Maranatha Moments in a World Filled with Tragedy

This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. You can find that original article here.

Years ago, I remember a Chris Rice song that resonated with my soul. It was called “Hallelujahs.” It described scenarios of life, like experiencing a purple sky to close the day, wading in the surf to see dolphins play, and tasting the salt while watching the dancing waves. At the end of the refrain, these words would echo throughout the song, “And my soul wells up with hallelujahs.”

Yes, there are certainly times throughout life where my soul wells up with hallelujahs—with “Praise the Lord!” However, I have also experienced my fair share of instances where my soul wells up with Maranathas!

Have you ever found yourself crying out, “Maranatha?” Maranatha is an Aramaic word used in 1 Corinthians 16:22 that can mean, “Our Lord, Come!” or “Come, Lord Jesus!” Interestingly, as Trevin Wax notes, this second interpretation wasn’t widely used until the last couple of centuries. In fact, as he notes, throughout the ages, Maranatha has been mainly used as a declaration, “Our Lord has come.”

Both are appropriate, but one version finds itself on the minds and lips of people when faced with life’s pains and sufferings. This week has been one of those weeks where “Maranatha” has been uttered from the lips of many, including myself.

I found myself crying out “Maranatha!” as I scrolled through the feeds that marked the 18th anniversary of 9/11—the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The devastation caused by those acts of terrorism almost 20 years ago will be forever stitched in our minds: planes flying into towers, people jumping from buildings, dust filling the city air, lifeless bodies under piled rubble, and grieving families and friends who in a twinkling of an eye lost husband, wife, parent, or child.

In addition to the anniversary of 9/11, the evangelical world experienced the loss of a prominent young church leader and mental health advocate who died by suicide—Jarrid Wilson, a man who loved Jesus and people, and who had dedicated his life to helping those in need. Jarrid preached messages, wrote books, and faithfully ministered to a broken world, only to find himself losing the battle (but not losing the war).

Having heard the news while driving, I had to wait until I stopped to see it for myself. As I sat and scrolled through the feeds, my heart was broken and grieving over what I read. There were so many comments that expressed heartbreak, grief, sadness, and lament.

The most jarring comment was a twitter post from Jarrid himself the day of his passing. As somewhat of a last, parting words of this life, he posted,

Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.

My response is a resounding, AMEN!

But it is the irony of his words and parting action that wells up in my soul a Maranatha! I get how the weight of this world and the struggle with illness and disease can crush the drive to live. And therefore, I couldn’t help but cry out “Maranatha!” over and over. Lord Jesus, come! Lord Jesus, come!

Have you been there? Are you there? If so, it is perfectly acceptable for there to be dry moments and seasons where no Hallelujahs flow from our tongues. It is alright if we somberly sit and utter groanings of Maranatha. This makes me think of Romans 8:22–23, where Paul writes,

For we know that the whole of creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We live in a world filled with compounding brokenness, hurt, pain, and suffering. It’s not like we face one experience of hurt and pain; Oh no, we face a life filled with such. Sexual brokenness, divorce, betrayal, abuse, violence, discrimination, racism, poverty, abandonment, addiction, illness, disease, and more—not to mention death. We are victims of multiple counts of pain and suffering.

In short, the fallen world, the opportunistic enemy, and the fleshly nature of sin lay claim to many a victim—everyone included; yes, even pastors.

As believers, we believe Jesus is in the process of making all things new. But there are times where our hopeful knowing gives way to our groanings of “Hurry up!” In those times, the struggle with life is just too real. We are simply too overwhelmed with the ugliness and darkness of life, and therefore we cry out—maybe with more of a tonal demand—”Maranatha!”

While we groan, we wait. Will Jesus answer our prayer? Will he, at that moment, physically come and make all things new? In all likelihood, possibly not. But one day he will.

In the meantime, what do we do?

When nothing but Maranatha comes from our lips, where should our minds and hearts go?

Let me share a couple of thoughts.

First, we can attune our minds to the empathetic yet finished work of Jesus. 

The eternal God made flesh entered into the fray of humanity, bore the cross for our sins as he absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf. In clothing himself in humanity, Jesus experienced life, and thus pain, in a fallen world. He experienced betrayal, disease, poverty, abuse, violence, hatred, and even deaths of loved ones.

By taking upon himself the sin of humanity, he entered and endured the greatest of all pains—the wrath of God—and thus, separation from the Father. So, when it comes to our Maranatha moments, we can rest assured that Jesus knows and understands where we are. His empathetic and yet finished work becomes the fuel for the courage to face another day.

Second, we can attune our hearts to focus on the hope of glory. 

One of my favorite passages on this is 2 Corinthians 4:17–18, where Paul writes, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.”

Regarding this passage, John Piper says,

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. . . . Every millisecond of your pain—from fallen nature or fallen man—every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that suffering.

In short, Jesus is in the process of making all things new, and somehow, in some way, even though we cannot see it, God is in the Maranatha moments preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

God is in the Maranatha moments preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

In closing, depravity casts a long and dark shadow. When that shadow hits our lives, Maranatha may be the only word welling up in our soul. And that is perfectly ok.

