Am I Gonna Make It?

Have you ever lived a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year . . or even years . . wondering if you were going to make it?

Am I gonna make it? is one of the most private thoughts we can have.  Most people don’t feel comfortable sharing the radical vertigo they’re experiencing in their head.  What would my friends think?  Would my coworkers use it against me?  Would a psychiatrist say I need to go to the funny farm?  What would my family say if they knew how vulnerable I feel?

Living like this does not feel like living.  It feels like dying, one speck at a time, with no end to the specks.

Am I gonna make it?  We want someone to say yes, but we doubt we’d believe them even if they did.  Words seem like hallways that lead nowhere, and hope seems like a key that doesn’t unlock any door.

The mind trap of Am I gonna make it? can only end two ways: redemption or suicide.  And by suicide, I don’t only mean the kind of suicide where someone instantly takes their life.  I mean the kind of suicide of killing your life off, moment-by-moment.  Depression, anxiety, grief, regret, and other forms of mental anguish can torture the life right out of you.

But what about redemption?  What is that?

You know the question, Am I gonna make it?

Redemption is the answer yes, because of someone else.

We can taste both earthly and heavenly redemption in this life.  Earthly redemption is when a friend sends you a card, takes you out to dinner, or listens on the other end of the phone.  Earthly redemption is when a wise mental health professional listens to you talk, or prescribes a medicine to help you get through.  Earthly redemption is when a stranger offers to lend a hand when your car won’t start or pays for your meal when you’re looking especially down.  Earthly redemption is anytime someone keeps you from life suicide.  Another way to say this is, earthly redemption is anytime someone gets you out of the mortal place called “the shadow of death” (see Psalm 23 for how David dealt with this place).

Heavenly redemption is very similar but also unmistakably different.  Similar in that the sorts of things God does to redeem you forever often start exactly the same as earthly redemption.  He sends friends, family, medical professionals, and sometimes even strangers your way to encourage you and build you up.  He wants you to stay alive so that you can one day believe in Him and experience His eternal redemption.

And that’s where the difference lies: heavenly redemption lasts forever.  It’s rescue from the immortal place called “death”.  That’s the place where you live without God, and it’s a place God has no desire for you to be either now or for forever.

Am I gonna make it?   What if you don’t believe the answer can be yes?  Ask God for help!  A prayer to God doesn’t have to be eloquent for Him to understand what’s in your heart.

God, I need help.  I don’t think I’m gonna make it.  Jesus, please come into my “life” of death and save me from it.  I don’t want to walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death anymore.  In Jesus, Amen.

If you pray to God like that, and you mean what you pray—even if you just have a mustard seed of faith about it—He will save you.  Even the smallest speck of belief while you’re in Death will cause God’s hand to plunge down from Heaven and pull you out to Life.

One thing to remember: the way God saves is both for now and eternal.  For all eternity, you are pulled out of Death when you believe in Jesus.  For right now, God may let you still walk in the Shadow of Death but with your Savior at your side.

Why not just pull you out right now?  The answer isn’t hard to understand.  Long ago and ever after, we chose to sin, and so we live in the world we chose.  God honors our choice.  But, when the Savior is walking by your side, He can use even the worst times in the Shadow of Death to bring about things you couldn’t imagine . . even little things that could change someone’s life . . like writing about the Am I gonna make it? feeling so that others might be saved by Jesus.

If you believe in Jesus, you’re guaranteed to have times of valley in this life, not guaranteed not to have them.  But you’re also guaranteed that Jesus will walk with you through them and that you won’t live in them forever.  Did you hear that word?  Live.  That’s the difference.  When you know Jesus you live in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; you’re not dying there!

And one more thing: God will continue to work through earthly redemption your whole life.  Don’t shirk from the help of others.  God often shows us His love by introducing people in our lives who can help us when we’re most weak.

Recommended resources: You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado (book), Strong Enough by Tenth Avenue North (song)

Reach down from heaven and rescue me; rescue me from deep waters, from the power of my enemies. (Psalm 144:7, NLT)

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On Jaws and Failure

Great white shark

I never watched Jaws.  I don’t want to watch Jaws.  But I did see the beginning clip of the movie on TV several years back.  I’m not sure that I remember it all that correctly.  But here’s how I remember it.

