Friday, November 16, 2018

Serving in Loneliness and Isolation

It’s pretty common for our colleagues serving in the role sports chaplains or character coaches to confess their feelings of loneliness and isolation. While surrounded by coaches, competitors, and support staff, we can still feel the numbing effect of loneliness. We are often geographically isolated from our colleagues and friends in ministry. At other times we’re rather distant from other ministry leaders by virtue of our peculiarly narrow niche of service. Who else is serving the sporting community? We’re out here by ourselves and it takes an emotional toll, even on tough guys.

The psalmist, David, powerfully expressed his sense of loneliness and isolation, even abandonment in Psalm 22.
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;

And by night, but I have no rest.
We, on this side of the crucifixion, associate this psalm’s first line with the Lord Jesus as He quoted it from the cross. The psalm perfectly expressed His own emotions of abandonment, loneliness, and isolation. Whether due to broken relationships, a coach’s firing, players being traded, our service being terminated, or any other factors, many of us groan with loneliness, find no answers to our prayers, and find no rest for our isolated souls.

The psalmist’s heart rebounded, as ours generally do as we remember the Lord’s faithfulness to us and to those who preceded us in the faith.
Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;

They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
Both we and the psalmist remind ourselves of the Lord’s trustworthiness, His flawless track record toward those who trust Him.

The psalmist goes on to list countless expressions of his unworthiness, his pain, and loneliness. His attention turns on a dime at verse 19.
But You, O Lord, be not far off;
O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,

My only life from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth;
From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
The complaints turn to prayers of petition for the Lord to be near, to hurry to his aid, to deliver him from violence, and from life consuming enemies.

As the psalm concludes from verse 30, the psalmist has raised his sights to a more joyous and vigorous future.
Posterity will serve Him;
It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.
31 They will come and will declare His righteousness

To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
David’s former loneliness seems to be put away by a clearer picture of the Lord’s faithfulness, not only in the past, but projected into the coming generations of God’s people.

I find that many of us experience a similar pattern when we encounter loneliness and isolation. We start in abject despair and often a little self-pity. We retreat to our Bibles, our private hours of prayer, to worship, to contemplation, and we soon recall the Lord’s faithfulness. Even when we fully embrace our weakness and the pains of our situation, we soon find our complaints turn to supplication. Our hearts shift into prayer and our minds look to a brighter future. We renew our engagement with our friends, colleagues, and those we serve. Soon our souls are refreshed and our vision for the future is restored.

I pray that Psalm 22, usually recalled in moments of loneliness and isolation, encourages your heart with reminders of God’s faithfulness - past, present, and future.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Serving in Failure and Losing

There are days, often weeks, occasionally months, and even seasons when we are serving a team experiencing failure and loses a lot. Losing streaks and losing seasons are terribly painful and frustrating, even for the team chaplain or character coach. To not empathize with their situation keeps us at a distance and diminishes the relationships we intend to build. Even as we maintain perspective and communicate hope and support, we will surely experience the club’s failure and feel the pain of loss.

The psalmist expressed his heart, crushed by failure and loss, but with perspective buoyed by hope in Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change

And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.

The psalmist will trust in God even when the two greatest symbols of constancy and power would be shaken. The mountains and the sea could each be in turmoil, but God would continue to be his very present help in trouble.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;

God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.

In this second stanza the psalmist considers the volatile nature of international relations, the security of his home city, and the Lord’s faithful power. When the nations make an uproar and totter kingdoms, the Lord simply raises His voice and the earth melts. He finds safety and security in his Lord.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;

He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.

In stanza three the psalmist pulls back the focus and looks broadly at the scope of the Lord’s works across the world. He sees His hand in desolations, in the cessation of wars, and in the destruction of armies. He hears the Lord’s voice of comfort and assurance that He is in charge. He will be lifted up in the sight of all nations. The Lord is with us. He is our stronghold.

This psalm speaks to our hearts in the midst of failure and losing. It speaks comfort, it speaks trust, it speaks faith. Though the strength of our team is compromised, God is with us. Though we experience the volatility of sports culture and hear the noise of rivals’ voices, The Lord is our source of safety and security. Let’s join the psalmist in pulling back our focus to see the Lord’s work in our team, in our sport, in our relationships. He speaks these words to us and to those we serve, “Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
We can trust Him in every circumstance.

p.s. One of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, died last week. I love his translations of the psalms in The Message. Here is a link to a You Tube video featuring Bono from U2 and Eugene Peterson as they discuss how the Psalms have shaped their lives in Christ.