I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but I was bitter at God. Although he never promised that I was entitled to tour the land of Europe, I thought he owed it to me. It was the center of my prayer life, “God, thank you for this offer for my punk band to tour Europe, please work out the details in our favor so that everything goes according to plan.”
Due to a passport hang up it didn’t happen. A similar opportunity presented itself a year later and also fell through because of the same issue. Perspective and clarity would come, but not overnight.
The fight of faith often goes many rounds and through them, we sustain heavy blows. Some to the lips which make it difficult to taste that the Lord is good through the metallic flavor of our own blood. Others pelt our eyes, blur our vision, and cause tears. Tears that make it difficult to see our enemy and anticipate his next move. Worse still, we can lose sight of Jesus, our coach, and comforter.
And lose sight I did. I tapped out of the fight of faith for a while, seemingly defeated.
Slammed Doors and Clenched Fists
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7, 8). While new to the faith at the time, I was familiar with these words of Jesus. At least familiar enough to misunderstand them and the God-man who spoke them.
“Why do you keep slamming this door in my face?” I’d ask him impatiently.
Over time, the answer would come. Long after I stopped praying—not just for the opportunity to tour, but for anything. I didn’t want God because he wouldn’t give me what I wanted. I asked and did not receive, because I asked wrongly, to spend it on my passions (James 4:3). But God was merciful and loving to pursue me in my bitterness.
A good father does not give his son a stone when he asks for bread or a serpent when he asks for fish to eat (Matt. 7:9, 10). But what about when his son is addicted and asks for more methamphetamine? Does the good father give him that? Or does he refuse and offer him something better?
While I didn’t see it at the time, the band I was in was my true god. It was an idol that I would serve and sacrifice for at all costs. God exposed my misplaced allegiance by closing doors that, if opened, would’ve led down a path of continual self-destruction and false worship.
God in My Corner?
During my season of bitterness for God’s refusal to open that door I would chastise God in my heart, “I thought you were in my corner? Why didn’t things go to plan?” What a shock when I realized he wasn’t in my corner. I wasn’t praying for his will to be done (Mt. 6:10), I was asking that God would establish my own will for my life. By seeking friendship with the world and its idols I had made myself God’s enemy (James 4:4).
I was double-minded, my lips worshipping Jesus while my heart had set its desires upon touring Europe at all costs. But he gave more grace (James 4:6) by allowing the idol to disappoint when it failed to deliver on its cruel promises. Once he granted me clarity of vision I decided to draw near him once again and purify my heart (James 4:8) of this idol-tyrant.
Getting clean from my unhealthy addiction to my music platform meant going through withdrawal and all its pain, but God would comfort and guide me.
After the season in which I ignored the fight of faith—distracted by the petty offerings of this world—I returned to the ring only to realize that the blood in my mouth and tears in my eyes had distorted my perception of reality. Jesus was not in my corner, instead, he was wearing the gloves. I had foolishly gotten in front of him and attempted to oppose him.
The only thing I have to show for my time chasing the idol of punk rock “fame” is a tattoo of my former band’s logo. Like Jacob’s hip it is a reminder that I wrestled with God and lived (Gen. 32:28). Though my prayers were selfish and misguided, God met me in the struggle. Later I tattooed, “sing a new song” below it to commemorate the song sung in paradise by the redeemed (Rev. 14:3). There we will celebrate Jesus’ victory on our behalf. Not over our idols, but over the due consequence we deserve for choosing them over him.
Where Adam was defeated in the first round in a beautiful garden, Jesus went forty rounds on an empty stomach in the desert. Then returning to a garden, Jesus began the final battle. It was long and in a moment of darkness it seemed as if Jesus were defeated. For three days death celebrated a KO. But it celebrated prematurely. For on the third day Christ rose from death and stood triumphant over it on behalf of all who would trust in him.
While our idols may bruise and bloody us, it is our own deceitful hearts (Jer. 17:9) that lead us astray. The due consequence of this is death, the enemy that Jesus defeated once and for all. We may get mixed up with our role in this fight. Even, at times, opposing God while thinking we’re on his side (Mt. 16:23). Jesus simply says, “Get behind me. I will fight for you.”
The idols we fight against, even though dead (1 Cor. 8:4), aren’t meant to be fought. Instead, we’re commanded to flee them (1 Cor. 10:14). Our real and last enemy is death (1 Cor. 15:26). But Jesus exhibits his victory over this foe (1 Cor. 15:57).
God never promised me a chance to tour Europe. I asked him for it, but being the loving father that he is, he gave me something better: himself (Jn. 3:16).