But as you sit in your Maranatha moments, let the Spirit speak hope and peace that Jesus is indeed in the process of making all things new. As a result, you can also whisper to your soul, as the old hymn writer Horatio Spafford quipped, “It is well with my soul.”

Don’t Suck it Up; Soak Him Up

We have all been through valleys, storms, wildernesses, and trials. Some have been intense while others seemed like a blip. We have had our hearts broken, experienced pain, lost our joy, and questioned the goodness of God. In those times, when life seems to hurt the worse, when life seems not to be fair, when life seems to crush our lungs making it difficult to breathe, what do we do?

Growing up, when something didn’t seem to go my way, I remember my parents telling me (on more than one occasion), “Life’s not fair; suck it up.”

That statement has continued to stick in my mind even as a grown adult with three kids. In fact, I think I have used my own version on my children. While I think this statement, and even the philosophy behind it, may work in certain scenarios, it doesn’t work with the intense, severe, and damaging valleys, storms, wilderness journeys, and trials we go through. Yet, for many (if were honest), the mantra “Life’s not fair; suck it up” is how we attempt to cope with these times in our life. But is that the best, wisest, or even healthiest way to do so?

The answer is no. Before I share how we should cope and deal with these times, let me share what happens if we try to “suck it up,” chalking it up to “life’s not fair” or “life is broken.” If we try and deal with these times on our on, “sucking it up,” “licking our wounds,” or “drowning in our sorrows,” we bottle whatever the valley, storm, wilderness, or trial is within our souls. Though on the outer shell of our lives we may seem like we are coping well, inwardly a storm, a valley, a wilderness, and a trial continues. As a result, anger becomes infected and turns into resentment, resentment into bitterness; our bitterness can be directed at others, or it could be directed to the Lord. No matter where it is directed, its affects are damaging. In addition to anger becoming infected, the pain and hurt can become infected to the point of paralysis—the loss of mobility. If people do not properly deal with the hurt and pain they can lose mobility of trust, vision, true sanctification (not behavioral modification), love, and joy.

If we were honest, none of us want to experience the infection of anger or paralysis. Therefore, how should we cope and deal with the difficult times of intense stress, pressure, loneliness, pain, and hurt? The simple answer is: rather than sucking it up, we should soak Him up. But where can we learn, or to whom can we turn to learn what this looks like in practice? The Psalms. Throughout the entire book of Psalms the psalmist exemplifies how one can soak up the Lord during times of great storms, valleys, wildernesses, and trials.

When you think about the psalmist soaking up the Lord, I want you to think about a sponge. I use a sponge often, especially when I cook. After cooking eggs or soup, I take a sponge and clean the skillet or the pot. When I am done cleaning the skillet or pot, I rinse the sponge under hot water, and then squeeze it multiple times—attempting to get all the dirty, soapy water out so that it is ready to clean the next time I cook.

The psalmist, just like the sponge, pours out to the Lord in order to soak up the Lord. In so many places the psalmist pours out to the Lord, his heart, his hurt, his pain, his bitterness, his anger, his questions, his complaints, his tears, his prayers, his supplications, and his requests. In other words, he empties himself to the Lord in order to be filled by (or to soak up) the Lord. He then allows himself to be filled up by the grace, mercy, kindness, sovereignty, love, affection, closeness, power, justice, mission, and hope of God.

For an illustration, let’s look at Psalms 61 and 62. (Again you can find this pattern—the psalmist pouring out his heart and soaking up the Lord—throughout the entire book).

Psalm 61:1–8 (ESV)
1 Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
2 from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
3 for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
5 For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
6 Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
7 May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
8 So will I ever sing praises to your name,
as I perform my vows day after day.

Psalm 62:1–8 (ESV)
1 For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
3 How long will all of you attack a man
to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
4 They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse. Selah
5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah

In the first passage the psalmist describes his heart as “faint,” while in the next one he encourages people to “pour out [their] heart before him….” As he experiences a heart that is faint and one that needs to be poured out to the Lord, he also allows himself and encourages others to be filled up with the truth and hope of God. The psalmist soaks up the truth that God hears his cry and is the highest rock. In addition, he soaks up the belief that God is his strongest tower, refuge, salvation, and glory, thus in “God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

Does the fact that he allows himself to soak up the person and truth of the Lord make the trial, the storm, or the valley any easier to endure, to face? No. Does it lessen the pain or hurt? No. The Lord simply becomes the healthy outlet where the psalmist can unleash his emotions, his feelings, his hurt, his pain, his desire, and his requests and after having unleashed them to the Lord, can wait for the Lord to pour himself and his truth back into him. It is not easy, but it is a healthy, cleansing process.

In sum, what does the psalmist teach us about responding to the trials, storms, valleys, and wildernesses in our life? Pour out our hurt, anger, resentment, bitterness, depression, questions, struggles, and prayers to him. Do not keep them in! Tell him…spill out your heart. In addition, allow God and the truth about him to fill you. As a result, you will give him the dirt and filth that you are experiencing and dealing with from the trial, while he gives you his life, his truth, his joy, his refuge, his blessing, his salvation, and his hope in the trial. So, don’t suck it up; soak Him up!