An attractive girl is swimming in the waters.  She comes up for air, and there are underwater shots to let us know something terrible is going to happen.  We can see her legs kicking under the surface.  The depth looks like a black-blue bottomless pit.

We see her from above the water again, and suddenly she takes in a sharp breath.  A look of terror is on her face.  The ocean has betrayed her.  At the same instant, she goes down in the water, just a little, and we know something has tugged on her, because you can’t go down in the water feet first without momentum.

And then, before she has time to plan any strategy or even face that she is in her last moment, she plunges down.  We never see her again.

–Have you ever felt like you were down for your last plunge, caught off guard, struck helpless by surprise, not sure if there is any hope of getting back up again–or maybe sure there isn’t any?

I don’t know anyone who would seriously place odds that they could outlive a hungry shark in a tank.  No one in their right mind would volunteer to be thrown into the waters with such a shark, to see who would win out.  There’s no comparison between a 10-ton shark and a something-pound human.  There is no competition between a shark’s teeth and a human’s fists.

I would think the most terrifying moment would be going under.  There is no way anyone by human strength could fight back to the surface when a shark is pulling its prey down to the depths.

Maybe, though, the most terrifying moment is actually the last breath.

There have been a lot of people throughout history who have been lured into the ocean by temptation and dragged down to their last breath by their sin.  Judas is the most memorable example.  He called the shark upon himself, as we all do when we sin, and then found himself hopelessly sucked under by its power.  Seeing no way up, he committed suicide.

I think most people who commit suicide simply see the power of sin more clearly than we.  Would to God that we saw the seriousness of sin as they do, and would to God that they saw the grace of God as revealed in His Word.  For centuries, people who commit suicide have been harshly judged.  The great tragedy is that many who commit suicide are a great deal wiser than those of us who keep our lives until natural death ever will be on this earth, because those who are ready to commit suicide have seen the reality and ramifications of sin as we do not.  What we would call mental illness I see often as the crystal-clear clarity some have of the depths to which the shark can pull them.

Thousands throughout history have taken their last breath in this struggle, whether through suicide or illness or accident or murder.  Sometime or other, they gave up getting out of the sin that locked its jaws on their soul.  It is just more powerfully revealed in those who commit suicide, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there for all of us.  We are all startled by the power of sin, and we will all be dragged under for the last time by something beyond our ability to fight if we do not find salvation.  Powerless, hopeless, astonished, and terrified, we will die just as so many before us have died.

–David didn’t seem any different.  Once a man after God’s own heart, he had become a man after the heart of another’s wife.  Probably Satan had imagined if only he could seduce David into this kind of sin, he would be able to pull him under for the last time.

This wasn’t just the wife of any man.  This was the wife of a man with great integrity, very little means (at least compared to David, see Nathan’s analogy in 2 Samuel 12:1-14), and loyal to David to the nth degree.

Just to get David to sin in such a way would be the death sink.  Satan probably had hopes that the nation of Israel would not recover from their leader’s great sin, and God’s beloved people who be scattered, falling into the crevices and pits of sin everywhere that Satan had dug them.  That was something like the plan, I think.

But an opportunity came up that delighted Satan even more.  A chance to cinch the bite of sin on David’s life.  If the shark had been 10 tons before, Satan found a 100 ton shark of sin to sic on David.  How was this?  Satan discovered (or it may have been preplanned) that David had gone so far down the road, gotten so lost, and was so completely out of his relationship with God that he could actually be seduced to murder the man whose wife he had stolen.

Death, from this world’s perspective, is ultimate, permanent, and closes any opportunity to make restitution.  Whereas David could have made great apology to this man, fallen on his knees before him, and hoped to make some kind of life of forgiveness between the two of them . . all chance of that was gone as the curtain between the body and the soul was torn apart.  There was no going back.

And then came the conviction.

