This morning, I read these words: “My life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing” (Psalm 31:10 ESV). As a missionary doctor in one of Africa’s poorest corners, I identify deeply with these words. Nearly every day, I face extreme suffering, often in the form of a young and previously healthy person whose life is now threatened. I’m daunted by my own vocation to try and bring the life of Christ into a dying world. My efforts often fail, and the darkness often seems to overcome.
However, you don’t have to be a doctor in rural Africa to know this truth. Anyone who carries the light of Christ into the darkness of their world will be tempted to feel overwhelmed. If you take on such a vocation long-term, either cynicism or burnout can feel inevitable. How do we persevere? What we need is evidence that in some mysteriously unshakeable way, God’s purposes are going forward in the world around us. We need to remember that the Lord’s beautifully audacious promises are still true. But how?
We look for the Lord’s hand at work. This is harder than it seems because much of what the Lord is doing may be missed by our limited perspective and blunted wisdom. But here and there, we see something new and good, something beautiful and redemptive. My patient is unexpectedly recovering. Two family members that were deeply at odds with each other share a genuine smile. A troubled teenage son seems to be finally hitting his stride. A heart that long harbored anger towards God expresses gratitude for all He’s done. As Jesus promised, our Father is always at His work (John 5:17 NIV).
These are the points of light. Often, we might think of them as lit candles in a dark expanse. We are happy to see them, but the problem is that they are too few. Their scarcity robs us of sufficient encouragement. The darkness still seems to overcome. Even with an occasional candle, this world doesn’t look like the world of the Lord of light.
Yet these points of light are also promises. They serve as reminders that, if we can see God’s unexpected light in one situation, then maybe He is at work in other places that we cannot yet see. Let’s change our metaphor. Let’s say that the points of light are not candles, but they are instead pinpricks. The world is a vast dark curtain that is poked through here and there with these glimpses of God’s light. The darkness remains, but the smallest light betrays the broadest barrier. Yes, for now, all we see are tiny and occasional pinpricks. But there is light back there—lots of it. It is the light of day, and one day the curtain will be torn in two.
So, look for the manifestations of God in our dying world, wherever you find them. When you encounter something lovely or healed or long-awaited or gracious, celebrate these things. Testify about them to yourself and those around you. These are the evidences of the Lord’s hand at work. More than that, they are foretastes that point towards a day when all things will be made new. Come, Lord Jesus.
Psalm 34 is right that our lives are spent with sorrow. That is true, but it is not the end of the story. There is a marvel happening all around us, through us, and even in us. God tells his people that they will see its fulfillment. Thus we can join the psalmist when he says at the end to “be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 31:24 ESV)