Courage!

I’m pretty sure that you have asked the question. I know I have. My children asked me quite often. My church members ask me in conversations at trapeza or in Bible study. We all want to know why God takes so long. After all, it’s been 2,000 years since the Lord came to earth. Aren’t things bad enough? How bad do they have to get before He returns? Oh, I try to reassure folks with truths such as “those who wait on the Lord…”, or “one day is like a thousand years to God…”, or even “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons…” They smile and nod but I know the answer wasn’t satisfying.

Let’s move out of the Big Picture (apocalyptic end of the world stuff), and bring it down to daily life. Things can get very rough around here. There was a time when I was hanging on by my toenails. I literally cried out, “Lord, save me, or I will perish.” Then I waited a long time for God to make the scene. God resolved my issues and saved me from myself and the mess that I had made of things and even though the resolution was not what I wanted, at least it was finished. Still, why in the world did He take so long to do it? Why didn’t He come when I cried out the first time or even the fiftieth time?

My mom use to say to her impatient little boy, “A watched pot never boils.” Sometimes, she would say, “Good things come to those who wait.” When I got old enough to be a smarty pants, I would reply, “And wait and wait and wait and wait and wait, etc.” Sometimes she would smile and sometimes she would whack me, but she was right, you know. Anytime I’ve been in the kitchen and stood and waited for a teapot to boil, it seemed to take forever. If I left the room and did something else, it wasn’t long until I heard the kettle whistling.

When I cry out “how long, O Lord,” I take comfort in the fact that I’m in good company. Check the book of Revelation and you’ll find that even the Martyrs under the altar in heaven are loudly crying out, “How long, O Lord….” (Rev. 6.9) [Note: I have to be honest because there are times when I’ve been at the altar, and the service is in its third hour, I join the saints in wondering “How long, O Lord?”]

Of course, how you are waiting makes a big difference. Years ago, my wife and I went on a cruise to celebrate an anniversary. We had a beautiful room with a large window and so it was fun to sit and watch the waves. It happened that on the third day, we passed through a tropical depression and things got pretty wild outside. My wife and I sat in our cabin, drank our tea, and marveled at the sight. Of course, I knew it would be quite another story if I were out there swimming or rowing in a small boat. Then, fascination would turn to terror.

I had a friend once who was invited to go deep sea fishing. He didn’t know the rest of the guests, but when he arrived he found that it was all males. As they loaded the boat, it was clear that they planned to do a lot of drinking as well as fishing. These were young men, full of bravado and boasting of their fishing prowess. As it happened, no one had bothered to check the weather forecast, and when my friend began to notice that the horizon was darkening, he went down to check the weather radio. The news was not good. A hurricane was headed their way. When he went topside, he told the guests what he had heard as he pointed to the dark sky. He told me that you have never seen young men sober up so quickly. They were several hours from port and as they journeyed in, the men suddenly seemed very interested in religion and showed now interest in beer. The bragging and cursing ceased. These were frightened men and when they finally made it into safe harbor, one and all were singing God’s praises.

In Matthew 14, the disciples faced a similar situation. The Lord had put them in the boat and sent them out into the sea while he went into the wilderness to pray. Now, Matthew says that as they crossed, the wind was contrary and they could make no headway. Then the storm hit and the waves threatened to capsize them. Surely, having witnessed the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, these men would have no fear, right? No. They cried out for their lives. How long did they cry out?

I never noticed this detail before, but Matthew says that Jesus came to them during the “fourth watch.”Since it was customary to post guards throughout the night, the military divided the night up into four watches so that sentries could be relieved. The fourth watch means that Jesus waited until just before dawn to come to them. What? What could be the possible reason for this?

Blessed Theophylact has an answer. This waiting means that we should “not ask for a swift resolution to our misfortunes but to endure them bravely.” (The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, Chrysostom Press, 2000) Wait a minute! On top of everything else, the Lord wants us to be brave? When Jesus approached them He did say, “Take courage; it is I; be not afraid.”