What a painful thing is conviction, especially over the worst of the sins we commit!  Easier a dagger to the heart.

Satan enjoys conviction, I think, to a point.  But he recognizes it can always lead to repentance, so it is extremely dangerous.  Satan wouldn’t-and couldn’t–bring conviction upon us, because he’s not righteous and it takes righteousness to do so.  But he can still enjoy the misery of a person who has fallen under the conviction of God.  I use “fallen under” because it really is a falling under.  Conviction is something like God lifting His hand in permission for the shark of our sin to drag us down, down, down, down, down.  It is Jonah in the monstrous, stink-smelling belly of the fish.  It is Judas throwing down the pittance of money that bought the crucifixion of Jesus.  It is David hearing from Nathan,

“You are that man!”

(2 Samuel 12:7b, NLT)

David’s journal (the Psalms he wrote) become outpours of deep, almost hopeless, sinking.  He was in bad shape, and he knew it.  There was no earthly way up.  He might as well have committed suicide as try to make things right.  Everything in his life was falling apart; it was as if the columns of his kingdom were falling down around him. How could he ask for mercy?  This was before the time of Christ.  There was no provision in the law for forgiveness of cold-blooded murder.  There was no sacrifice, no sacrifice, no matter how great, that David could offer before the Lord to be made right with Him once more.

The agony of this pours through the journal he left for us.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (Psalm 32:3, ESV)

Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;

my health is broken because of my sins.

My guilt overwhelms me—

it is a burden too heavy to bear.

My wounds fester and stink

because of my foolish sins.

I am bent over and racked with pain.

All day long I walk around filled with grief.

A raging fever burns within me,

and my health is broken.

I am exhausted and completely crushed.

My groans come from an anguished heart. (Psalm 38:3-8, NLT)

All day long my enemies taunt me;

those who rail against me use my name as a curse.

For I eat ashes as my food

and mingle my drink with tears

because of your great wrath,

for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.

My days are like the evening shadow;

I wither away like grass. (Psalm 102:8-11, NIV)

This is heavy duty anguish.  David is ruined.  Satan might as well be clapping his hands in glee.  The fight is over; sin has won.  David has nothing within himself he can do to make up for the sin.  He can’t work hard enough, pay back enough, do enough good to outweigh the bad.  He is ruined; he is ruined.  It is over.

“for God all things are possible.” (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 19:26c ISV)

David opens up his diary for the world in Psalm 32.

Happy is the person
whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person
whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.

When I kept things to myself,
I felt weak deep inside me.
I moaned all day long.
Day and night you punished me.
My strength was gone as in the summer heat.
Selah

Then I confessed my sins to you
and didn’t hide my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,”
and you forgave my guilt.
Selah

For this reason, all who obey you
should pray to you while they still can.
When troubles rise like a flood,
they will not reach them.
You are my hiding place.
You protect me from my troubles
and fill me with songs of salvation.
Selah

The Lord says, “I will make you wise and show you where to go.
I will guide you and watch over you.
So don’t be like a horse or donkey,
that doesn’t understand.
They must be led with bits and reins,
or they will not come near you.”

Wicked people have many troubles,
but the Lord’s love surrounds those who trust him.
Good people, rejoice and be happy in the Lord.
Sing all you whose hearts are right.

David, king of a nation, opened his diary for all to see the working of God.  Imagine a king or prime minister or president today publishing a book called something like, My Utter, Abysmal, Awful Failure: And the God Who Saved Me.  But that is something like what David did in writing Psalm 32 [1].

He was so confident in the love of God that he allowed his people to see his deep sink into sin.  He ends with

Sing all you whose hearts are right.

David’s heart was right.  In an instant, the shark keeled over and died, harpooned by a mysterious figure of the future.  This mysterious figure was working long before He was born into a stable in an overflowing city during an inconvenient government census.  But just like then, He chooses to work in the most real of circumstances.

