I really suck at math. My 6th grade son’s math homework makes my brain explode. It took me my freshman and sophomore year to complete Algebra 1. It just doesn’t register with me. I remember my algebra teacher helping me in those after school tutoring sessions and him saying to me, “Melody, if you can just remember the formulas, you will make it. The formulas always work.” And that is how I passed Algebra 1 in only two years with a solid C, remembering the formulas. Cheers please.
Formulas are great. We use them all the time – recipes, diets, budgets, etc. We like plans. We don’t like problems and we are eager to tackle them with ready-made solutions. And we never lack for solutions. Regardless of our ailment, struggle, sickness or situation, there is usually a remedy and we run to it. Why wouldn’t we? If something hurts, make it stop. If something is wrong, make it right. If life isn’t going the way we planned, let’s figure it out, find a formula for our “problem” and work it until we have the desired results.
Here’s the issue: If you have lived longer than a minute, then you already know that life hands us a lot of problems that aren’t fixable. We can’t just google what to do next and be rid of our angst, worry, addiction, depression, diagnosis, distress, you fill in the blank. And here’s the even bigger issue: Christians have bought into this formula driven life. Our bookstores and bumpers are full of quippy little statements that subtly imply – “if you do this, God will do this.” And because we want that to be true so badly, we scour the bible for those promises and we plaster them on our Facebook walls and our t-shirts. We shout from the mountain tops that “GOD WORKS ALL THINGS TOGETHER FOR GOOD,” and we share that in our small groups when the couple sitting across from us tells us their marriage is falling apart, or that they are on the brink of financial ruin. We grab their hands and we say, “let’s pray Jeremiah 29:11 over that situation because we all know that God has plans for you to prosper and have great success…”
Sometimes the cancer does come back and sometimes the prodigal child doesn’t return home. Sometimes the cheating husband does marry the other woman. Sometimes the depression just won’t go away. Sometimes the house does go into foreclosure. Sometimes life just falls apart. And there is no formula to fix it. Then what?
Here’s another promise from Jesus himself that we don’t see on bumpers that often:
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows…”
That probably won’t sell a lot of t-shirts or get a lot of likes on Facebook. But thank God, He keeps going.
“…But take heart (be courageous, be undaunted, be filled with joy) because I have overcome the world.”
In those last 5 words we find the answer, the true hope for any situation and what we can cling to when life beats us down: I have overcome the world. Jesus is literally saying that He has conquered everything in this world and has victory over every single thing that happens inside of it. The cancer, the lost job, the wayward child, the anxiety, the desperation, the insecurities, the fear, the death of your beloved…He is not defeated by any of it. He is more powerful than all of it. None of those things can conquer Him. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, that’s great for Him, but where does that leave us?” It leaves us right where we need to be.
Forsaking formulas. Throwing them out and throwing ourselves at His feet. Understanding that He is the prize. That His presence will always be better and more satisfying than His presents. Life is really going to suck sometimes. It is going to be really, really, really hard. But He makes us another promise:
“I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”
No formulas. No strings attached. No gimmicks. Just Him…
And my prayer for myself and for all of you is that we will come to the place where we truly believe that He is enough.