From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
Doubt is common to more people of faith than perhaps care to admit it. Ebbing back and forth in trust and belief is not something to be proud of but it is also not something of which to be ashamed. It is simply part of our human condition this side of Heaven. Some people experience less or more of it than others. We find grace in the stories of scripture that highlight characters who experience doubt and questioning, who want proof of God’s words to them. We can take spiritual refuge in people like Zechariah and the disciple Thomas who needed proof of the resurrection. Sometimes God’s goodness sounds too good to be true. At times our disbelief testifies more to the expansive nature of God’s grace and love than to our own human failings. And yet, the faithful challenge is not to sit in our doubts without continuing to seek glimpses of God.
When we begin to question God’s presence or activity in our lives, our faith calls us to attend to the things God has entrusted us to do whether or not our prayers are answered in the way we desire. The tension of unanswered prayers is real and often quite painful. Who knows how long Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for a child? The endurance of their prayers stems from a discipline of faith. Zechariah and Elizabeth are devout, but they are also human. Perhaps each time they question God and God’s care for them, they permit the feelings for a while, but rather than sitting in despair and doubt, they actively choose to recall who they traditionally understand God to be. The Israelites have countless stories of God’s faithfulness and presence in the history of their people. These stories are essential to remember, and the Israelites are taught to share these stories again and again with one another and with their children Zechariah and Elizabeth have it inscribed in their hearts that God remembers God’s people.
I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.
Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.
Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me. For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil. Let them be desolate for a reward of their shame that say unto me, Aha, aha. Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified. But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.
- For what or whom are you waiting?
- How have you brought your longing before God?
- Describe how you have perceived God’s response or lack of one.
- With whom do you share your longings and spiritual frustrations?
- What new song of praise has God given you to sing as you wait?
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will praise thee forever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.
(Psalm 52: 8-9)
Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.
How long will ye imagine mischief against a man? ye shall be slain all of you: as a bowing wall shall ye be, and as a tottering fence. They only consult to cast him down from his excellency: they delight in lies: they bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly. Selah.
My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.
Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity. Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.
God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God. Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work.
What stories that come out of the history of your family, church, or other spiritual communities remind you of God’s faithfulness and presence?
What would it look like for you to cultivate an expectant spirit and an untamed holy imagination capable of receiving good news when you least expect it or believe it is possible?