Monday, June 26, 2017

"Lost Causes"

In August, 2010, reported the following story:

It was a final chance to say goodbye for grieving mother Kate Ogg after doctors gave up hope of saving her premature baby.
She tearfully told her lifeless son - born at 27 weeks weighing 2lb - how much she loved him and cuddled him tightly, not wanting to let him go.
Although little Jamie's twin sister Emily had been delivered successfully, doctors had given Mrs Ogg the news all mothers dread - that after 20 minutes of battling to get her son to breathe, they had declared him dead.
Having given up on a miracle, Mrs Ogg unwrapped the baby from his blanket and held him against her skin. And then an extraordinary thing happened.
After two hours of being hugged, touched and spoken to by his mother, the little boy began showing signs of life…
[The mother said,], 'A short time later he opened his eyes. It was a miracle. Then he held out his hand and grabbed my finger.
'He opened his eyes and moved his head from side to side. The doctor kept shaking his head saying, "I don't believe it, I don't believe it".'
The Australian mother spoke publicly for the first time…to highlight the importance of skin-on-skin care for sick babies, which is being used at an increasing number of British hospitals.
In most cases, babies are rushed off to intensive care if there is a serious problem during the birth.
But the 'kangaroo care' technique, named after the way kangaroos hold their young in a pouch next to their bodies, allows the mother to act as a human incubator to keep babies warm, stimulated and fed.[i]

            It is clear that not all lost causes are lost.  Sometimes, life wins despite amazing odds.  In John 11:1-44, Jesus faces the hopeless situation of his friend’s death.  You’d think that if anybody was a lost cause, it’d be Lazarus.  By the time Jesus arrives, the body has been in the grave four days.  His sisters have no imagination that there’s anything that Jesus can do at this point.  They know that He can heal, but raising the dead—that’s another matter.  Each of the sisters expresses their sadness and disappointment, and Jesus cries.  But his tears are for their sadness and not for his own loss, because He knows what He is about to do.  This lost cause is not a lost cause.  Lazarus will rise from the grave.  Jesus has them remove the stone, and He calls Lazarus out.  After a pregnant silence where everybody watches and waits, the dead man steps from the darkness, alive!”

            Lazarus had been bound in the grave, wrapped in the rags of death, and captivated by his coffin.  Yet Jesus knew that his friend’s story wasn’t over—that there was more to come.  His sisters didn’t have the insight that Jesus had.  They thought his life was a lost cause, but Jesus knew better.  For this reason, the Master could ask the Father, and God could raise him to life. 

Maybe you’ve got some “lost causes” in your own life that you’re not sure about.  You don’t know whether to have faith for a miracle, or whether to accept loss.  Jesus could tell the difference between a lost cause and a miracle about to happen—but sometimes we have a tough time discerning that.  The Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  How do you know the difference?  One way is the presence of serenity.  Sometimes, when serenity comes over you, you know it’s time to give up, and it’s okay.  There are times when a person knows that it’s okay to let Grandma or Grandpa go, remove life support, and let them slip away.  But with Lazarus, this was not one of those times.  Maybe your lack of serenity says that this “lost cause” isn’t really lost—and that you need to keep praying.

In Luke 11, Jesus teaches about persistence in prayer.  Jesus says, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (vv. 9-10 NLT).”  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’re always going to get what you want, if you just harass God enough.  You have to be praying according to God’s will.  With people, persisting with something they don’t want simply becomes harassment—and it’s the same with God.  Sometimes persistence is the key, but other times, persistence can be harmful.

Once I counseled a woman whose relationship with her adult daughter was broken.  In a controlling, harassing way, she pursued her daughter.  I explained to her that the more she tightened her grip, like water her daughter would run through her fingers.  Sometimes, you may be persisting to keep something, but your persistence is driving a wedge or causing more harm than your fear of losing.  In this woman’s case, her lack of serenity wasn’t an indication that it was spiritually time to fight the good fight—it simply meant that she was pig-headed and manipulative.  You’ve got to get to the place where you’re willing to fight for what you believe is best, to pray for it, to work for it, but also to let it go if God grants otherwise.  It could be that your tenacity is hurting yourself and others, and doing more damage than the problem itself. Sometimes, by pushing for what you want, you violate the rights and dignity of other people.  This is not the kind of persistence that Jesus taught.
The song “Even If” by MercyMe illustrates the point of trusting God for a solution, but trusting God even if the solution we want isn’t what we get:

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well, good thing
A little faith is all I have right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You'd just say the word
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone

            In times of struggle, your hope needs to be in God alone—whether or not you get what you want.  When faced with mountains that need to be moved, or flames that need to be gotten through, the serenity prayer asks for the kind of courage that changes things through persistence and faith.  But it also recognizes that there are some things that can’t be changed, and asks for wisdom to know the difference.  Not all lost causes are lost.  Some aren’t lost because they are won with courage and persistence.  Some aren’t lost because the serene person is able to graciously let them go.  The wise person knows the difference between holding, and holding on too much.  Only if you choose to fight a losing battle is a cause ever lost.  “Ask, seek, knock,” Jesus says.  The guarantee isn’t that you’ll get what you want—but that if you keep seeing God, you’ll have the wisdom to know the difference.  In John 11:40, Jesus says, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”  This glory isn’t found in getting exactly what you’re praying for, but in finding courage, serenity, and wisdom in the midst of suffering.

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