He chose to be born not in a king’s palace during a time of glorious prosperity and peace, but instead in a lowly stable during a time of political unrest, corruption, and crucifixion.  And Jesus, the mysterious figure in David’s life, chooses to work even with David’s awful life.  I mean, let’s be honest–who would want to trade places with David right before the point God intervenes? Jaws wasn’t in the mind of Steven Spielberg yet, but David’s sin was an ever-present shark thirsting for his blood and pulling him further and further down, away from God’s Presence.

I imagine here a picture [2].  I see Jesus as the ultimate scuba diver, swimming to a depth no one else would dare go.  The pressure of the water is more than anyone else could bear, yet Jesus swims deeper, deeper, deeper.  Harpoon in hand, He swims right up to the shark, and the battle that ensues is nothing short of epic.  Tremendous.  Teeth cracking, flesh mangling.  Jesus, who would become so wounded by the effect of our sin that He was said to not even be recognizable as a human (see Isaiah 52:14).  And the shark, pierced to the heart and dethroned as the king of the deep.

Jesus comes in our darkest moments–yes, Jesus comes in our darkest moments and harpoons our greatest evil!  There is never, ever justification for you or me, whoever you are, whoever I am, to think all is lost and there is no reason to go on.  There is never, ever a reason for you or me to surrender to the shark.  The shark is ever-present, yes, but so–yes, so!–is Jesus.

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1b, NASB)

Is there any help?  You betcha there is!  The only reason anyone dies in the depths is because their last breath was taken in despair or delusion, rather than to cry out for the Son of God.

–God will not save you if you don’t want to be saved.  It is your shark; you have to want to get rid of it.

–God will not save me if I don’t want to be saved. It is my shark; I have to want to get rid of it.

–And I do!  I DO!!!!!!!!  Like David and every other person ever gripped in the locked jaws of sin, I cry out to God to save me.  And He does. He DOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ending to that scene in Jaws. . changes.

The girl still gives a gasp, still feels the initial jerk, still plunges under the surface of the water with no hope for return.

The silence tells the story of no hope.  It is such a long silence there is no reason to think it won’t be eternal.  The surface of the water gives no rustle of life.

It is so dark, so still.

And then, just as we are sure we have seen the end, something happens which utterly changes the whole scene.  As though thrown up from the depths–and as a matter of fact, this is just exactly what happened–the girl emerges, gasping for air.  Black water from the depths of the ocean runs down her hair and face as her mouth opens wide to breathe the sunlit air.  She blinks as her lungs expand once more; she can’t believe what she’s seeing.  The sun shines down on her pale face, and color, real, living color, begins to flush her cheeks.  Her eyes are wide, but in wonder, not fear, and then, true to horror movie form, the shark breaks the surface of the waters.

In all its horror, it thunders upon the surface of the water, a fearful wave created from the blow of its body.  Its full length is finally seen, its full weight, the magnitude of its presence, the hideous length of its countless teeth.

The shark is right by the girl, as close as it can be without touching her, and there is no doubt she will be ripped back down to the depth in greater fury then before.

But then, the viewer realizes something.

The girl is not screaming.

And the shark is not on its back, but on its belly.  Its jaws are on full display, but they are not biting.  Its eyes are wide open, but they are not set on her.  There is no dorsal fin to see.

The shark is dead as a doornail.

In regust–but not in fear–the girls begins to swim away from the ugly, floating corpse.  The implanted harpoon gleams in the sunlight.  She wipes her face of all the water of the deep, takes another big breath, and begins to swim for shore.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, you God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 51:14, AKJV)

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

(Lyrics from 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), by Matt Redman)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! (Psalm 146:1, ESV)

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[1] The collection of psalms are not placed in chronological order in the book of Psalms.  We might wonder at this, but, first of all, it’s very likely that the original hearer’s knew the events that occurred before psalms.  Certain psalms are marked with what events preceded them.  Hymn books are not sorted in chronological order, either, or some poetry compilations, and no one asks why this is.  Psalms, as poetry, lend themselves to a focus on themes other than chronology.

[2] The scuba diver analogy comes by God’s grace through C.S. Lewis’ diver analogy in Miracles.

I thank John Eldridge’s Epic for ideas in this blog.