These are my ear buds for the iPod that holds my precious music. This is what they look like when I go to use them. Tangled. No matter how carefully I set them down, they end up in a convoluted wad. Every single time. (It may have something to do with sending them through the laundry process tucked in the pocket of my jeans, but hey, they still work.)
This phrase caught my attention recently:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…” (2 Corinthians 4:8 ESV)
The apostle Paul wrote this to people he was urging to make changes. They needed to learn to relate to others based on love. These changes would transform the way they “did church.”
Did he say “perplexed?” (Actually he said aporeo which apparently means not knowing which way to turn, or how to decide, or being stymied about what to do — or to be perplexed.) The word perplexed comes from the root idea of “through entanglement or intricate entwining.” Like my earphone cord.
But I thought Paul was the one who had it all together, the one who had a direct line to God and always knew what to do.
Apparently not. Apparently he, and the ones who ministered with him were, on occasion, perplexed. But not driven to despair. He humbly acknowledged that they were like fragile flawed jars of clay because God chose the weak of the world to make sure people knew it was Jesus Christ and not them who was the source. For the sake of the gospel they were willing to live in that uncomfortable place between well-that-didn’t-work and what-now-?.
For someone who wants a firm handhold in the future before taking the next step into the unknown this is both discouraging and encouraging. Discouraging because not even spiritual giants like Paul had all the answers and encouraging because not even spiritual giants like Paul had all the answers. He was willing to endure being perplexed the way he was willing to endure affliction and persecution and hardships – out of love. Someone told me that if you want to receive Jesus’ promise of peace that passes understanding you need to understand that you won’t always understand.
I find myself in that uncomfortable in between place. A while ago I took a step of faith into unfamiliar territory as I am learning about hearing God’s voice for myself and leaning more on Him for wisdom and discernment. I stopped going to the traditional services under the steeple on Sunday morning. (I didn’t leave the people because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and family is family. You can’t divorce brothers and sisters, but I have discovered that’s the assumption many make if you aren’t in the pew for that hour and a half a week.) I felt the Lord was asking me to step back for a time to gain a broader perspective. He wanted to show me something, a bigger picture of what he means by The Church that I couldn’t see inside a section of distinctiveness protected by administrative berms that sometimes don’t let fresh water in or stale water out. I’ve met a lot of sincere followers of Jesus here outside the berms and I am not without fellowship, but it’s not comfortable place.
Yes. He has shown me a lot. My eyes have been opened – but I can’t talk about it.
I can’t talk about it because, although everybody sees the problems in other denominations or fellowships, nobody likes being told they have parts missing on their ship. And every isolated group has parts missing. We all have holes.
We are like a town that has learned to live with the smells from the pulp mill and frequent serious collisions on that really bad corner by the bridge but still believe our community is the best because we have a new state of the art hospital and our team won the cup last year. It’s not all bad. There’s really good healing stuff and stuff to cheer about and really stinky stuff and even dangerous stuff. It’s just tangled.
You can’t repent of sin you don’t acknowledge and lately I have been facing the challenge of untangling ideas and separating truth from false beliefs in my own life. Repentance means exchanging the way I think for the way God thinks. I have parts missing on my boat, and having that painful fact pointed out has also been a part of this process.
Now I’m perplexed. I’m standing on a point on the road where I do not yet see a clear answer, and I don’t know where this is taking me. The now-what? point. The point of asking over and over, “Did I hear you right?” Are these ear buds working?
But there is more. I know in my knower that God knows what he is doing. Every day I meet another person with the same desire – to know Christ more deeply. Everyday I read about someone on a similar journey of hope.
Perplexed, but not driven to despair.
And because the Lord is relentlessly kind he brought a song by Misty Edwards and Paul Moak to my attention. The lyrics, in part:
Can’t pretend that I am blind
Can’t go back and erase the mind
Naivety and wide-eyed wonder are far from me
But at least now I see
It’s like I’m walking on a tightrope
Stretched across the universe
Way too high to go back from where I came
Overwhelmed at the miles I’ve yet to tame
I’m too far in to turn around now
And I’ve got too far to go to sit down now
Too far in, too far to go…
I know, I know You’re with me
You surround me, You surround me
Your invisible hand is around, around
In this uncomfortable in-between
Where I’m too far in to turn around now…