it has reached a feverish pitch. Manic and chaotic are the only words I can find to describe the way I have felt. Not only have my circumstances felt out of control (which by the way, they totally are - but so are yours) but I have felt out of control personally. If I were a drinker (which I am thankfully not) I would probably have found myself checking into a 21 day rehab because that's how out of control I have felt (and it would have been alcohol that I would have self-medicated with.) Unlike my circumstances which I never had control of, don't have control of and never will have control of, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit which I am supposed to have - along with peace, which I also have felt none of for a while now.
I cannot define a "while," because the thing about lacking peace is it feels like even longer than it is. And I suspect that it's quite possible that evidence shown and evidence felt don't always line up. So I don't know the exact details, but I can say that 2014 (which we are now more than six weeks into) has felt pretty rough.
In the midst of all this, I have not ceased to seek the Lord. If anything I could honestly say I have done so at a heightened level - manic and chaotic along the way, but with persistence, quite literally even crawling into my prayer closet. And in those moments there have been brief refuges, but life on the outside has quickly overwhelmed me back to the chaotic state.
This morning as I was reading for my daily time in the Word I read Chapters 1 and 2 of Philippians. As I was reading it occurred to me strongly that in the original text there was no chapter and verse. And the end of chapter 1 blended into chapter 2 for me and it ministered to my heart.
"God gave you the honor of not only believing in Christ but also suffering with Him, both of which bring glory to Christ. When I was with you, you saw the struggles I had, and you hear about the struggles I am having now. You yourselves are having the same kind of struggles.
Does your life in Christ give you strength? Does His love comfort you? Do we share together in one spirit? Do you have mercy and kindness? If so, make me very happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and having one mind and purpose." Philippians 1:29-2:2
I love reading these verses in context with one another. As I read them it helps me to know that Paul struggled. Too often it's easy to get my hero worship on for the guy who preached from prison, fought back from death and overcame loneliness and betrayal, all the while overcoming the guilt and regret of a past he could not undo. I can dismiss the undertones of a man who said himself he would rather die than go on.
The break in the chapters seems to put a period at the end of Paul's thoughts about his struggles in chapter one. Chapter two seems to start a fresh thought about hope, and focus, purpose. Chapter one ends self-centered; chapter two begins Christ-centered. But the reality is this was not two separate thoughts, but when it was being written, it was an immediate transition. The two are tangled together in Pauls' humanness. Much like his response to being willing "to stay" (alive) for the good of others rather than to die for the better for himself. Those statements are not made without some sadness if not despair in the midst of them.
Have you ever seen the Kevin Costner movie "For the Love of the Game"? It's a favorite in our home, with just the right blend of baseball movie, underdog tale and chick flick. When Costner's Billy Chapel is out on the mound the chaos and noise of the crowd is loud. There are boos and taunts from the fans of the opposing team and from the opposing team itself. In the movie you get a perspective of what it must be like to stand out there in the midst of a lot of hostility under great expectation. Then Costner makes a quiet statement to himself, "Clear the mechanism." When he does this, it's like a cone of silence comes down over him and all the noises fade and clear and all he is aware of is the task before him, throwing a strike, pitching a perfect game. (Video here)
I hear this same kind of "mechanism clearing" in the midst of Paul's words here in Philippians. He transitions though from the total awareness of self to a shift in focus on the Lord. And it seems to me that the thoughts on his struggles are not ended, but affected by this change. Over the last few days, I feel very much the same. Like the noise and the chaos have been pushed back. The storms and chaos "outside" or "in the stands" of my life are unchanged, but there seems to be this covering over me personally that has pushed them back out of my insides. And the chaos within has subsided.
I didn't say "Clear the Mechanism," in my case. Rather I feel as though the Lord has leaned in and whispered "Peace be still," to the internal storm that has been raging. I cannot take any credit for it (as though I could for anything.) It has a certain element of God's timing, because even in the midst of the storm, I have continued to seek the Lord. I don't know why a month ago or week ago it raged on, and then suddenly a few days ago it ceased. But it did.
I imagine that's a little what it was like for the disciples who were out on the boat when they actually heard Jesus say to their storm, "Peace be still." He was asleep when it rose up. I never felt like God wasn't aware, but the disciples did. “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” they asked. Jesus' response was to ask about their fear and their faith. They had walked with Him, seen his power and the miracles He'd performed and yet when the storm raged they forgot it all. They needed to "clear the mechanism" and push out the noise that broke their focus.
If Paul, and Peter and the rest of the boys struggled with their fear and their faith, they who had radical, intimate and tangible experiences with Christ Himself, why should we be surprised about Christians who struggle today? Why should I be surprised in my struggle? I am not the first, nor will I be the last to be overwhelmed by or in the midst of my life and circumstance.
The key is, I suppose, not to give up, and to keep trying to "clear the mechanism." Not by fixing my eyes on myself and home plate, but by fixing my eyes on Home, and the Savior who is going to get me there. My strength isn't in my arm like old Billy Chapel who is fighting as it ends. My strength is in the quietness and trust of my Savior who really has pitched the "perfect game," whose strength knows no end.
Today I am in a good place. I am not so foolish to think that struggle will never come again, but hopefully through this particularly difficult season and battle I will have learned and grown. And next time the chaos tries to worm its way in, I can quickly "clear the mechanism," by fixing my eyes on Christ - the Author and finisher of my faith.