heaping cups of consolation

Today, I woke up on an air mattress in the middle of my bedroom, sorting out strange dreams and back stiffness. It’s a long story and one I’m currently stuck in the middle of, so I’ll give you the full version when I can say “this too shall pass” with the kind of tone that believes it will.

For now, the morning light is stretching out across the living room while I enjoy a slow cup of french press coffee. For now, I am stretching into this blue sky Saturday while I listen to Keller preach on anxiety and emotions and the psychology of happiness. I am not usually an emotional roller coaster, so I am a little ashamed to admit I have been one the past couple days.

Last night, I had a shot of whiskey before going to bed.

It felt more like an old-fashioned remedy to nervousness than it felt like self-medication, but it was probably both. So, when I opened an email from my dear friend Whitney this morning, my heart was primed. I needed an encouraging word – the kind that speaks Truth softly but firmly and without reservation. The sermon she sent was called, “The Wounded Spirit” and I instantly felt guilty for thinking my spirit qualified. I recently watched Scott Hamilton’s story in his I AM SECOND video – what kind of candle can my troubles hold to that struggle?

Theodore Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy,” and in this case its thievery also included consolation. Our problems are always small in comparison to the problems of others, at least mine are. I can always find someone who has it worse, always, and I end up disqualifying myself for consolation as a result. But, I listened to the sermon anyway – even if I felt guilty for thinking my heart qualified.

And I found heaping cups of consolation, buried like treasure inside Scripture.

An anxious heart weighs a man down but a good word makes him glad. (Proverbs 12:25)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12, ESV)

The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy. (Proverbs 14:10, ESV)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:13-14, ESV)

The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)

In each of these passages and a few more, Keller points to the good news of the Gospel – Christ is the ultimate good word, the best hope, the supremest joy, the most sincere gladness, and the boldest righteousness. But this good news does not live inside a vacuum. This good news lives inside this real world, in real and unforgiving circumstances.

“Happiness is determined by how you deal with your circumstances on the inside – how you process, how you address, how you view them.” – Tim Keller

God’s sweet consolation does not mind how trivial or monumental our anxiety. He does not measure our worries against one another and dole out consolation accordingly. The good news of the Gospel is that it will never run out.

My heart always qualifies for consolation and the consolation of the Good News will never run out.

At the end of the sermon, Keller stresses,

“Come on! He took the tree of death so you can have the tree of life. Use that on your conscience, use that on your emotions, use that on your existential angst. That’ll get rid of your fear of death. But most of all use it on the hope of your heart…”

This too shall pass. Yes, I believe it will.

The hope in my heart is not something I’ve conquered or created. The hope in my heart is heaping cups of consolation from the Giver of Good News.

get wisdom

When I read it in Proverbs 4, it sounds like something I should add to the grocery list – like it’s one of those things I can just pick up on the way home from work and in between stops on my hour-long commute.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” (Proverbs 4:7-9, ESV)

The beginning of wisdom is to get wisdom. Hm.

It’s a rough and tumble struggle when it comes to ironing out the practicalities of Proverbs. But this past Sunday and in recent conversations, the Lord has been so good to remind my heart why practicalities are as much a good gift as wooey-wooey, spiritual moments.

Practical is not a word I would use to describe myself. Two days ago there was a Blueberry Crisp cooling on my kitchen counter while various “extra” and “oops” leftover ingredients cooled in the fridge. I have taken a different train route to work every day and have a different very impractical story about each journey. While still in the process of moving in, baking ingredients are among the highest on my priority list and (though I stop often at the corner store) I rarely come home with more than a few items.

I am not naturally very practical, but I made peace with that a long time ago.

So, when Tim Keller said the new sermon series was on wisdom from the book of Proverbs, my ears perked up. Though a very impractical person about many ordinary things, I desperately want to be practically wise about the most important things. And God’s directive is very clear: get wisdom. God says to go get wisdom – actively and certainly. Get wisdom.

Okay, Lord. You have commanded this and I will obey, but how? Part of believing God for His promises is believing that He will never ask anything of me that is impossible. I do believe I can grow in wisdom. I believe that He will show me how and that He will make me able.

The possibility of His promises depends on His faithfulness because I cannot do anything He asks without His help.

Now, back to last Sunday in those plush, uncomfortable theatre seats at the Salvation Army downtown. As we read through Proverbs 1 and Keller started to outline the importance of wisdom and what it means to acquire it, this little gem rolled out:

You get wisdom through paradoxical fear and the foolishness of grace.

The paradoxical fear is reference to Proverbs 9:10 (fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom) and the foolishness of grace references 1 Corinthians 1:18 (the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing). How do you get wisdom? By a righteous and reverent fear of the Lord and through the unbelievable work of Christ on the cross. Keller gave an analogy that is helpful here. He described the fear one might have if he were holding a very valuable, very rare and very breakable vase. He does not fear the vase – that it will harm him – but, instead he fears that he will drop the vase because he values it so much.

This is where we start when we determine to “get wisdom” – the fear of the Lord. And how do we have a right fear of the Lord? The foolishness of the cross. This, more than anything else, speaks a spiritual language of value. The beauty of this language is that it translates into the practicalities of everyday questions and doubts.

I better get to “getting” … maybe along the way I’ll gain some knowledge that will make my life less like Amelia Bedelia.

Well, maybe not. But there is grace for Amelia too.

best and hard, hard and best

Why do the words best and hard go so well together? Why is it that the pairing of bitter and sweet make so much sense?

It’s a delicious intensity – where all the moments hold more weight and all the minutes hold more heat. There is a cumbersome madness of more that is crowding my last days in Iowa and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Coffee dates and backyard parties, rooftop adventures and state fair strolls, breakfast meet-ups and star gazing gatherings, living room laughter and back porch devotions – with each last thing, more of the best and hard and bitter and sweet crowd my days.

I cannot remember leaving a place I did not love. What a fortunate thing to say! The Lord’s provision in my past has always been beyond what I can rightly appreciate or enjoy. From the farm to Michigan, Chicago, Austin, Honduras, Ames, Des Moines and back to the farm again, the Lord goes before me and stays with me. He is my first and best delight and He has never sent me to bed without a healthy helping of His grace and peace.

His provision is always more than I need because His provision is always Himself.

Always more, always Himself, always abundant. Always.

There are few things about which you can truly say “always” or “never” and feel confident about the assertion. God’s provision is one of those things. It’s not an unnecessary superlative or an excessive affirmation…

He truly is best and most and always.

And that is why all these last Iowa things are more complex than a trite phrase about bittersweet goodbyes. I consider it a blessing to love what I’m leaving as much as I love what I’m starting. There is too much joy surrounding me on all sides to get bitter about anything, even if it is both best and hard.

The memory verse for this week from Fighter Verses is from Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” And, as I reflected this morning on the devotional from Verses Project, I thought about what is best and most in this life. All other measuring systems and scales shrink in view of eternity. The only way to wake up (in whatever state or country) is with eternity in full view and the greatest inheritance in mind.