I’d like to believe I’m a brave Christian or could be one if the situation demanded it. Oh, really? I don’t even have the courage to cross myself when I pray over meals in public! I’m afraid someone will mock me! When someone at work is crying out that life has no meaning for them, I don’t have the courage to even mention the word Orthodoxy. I’m afraid someone will think I’m a religious fanatic. There are moments that demand that the truth be told, and I am muted by my timidity. Frankly, I’m ok in big cruise ships when a small storm hits, but I don’t do well in big storms in little boats. Its no wonder that the bravery of the Saints simply amazes me.

I can’t go to the Wizard of Oz for courage, so what can I do?

I must remember two things. First, as I look back on my life, the Lord often waited until the fourth watch to save me. Second, I know that my Lord never puts people in a boat to drown them. Matthew says that the Lord “constrained” the disciples to get in the boat. Obviously, He had something in mind and it wasn’t the death of his disciples. He puts us in the boat and comes to us late to teach us courage. Therefore, courage is not just something that wells up from within you, it must be learned. Every time the Lord comes on the winds and the waves in the nick of time, he again tells me to have courage. Now if I can just keep this in mind, maybe the next time I’m in my little boat and the wind is howling around me, I’ll show a little courage and trust that He will save me, even if its in the fourth watch.

The Lord is coming walking on the waves and stilling the winds. It may be a while before you see Him, even just before the dawn. Have courage, my friends.

One Response to “Courage!”

  1. Betsy Says:

    Another great article, Father. I am struggling with the same “problem:” When will He answer my prayer? [Are we there yet, Daddy? Are we there, yet?!Huh? Huh?]

    I read somewhere that the ascetics face this issue, too. It seems that as they proceed in their struggles, God seems to withdraw from them, presumably in an effort to get them to chase after Him all the more; To make them realize that they must have Him in their life. [I don’t have a cite for this, so I hope I am not writing anything misleading about Orthodoxy].

    In any event, it isn’t pleasant–waiting and waiting for help and “solutions” to the problems in our lives, solutions that seemingly never come. It is downright frustrating and aggravating! Sometimes I scream, ” Why WON’T YOU HELP ME?! RIGHT NOW! I am TIRED of these same old problems! Don’t you feel sorry for me, struggling so?!”

    But, who am I argue with God and His timetable? There’s a reason they say patience is a virtue.

    I have decided that for me, the real struggle is the struggle with my attitude. My carnal self wants to be “happy and joyful all the time.” I am often tempted to think that if I embrace “my Father” He will keep me as happy as a child on Christmas morning, joyfully ripping into the pile of ALL the toys I coerced my parent into giving me. And I think alot of TV ministers mislead people into thinking this way, too, when they preach “prosperity gospel”–“God wants you to have a Mercedes, live in the right neighborhood, wear the right clothes, be wealthy and have all your heart’s desires!!!!” Gee! Where do I sign up for THAT program?

    But turn off the T.V., and I am left with my used car, my meager savings, my very worn blue jeans and my delapidated house in the blue collar farm land.

    Oh, and I am left with a deep knowledge of God’s love for me.

    Orthodoxy and its path of spiritual growth are HARD! I read St John’s “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” and keep rereading Colliander’s “The Way of the Ascetics.” I can’t tell you how many times I have just shrugged my shoulders and spit out, “I can’t do it! No WAY, JOSE! You can’t really expect me to do/feel/act like THAT, Jesus! You have got to be kidding!I DO live in the world, ya know?!” [Hint: At least ten times per day, often more frequently….]

    And the waves of life keep tossing me about, but I just can’t seem to jump ship and go atheist. I just know that Orthodoxy is the right way. In between rants at God, I insert, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!”

    So I’m off to patiently wait for my solutions, and try not to grumble too much about the fact that Christmas comes only once a year! And try to console myself, that when it does come, it’ll be like it always is: Pretty good.

    And I am off to try to emulate an Oz-medalled Bert Lahr-Lion (with his decidely New York accent) when life gets scary: “Put up yer dukes! Put up yer dukes!”

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