Chapter 16 – The New Abnormal
Suffering drives us deeper. We consider it joy to suffer, not because it is pleasant, but because it is one of the best ways to grow in our walk with God. When balance is restored in our lives, we are amazed at the lessons we have learned about a Creator who dares to live in and among His people in a fallen world. Our faith never looks quite the same after a trial, which means we cannot correctly say we are “back to normal.” Instead, we are stronger because we have become less rigid in our expectations and more open to the ways of a limitless God.
In our home we have an old calendar lithograph with two wild horses in a lightning storm, one white and one black. The black horse appears to be sheltering the white one, so I tell people the picture represents the courageous way I protect my wife from danger. She just smiles.
I love the picture because it used to hang in an upstairs hallway in my grandparent’s home, and I remember seeing it as they carried me to bed. The history of the original artwork is a mystery. Several variations were produced for business calendars and currency, but I have yet to discover the artist. Still, there is an artist, and speculating on his mind and motivation is nearly as exciting as the picture itself.
Journeying to the greater depths of God’s love and grace is not always easy, but it is incredibly fulfilling. The wisdom we encounter takes us beyond human intuition. A growing faith, forged in the foundry of our darkest valleys is almost always abnormal.
Consider the prophet Daniel. He established a kinship with King Darius and could have lived out his Babylonian captivity in relative ease. But some jealous royal thugs devised a plot in which they cleverly convinced Darius to outlaw prayer to the Living God. Daniel prayed anyway, and quickly found himself on the wrong side of the law. Though Darius regretted his shortsightedness, he was bound by his word and forced to have Daniel thrown into a den of lions. We now know God shut the mouths of the lions and protected Daniel. But Daniel didn’t know this at the time. He prayed even though praying might cost him his life. Is that normal?
The Apostle Paul left the prestige of a Pharisee’s life to follow Jesus. Instead of moving along the streets of Jerusalem in a holy robe, he was hounded by his own countrymen, beaten, stoned, imprisoned and, according to tradition eventually beheaded. Paul could have been less zealous or led a quiet life of devotion to Jesus. Yet, he risked his life to proclaim salvation to the Gentiles. Is that normal?
I have decided the longer we walk with the Lord the more abnormal our faith becomes. I am beginning to understand what Paul meant when he said, “We are fools for Christ!” (1 Corinthians 4:10). How could it be the more we empty ourselves out for the Lord, the stronger we become? Paul told the Corinthians he and his companions were like “the scum of the earth” and “the refuse of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:13). Why would anyone voluntarily assume these personas? The only explanation is that a deeper walk with God is more satisfying than the emptiness of human sophistication.
How frustrated Satan must be when we defy normalcy. He pushes against our certainties with fear and doubt, but the very forces he uses to break us are employed by God to make us stronger. Without fear we would not cling tighter. Without doubt we would not dig deeper. Satan must think, “It isn’t normal, I’ll tell you! These people are nuts!” Are we fools to remain faithful? No! We would be fools to deny the One who is faithful in everything and able to keep us close by His side to the very end.
A few years ago our daughter told us she was going to be moving out of her college dorm to live with some friends in an apartment. The apartment wasn’t in the best part of town. In fact, it was in a refurbished drug house in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods around. The house had a downstairs living room where our daughter and her friends began to nurture godly relationships with neighborhood children. They played games, baked cookies and cried together when life was hard. There were murders, shootings, dog attacks and other frightening events I was thankful I didn’t know about at the time they occurred. But there was also grace and love. God showed our daughter and her friends how His power is seen best in our foolish acts of service.
A few people told my wife and me we were crazy for letting our daughter live in a crime zone. We answered, “She’s over eighteen. She can do what she wants.” But inside we were proud and envious. We were proud because she was doing something important for Jesus and envious because we knew there was no better place to know God than on the front lines of spiritual warfare.
If Satan thinks we are abnormal, he is right. This is the nature of people with a growing faith. They grow less normal with time. We might even call it the “new normal”, or perhaps it is just our foolish side showing.
The abnormal life is much less anxious. Once we admit our comprehension of God’s providence isn’t as finely tuned as we thought, we can begin to look behind and beyond our trials for new glimpses of His glory. When we discover it is alright to contend with God over perceived miscarriages of justice, we don’t have to run or hide. And when we can discuss our fears and doubts openly, trusting in God even when we have no idea how our circumstances are going to turn out, Satan and his demonic forces are neutralized. This is why, sometimes, we have to be at the end of our resources before we are willing to give God the place in our lives He deserves. The illusion of a normal faith doesn’t stand up well against the delusions of the evil one. But truth, bathed with grace, leads us home.
None of us like turmoil, or the unsettled feelings in our hearts that seem to accompany our trials. We would rather find a patch to cover our pain, and a powerful scripture or two to chase Satan away. This might work in the small things, but if we use the same method for more complex events in our lives, we are going to either collapse within or succumb to the delusion.
The Lord challenges us to take on our circumstances with courage and truth. He proposes crazy axioms such as “the last will be first and the first will be last” and “love your enemies.” To be honest, when we are discouraged and feeling somewhat abandoned, it is hard to believe Jesus knows what He is talking about. But in the valley He teaches us. In the pit He transforms us. When we emerge we realize we will never be normal again.