Trouble and Sin Make Life Small

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Confined.

Squashed.

Cramped.

This is the reality trouble and sin create. They take a big life and make it small. They take a free soul and strangle it.

It may be your sin, or the sin of others around you. It may be trouble you have caused, trouble others have brought on you, or simply the trouble that comes with living in a busted world. In any case, life was diminished when humanity first turned away from God, and our lives get smaller when we turn away from Him today.

Like a python wrapping around its prey – slowly extinguishing life – is the effect of our turning away from God. Trouble and sin squeeze and suffocate us. Take these examples:

Anxiety. Have you noticed how your life shrinks when you try to handle it on your own? Your view is narrowed. Your main focus becomes what you’re anxious about and how you can prevent what you’re dreading. You have God on the bench while you tackle this trouble. And you either withdraw from those around you or your conversations all circle around what you’re anxious about. It can sneak up on you because anxiety presents as logical and urgent. But can you see how it makes your world smaller? You’ve disconnected from people and God. There’s just you and your anxiety. If you keep going in this direction your world will become intolerably small (some of you know what this is like). You will end up being crushed under the weight of your fear.

Temptation provides another opportunity to turn away. Take that one temptation you just can’t seem to resist. The one you have a weak spot for. You allow yourself to be deceived, and find multiple good reasons why you should give in, forgetting the pain you experienced last time. Even when you do wrestle to resist, temptation seems like it’s closing in. It can feel claustrophobic. Giving in might even seem to bring temporary relief. But your life has shrunk down to you and your temptation. The only thing that matters is getting what you want. Even all your efforts to deny yourself… it still comes down to you. It’s all about you.

Or maybe you have an enemy. Someone out to get you. They plot against you and look for your weaknesses until they find the chink in the armour, then they go for it. They drive in hard and it hurts. Or maybe your enemy is long gone. They did their dastardly act decades ago, but in so many ways it’s not over for you. You still think about it. You still feel it. You relive it over and over. You remember the pain and vow never again. You go about setting up your life to avoid it. And as you do that, your life gets smaller. Or maybe you decide you need to square things up – to get revenge. And without knowing it, the purpose of your life is overcome by the need to get them back. Justice, you say! But what’s really happening is your life is shrinking. As you pitch yourself against your perceived opponent, you make it about you. You giving them their just desserts. You dealing out justice, to your satisfaction.

Someone who knew trouble and felt it strangling the life out of him was David.

You can see this in Psalm 18:

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. Psalm 18:4–5

Do you know this kind of trouble? The kind that won’t let up and isn’t easily shaken. It seems stuck on. You’re in its clutches and the more you wriggle and try to fight your way out, the deeper you go and the smaller your world gets. You’re no longer the wonderful person made in God’s image. Not a full orbed human anymore. Just a contorted miniature version. You are like a mime artist – stuck in a box no one can see – constrained and limited.

So, how do you get out? You need to be rescued. You need an outside source to come in and rescue you. An outside source that can put you in a spacious place. Here is how David experienced God’s help:

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:16–19

So, how do you get out of a tight, small place?

  1. You cry out to God (v3,6). This is the beginning of the end of a constricted life. This is the beginning of freedom. Crying out to God is what happens when you lose hope in your resources. As soon as you cry out to Him your world gets bigger – even before God has done anything! Now you are operating in the court of heaven. Like a little brother who goes and tells his big brother about how another kid at school is bullying him. Nothing has happened yet, but notice all the same, the world has become much bigger. There is hope now – someone who can do something knows about it. Something is about to happen.

  2. You take refuge in God (v1-3). He is not some impersonal strength, rock, fortress, deliverer, shield, horn of salvation, and stronghold. He is: my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my shield, my horn of salvation, and my stronghold. God will enter your personal trouble in a specific way. He won’t settle for being a stranger or even acquaintance. You have to let Him close. You have to make it personal. So, stop hiding in false comfort (He is better than that), chip away at anxiety (there is more hope than that), and resist revenge (He is more just than that). You don’t need to be the prime mover here. He is well able to fill that role in your life.

  3. You look for God’s rescue (v7-19). You need to be a little careful with this one. When we think rescue, we tend to think about Hollywood style rescue. Lots of pyrotechnics and a flashy hero. God can and does do that from time to time. But if the appearance of Jesus on the stage of history (the greatest hero ever) is anything to go by, then we need to be careful what we are looking for. It’s not that He doesn’t rescue in a flashy way, it’s just that it is not normal for him. God rescues us in a way that is best. Best for us, our soul and character, in His eyes. God’s rescue is more like chess than it is like New Year’s Eve fireworks. Sometimes we need fireworks, but deep soul work is generally slow and steady. Picture him playing chess, constantly moving the chess pieces of this world around, constantly orchestrating ordinary things so that: you can endure that temptation, you can be pulled out of trouble, you can be reminded of who he is, you don’t lose hope. A scripture here, an encouraging text there, a timely resignation, another ‘coincidence’ … the unseen hand.

So … don’t settle for a life that is small and suffocating - cry out to God, take refuge in Him, and keep your eyes peeled for His sweet work.

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by Peter Sondergeld