When Stillness Is My Suffering

 
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I lived the majority of my short, albeit exciting years as a believer in the fast-paced mode of life. I went abroad for missions for years, actively served in ministry, preached and taught many, and thought ‘This is it!’ This stirring momentum was exactly what I imagined it would be like to live for Christ. Recently though, God has called me into a slower season of engaging with Him in the stillness. My initial reaction included a whole lot of anxiety that I wasn’t living in His calling over my life. If I wasn’t doing enough for His kingdom, then it would be wasted. I wouldn’t be called faithful. Instead, I discovered that in the slowing down, God was refining me, preparing me to receive His promises.

In Exodus 14, the Israelites experienced magnificent miracles while being set free from the chains of slavery in Egypt. However, after crossing the split Red Sea, they walked for three days without any water in the hope of reaching the Promised Land. Instead they found the “bitter waters” of Marah (Exodus 16). Where was the God that spectacularly led them out of Egypt and promised them the land of milk and honey? Like the Israelites, we exult in the fast-paced exhilaration of ministry. We anticipate God paving ways through seas of options toward our calling, our own Promised Land. Our hearts drop when things slow down and things are not working out the way they should be. None of the seeds of dreams for our calling that were planted seem to be in fruition. We are called to be faithful in the mundane rather than the insane. And we try to pray ourselves out of it.  Or we grow restless. Yet, we are unaware that this is the blessed season God has called us to be in.

Stillness is the season when dreams seem to be in intermission and promises are in transit. In this critical time we learn to wait upon the Lord, letting the Spirit search us as we dig deeper into ourselves. When Luke 9:23 says that the believer must “deny himself” to follow Christ, the mature believer understands that one cannot deny what they do not know. Stillness is the time of letting the Spirit search and prune us in quietness, without the distractions of ministry successes. God filters out His promises from our personal desires. There are faster-paced seasons when God calls us out of Egypt, as He set the Israelites free through powerful signs. There are also slower seasons for every believer to enter the wilderness--these are the seasons of stillness we must suffer through. In the wilderness, God was breaking free the chains of emotional and spiritual habits of slavery they had carried out with them, before they could enter into the land He had promised them. When we live speedy lifestyles and in the rush of experiencing great results, we desire to execute our calling because we find worth in what we accomplish. When we slow down, God beckons us to learn the bittersweet truth that we must go through a pruning process that strips us into a deeper need of Him. Instead of learning to be harder, better, faster, stronger, the wilderness is where we discover to be softer, humbler, slower, weaker. Our calling is executed at the core of who He is and finding ourselves hidden in Him so that He alone is glorified.

The discipline of stillness is suffering because it includes the painful reality of facing who we truly are in the presence of God. It invites Him to search us. Hidden sins start simmering up to the surface. The Holy Spirit uncovers sins of pride, anger, and pain, that have unknowingly steeped in us. After their first three days in the wilderness without water, the Israelites were tired and annoyed. All their lofty ideas of a fun trek to the Promised Land were deflating under the hot sun.  The bitter waters of Marah burst the balloon and the people forgot the Red Sea from just three days prior. They grumbled and whined. The season of stillness is where the believer experiences their lofty ideas of holy ambition and sacrificial service bursting, and discovers what comes out.

Whenever the Israelites encountered trouble in the wilderness, God didn’t lead them to walk around trouble, He guided them straight into it and revealed His great love and provision. The place of stillness is not a place of lackadaisical avoidance or a relaxing siesta, it’s the excruciating battlefield in coming face-to-face with the death of self in the presence of God, when we don’t get our way. He teaches us His way is the only way.

Stillness requires one action—total surrender. When we start realizing how ugly our sins look, we attempt to conceal them. We can believe God abandoned us to our brokenness and ask like the hopeless Israelites did, “What shall we drink now?” Or we can be like Moses who cried out to the Lord. In this case, God showed Moses a tree and Moses takes the tree and throws it into the water. Moses trusts that it is the Lord that will save, not the tree. His act of hurdling the tree in the waters is a symbolic act of reckless surrender that His trust is in God’s provision rather than the situation. In stillness, I have found immeasurable pain and ugly truths surface about myself. I learned that trust grows not when I am bad or good, but by believing God is with me.

God, who provides for His promises, showed Moses the tree. Christ, in sweet surrender, shows us the cross. When we faithfully take up our daily cross in the face of the disappointing mundane, we eventually find that where we once tasted our bitter sins, we now taste Christ’s sweet grace--the taste of eternal Love and forever joy. When God calls me now to a season of stillness, I trust that my suffering begins to taste sweet in view of the cross.

 

 

Rachel Kim (@rachelkimbooboo) received her Master of Arts in Comparative Education at UCLA. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Bible Exposition at Talbot School of Theology. She is a children’s pastor at Temecula Valley Korean Presbyterian Church.

 
 
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