James 4:13-16 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
So many times when things have been tough in my life, I've wondered deep inside: "How will I get through this?"
I'm stronger now in middle age than ever before, but I'm still often drained by the effects of the sin curse and everyday problems.
"How will I get through another school year with Peter's OCD? How will he?
"How will I get through another year of perimenopause, with the hot flushes in earnest now and the headaches worse than ever?"
"How will I make the tithe next week?
How will we afford private colleges costing $45,000 a year?
What if the major drugs Beth is taking for her arthritis lead to cancer or infertility?
How will I get through that speech, that test, that appointment?
How will I keep up with the homeschooling and the house?
You often hear people say that God spoke to them. God told me to do this or that. It's hard not to feel skeptical about such statements, but once in a while, I really do feel God speak to me directly.
Today was one of those times, during church in fact.
Peter often cries quietly in church (and during devotions) because anything spiritual triggers his OCD. I can't tell you how hard and hurtful it is to see these tears, knowing how much my son loves the Lord. His type of OCD is called scrupulosity and it's centered around thoughts of sin and Satan--fears and thoughts that he loves Satan rather than God, or that he is going to turn to a life of sin. The thoughts and fears are so powerful that even though they don't make sense and aren't consistent with who he is, he has a hard time dismissing them.
Mind you, these are all very typical OCD thoughts. For hundreds of years other OCD sufferers have had the exact same thoughts and for a time, before OCD was better understood, this particular manifestation of it was termed religious melancholy.
I've counseled Peter many times that it isn't the thoughts that make him ill. It's his reaction to them.
The same can be said of all of us. It isn't our hardships that make life so challenging. It's our reaction to them.
Peter and I tiptoed out of service, so I could calm him down before his youth class started, scheduled right after service. When I counsel him, I don't reassure him about the specific thoughts, because that makes the condition worse. Families, unknowingly, make OCD worse by participating in their children's rituals, which only perpetuates the harmful cycle.
Instead, I reminded him that: Yes, this disorder is cruel and excruciatingly hard, but he needed to remember that we are on this earth just a nano second, and then Paradise begins and never ends. We don't know why God allows babies to be born who can't speak, hear, walk, roll over, or eat. We don't know why he allows children to be in drug-addicted homes, or children the world over to be abused and left for dead.
It is endless, the appalling things God doesn't stop on this earth. We can't comprehend how God can be loving, and yet so willing to allow excruciating pain. We blame him for not making the world a kinder, gentler place.
Eve, in the Garden of Eden, blamed God, essentially, for creating the serpent who deceived her. And Adam? Didn't he blame the woman God gave to him--so in essence he blamed God, too?
But God is not responsible for the sin curse. Our free will is. He decided to punish us, but we decided to sin. Indeed, we wouldn't have done any better in the Garden of Eden than Eve or Adam did. They truly represent us, in all our childish, sinful ways.
God is only asking you, Peter, to endure this OCD for a nano second, compared to the plans he has for you in Paradise. That's how he can allow such pain in your life, or in anyone's life. He knows the magnitude of your joy in Heaven, compared to your trials here on earth.
Your OCD, I told him, will not always be this bad. Through God's grace, you will learn to accept the thoughts and not fight them or panic over them. Your nervous system will cease it's fight or flight reaction every time an awful but senseless thought occurs in your brain, and the cycle will be broken. You will feel free again, though there's no cure on earth. Eventually, the thoughts, in times of stress, may still appear, but will become faint background noise you can ignore.
The same is true for us. The longer we live, the less we will despair over our trials. The longer we live, the greater the grace we'll be willing to extend to others. The longer we live, the more we'll be willing to say: To live is Christ, to die is gain.
Peter, listening to me intently, told me he realizes more every day that he was created to do mission work. His heart leaps for joy over the prospect of mission work, and he fears his OCD will mess that up.
24 hours, I told him. Just live the next 24 hours, and let God handle tomorrow.
God clearly told me today: Life is a 24-hour endeavor. He also said his manna is given on a daily basis for a reason. The future doesn't belong to us, but to Him. It is His. We are His. Tomorrow is not ours to plan or worry about.
For the next 24 hours, just love me, He asks. That's all you have to do. Surrender unto me your agenda, your hopes and dreams, your troubles and worries, and even your pain. I will give you everything you need to live the next 24 hours, freeing you up to just love me and delight in me, as I delight in you.
Every 24 hours is an opportunity for another heart to say yes to the Cross. That's the Lord's agenda every day, every hour. That's why he tarries. That's why the sin curse and suffering haven't ended yet, and Paradise hasn't begun yet for the Christian.
God assures us we have food for today, strength for today, joy for today, grace for today.
And about the future? What does God tell us about the future, specifically? Reading all these verses below, we can begin to comprehend the heart of God regarding the future.
When tomorrow is no longer thought of as yours, but His, today becomes all the sweeter for it.
Psalm 40:5 Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
John 15:1-5 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ...