Being a Gulley brother is the best. (Sorry, I don’t make the rules.) This is, of course, my entirely biased opinion. But that doesn’t make it any less true. We Gulleys laugh together, cry together, fight together and pray together. We even have a Gulley Man Motto:
MAN OF GOD – FULL OF FAITH – TOUGH AS NAILS – LOVE ALWAYS
And we live by that motto.
Sounds incredible, right? Nah, it’s downright enviable. But let’s cut through the highlight summary and remember that anything worth having has been painstakingly fought for. This is absolutely true for my family. And I gotta tell you: it’s been a hell of a fight. And by that I mean we have literally fought against the powers of hell for our brotherhood. And in case you missed the reality check, there was a time when we were not all men of God. Each of us has his own story of being rescued from the clutches of darkness, but one story has defined us all: the story of the youngest.
Jeff, our youngest brother, walked a wayward path. His choices were short-sighted and selfish. After several years of dangerous living and burned bridges, he didn’t seem to be slowing down. In fact he was gaining speed toward destruction, affecting others negatively. That’s when my dad called Jeff to his house for an intervention with the brothers. It took a while, but Jeff received our words and even gave His life to Jesus. That is a night I’ll never forget. And I mean that.
But there I go again with the highlights. What I did not include in the story above is the grueling moments of watching my parents worry whether he would come home at night. Day after day after day of witnessing them anguish in prayer for his salvation only to hear news that he’d gotten in trouble again. Minutes and hours and days of embarrassment as people’s lives were damaged by the sins of, “the Christian family.” And so many prayers and songs and cries from every last one of my family members, day and night, over and over that God would break through his blindness already and save him from himself! I told you the highlights but glossed right over the in-between place: the minutes and hours and days and months and years before that breakthrough moment in August of 2004.
BUT THAT IN-BETWEEN PLACE IS VITAL.
Life can sometimes feel like a long road going from problem to breakthrough to problem to breakthrough. But most of the time spent in our lives is lived in the in-between place. That season in which we are painfully aware that a looming need has taken over, and worse yet, there’s little to nothing we can do about it. This in-between place is called waiting.
I found a song that puts into words exactly how I’ve been feeling lately, and I’ve been listening to it almost every day. The first lines are ones I feel deeply.
Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
– Do It Again, Elevation Worship
My life circumstances can feel like those walls of Jericho: insurmountable and impossible to penetrate. Only God can bring the breakthrough I’m waiting for… and He hasn’t yet.
This Easter week, we can peer into the Scriptures and see ourselves in the characters we find there. When Jesus’ followers saw that He had died and was buried, they lost hope. Afraid and confused, they waited, unsure of exactly what they were waiting for. All they knew was to stick together and pray. So in the darkest moment of history with the Savior of the world dead and gone, and with Him their hopes of life and freedom – they had nothing else to do but wait.
Waiting is not merely sitting on the dock until our ship comes in, twiddling our thumbs and staring into space.
WAITING WELL IS A CONTINUAL CONVERSATION WITH GOD, ACTIVELY TRUSTING THAT HE WILL COME THROUGH FOR US BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS.
We do what we can to prepare our lives for good circumstances, but in reality we have no control over anything but our focus. And that’s where the battle is fought.
It is utterly human to desire relief. We have a propensity toward comfort. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the children of God know there are two realities we cannot shake this side of eternity:
LIFE IS NOT EASY AND GOD IS GOOD.
That first truth hits us in the face every day; the second we must make a conscious choice to remember.
Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So trouble and sorrows are a foregone conclusion. I hope your theology includes this truth. While Jesus has promised us comfort, He has not promised us ease. So we would be wise to focus on the constant in our lives: God’s character and His ways. Life will ebb and flow with problems and breakthroughs. The light at the end of a dark tunnel is not your preferred form of circumstance-improvement. The Light is Jesus Himself.
Since we know troubles and breakthroughs will come, we would do well to resolve to fix our eyes on the God who has “breakthrough power” rather than on the illusive breakthrough itself. Of course, it is natural to long for ease over all things, but why would you aim to live a merely natural life? Don’t you want to live a supernatural life? It is short-sighted to live your life constantly looking for circumstances to become easier.
This is not merely a pithy philosophy that belies a broken tendency to hide from pain by choosing not to look at it. Mountains do not move by ignoring them. But neither is it a decision to cling to fear and pain in order to be “real.” Anyone who would rather sit in darkness to be seen as genuine instead of standing up and walking into the light is not well.
WE WERE NOT MADE TO LIVE IN THE DARK; WE WERE MADE TO OVERCOME IT.
There are two kinds of God’s children who cry out for the gift of breakthrough: one is a selfish child who, when she receives the gift, says a quick “thanks” and runs off to play with her new toy and returns only to ask for another. The other is a child of the King who knows that God created us all for relationship, and her life is a war to remain connected to her Father no matter what, so she does whatever it takes to remain in His presence. Breakthrough is coming for both of these children. Which will we be today?
I recently visited a friend whose wife was admitted to the hospital with a debilitating condition. I asked how his kids were handling it, and he described an ongoing conversation he’d been having with his oldest child who had been taking the sickness very hard. Fear had crept in, all but paralyzing her. The sadness had become overwhelming. My friend is a good father and said to his daughter, “Listen baby, we can feel any feeling we want. No feeling is wrong. But at the end of the feelings, we are going to land on the goodness of God. I want you to share your feelings with me because I love you – and then we are committed to take those feelings to Jesus and stand on the foundation that God is good.” Sitting in that hospital, I felt the Spirit of God touch my heart and speak to me, “That goes for you too, son.”
I have received His encouragement, and I hope you will, too. If you are waiting for a breakthrough, I want to encourage you: wait well. The Psalms are our most qualified teacher in these seasons. When he wrote Psalm 13, King David was merely pouring out his heart to God, but he also ended up teaching generations to come how to bring a complaint to God. So let God have it! He’s a big boy; He can handle you. Start in Psalm 13 or Psalm 142 as a guide for how to cry out for a breakthrough in your situation. Pour out your pain to God in the most honest language you can muster. Resist the temptation to skip talking about the mountain in front of you simply because God already sees it. Your Father wants to hear from you: what it feels like to be you. Tell Him what you see, what you want Him to do about it and why.
And then do what my friend does: land on God’s goodness.
But how? Thankfulness.
THE WAY TO REGAIN OUR SIGHT OF GOD’S GOODNESS IS THROUGH EXPRESSED GRATITUDE.
The Bible says, “Give thanks.” It does not say, “Feel thanks.” Having grateful sensations is not a prerequisite for worshipping God in the waiting; in fact, I would imagine it is rare. So we can begin to thank God with little to no positive emotion. Start by saying, “Thank You, Jesus.” Say this three times, five times, ten times – whatever it takes to move your focus to Him. Your mind will begin to search for a place to pin that thankfulness. What has God shown you about Himself? What has He done for you? “Thank You for creating me. Thank You for loving me, and for setting me free. I’m thankful for Your faithfulness to me throughout my life. You’ve always provided for me, Jesus.” Remember: stay in the game here. When the pain tries to creep in through the cracks of your conversation, simply turn your gaze back to God and keep thanking Him.
This is your battle! The battle of the moment for your attention, for a healthy view of God. Victory may come sooner than you think, or it may not – but it will come. Two things cannot occupy the same space, and your active thankfulness will push away the things that distract you from seeing and hearing from Him clearly.
If you are committed to walking with Jesus through every season of life and you don’t want to be sidelined by bitterness or overwhelmed by the trouble that will inevitably come, then you must get serious about this: be thankful.
WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN AN INVITATION TO BECOME FLUENT IN THANKSGIVING.
Fight for your vision, to see clearly. Thank your Father in Heaven at every turn. We will spend a lot of life waiting. If you’re going to wait for your breakthrough, my friend… then wait well.
By James Mark Gulley – Worship Pastor