“In this world you will have trouble…”
– Jesus Christ
“I don’t want to be in a battle. But waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse.”
– Pippin Took
“Father if you are willing, let this cup pass from me…”
– Jesus Christ
The Hopelessness of Waiting…
Have you ever sat in a waiting room, wondering what the doctors would tell you about the condition of a loved one? Have you ever held your breath as you read a news article featuring a grim development? Have you felt a heartbreaking realization that from this point on you have been displaced from what you’ve known, loved, depended on… that things are likely never to be the same again… that you can do nothing but await a difficult future?
The tension of an inevitable and potentially devastating transition is hard to hold. It seems cruel. Filmmakers exploit this feeling but call it ‘suspense’. There’s a cathartic feeling that comes in engaging with a manufactured scenario because we know, in the end, whatever happens to the characters, WE will be ok. However, after the movie ends, the ‘suspense’ of real life isn’t wrapped up in two hours with resolution and music and credits. There is no pause button, nor is there a way to ‘skip’ to the next scene when the current one is ‘too much’.
In the suspenseful ‘between’ it can feel that survival is our only option. Just one more day, one more hour, one more minute… one more breath. We have bought the lie that we have no power and we are at the mercy of life’s punishing machinations. Oh, to be sure, there is much that we have no actual power over. We have agency but not supremacy. We cannot wish away disease. We cannot reverse an injustice. We don’t get to snap our fingers and revert a broken relationship back to the point before trust died. So, with all this… lack… what are we to do when existence seems to crush us slowly like a boulder taking a stroll? What authority do we truly have?
In these times we must remember there is power in holding and hoping. There are great gains that can be made against the darkness by just standing still.
In the times when we feel there is nothing left to do but wait, the warrior’s way of waiting is to keep watch.
The Hope of Keeping Watch…
Keeping watch is different than waiting. A person watching is expectant and ready. Watching forms us in the knowing that current conditions will change. There is mighty work to be done even in the holding, even in the resting. A watcher knows that beyond this moment something great is coming – something they cannot see or define. Even so, the keeper of the watch bears witness to what is yet to come. Knowing the tension tethered betwixt ‘what has’ and ‘what will’ can greatly affect their ability to respond and receive what comes next.
We see this in the garden as Jesus asked His disciples to keep watch with Him as He prayed. But their heavy grief weighed them down so much they couldn’t keep their eyes or hearts open any longer, and they fell asleep. Perhaps we’ve all felt that heavy sorrow creeping forward; inevitable and steady. A sorrow that will not be deterred or delayed. When we face a threat we want to DO something, and when we can’t DO something, we shut down. But what if Jesus had returned to find His followers standing with one fist on their chest while their tear-stained eyes looked expectantly at the horizon? Firmly trusting with Him that even through the truth of uncertain pain and grief that was in their near future, there was a higher truth that would ultimately claim and crush the desolation, destroying it completely, leaving only room for wholeness and joy and peace and an adventure they could not comprehend… What if that’s what Jesus found His friends doing that night? What if that’s what He finds us doing tonight?
Let us keep watch. Let us watch because we believe that when Jesus cried out from the cross “It is finished!”, what He declared finished was… good things being finished. Death was not the final word anymore. Not for Him, and not for us.
The coming Day of the Lord…
In these displacements of life we watch for the welcome. And we ultimately keep watch for the Day of the Lord. This admonition to watch is not a completely fearful command given to keep you from being naughty. It is as much if not more a prescription against the distraction and despair that all too easily covers our eyes and makes them heavy and puts us to sleep. Keeping watch is a bold declaration of hope for the beleaguered believer who is just… plain… tired… who is spent, broken, crushed and can do nothing more than wait. To that hurting person, in our least capable moments, when we are most vulnerable to despondency and surrender, we are instead called as warriors to hold the mighty post of watch keeper. To keep an expectant eye on the horizon. To stand still… to be still… and know.
We know that in this world we will have trouble. That is inevitable and unavoidable. But this we also know: that He has overcome the world. Our King is on a mission to make all things new, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Death indeed will one day be destroyed. Just you watch.
Do not despair, do not surrender, do not sleep.
You are a warrior in the service of the King. When you can do nothing else, when there is nothing left but the waiting, at this moment you are being conscripted to the mighty and powerful duty of Watch Keeper. Stand on your feet and bear witness to His coming. Bear witness to the ultimate deliverance of your bodies, the renewing of your spirits, the replenishment of your souls, the healing of your wounds, the restoring of lost relationships, the regeneration of our broken hearts made new and whole and fully into what we were always made to be. You are warriors in the battle against darkness and despair. You are welcomed into the presence of the King of the Universe. And until that day comes in its fullness, we bear witness to its coming. We bear witness with all that have come before and those who will come after. We declare by our stance that beyond all the displacement, there is yet a grand welcome coming.
So, in the between,
in the not yet,
in the now,
and we keep watch.
“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 (NIV)
Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass…
then you see it!
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores… and beyond. A far green country, under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: (smiling) No… no, it isn’t.
– The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (film)
“Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB)
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her generous permission for Cultivating.
The illustration of the oak leaf is courtesy of Jordan Durbin and used with her generous permission for Cultivating.
Adam wanders through the arts as a vagabond. Though he “still hasn’t found what he’s looking for” he seeks to pull on the golden thread that has been woven through our stories, trusting that it leads Home to the Author of our souls. Adam and his wife Sarah have 3 children and live in Northern Colorado. His writings (and a few other things) can be found at his website.
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