There is a song that was popular at one point which has lyrics that go something like this: “What have you done for me lately?” The title is “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” The song, if I understand correctly, poses the question “What have you done for me lately?” It’s actually bemoaning a disintegrating relationship in which a previously considerate, attentive partner has slacked off and become selfish.*
I’ve come to realize that I sometimes live ahistorically. By this, I mean that I lose sight of where I have been and the process through which I’ve gotten here. I think of today’s challenges and struggles as in a vacuum.
I’m not going to take sides on Ms. Jackson’s song. She may have a reasonable complaint. But for those of us who follow Jesus and seek to treat others as we would have them treat us, this is dangerous territory.
C.S. Lewis wrote,
“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”
In this sense, we are not resting on our laurels, we are not assuming that we have so much faithfulness in the bank that we can slide. Relying on God is difficult because we don’t like to be dependent; it offends our pride. Of course, our pride needs to be offended, and badly. In fact, it needs to die, and it won’t go quietly.
This needs to be our mindset as we approach God each day: today, I need you. The guy who, in the A.A. meeting, said, “I pray every day to remember that I’m sick” got this.
So in this sense, faith begins new again each day. But in the sense Janet sings about, asking God what he’s done for us lately becomes dangerous ground very quickly.
Many years ago, my friend Jon recommended to me the practice of reading a Psalm or Proverb each day and cycling through them. Since that was about 30 years ago now, and since I actually managed to take that good advice (okay, almost every day), I’ve read the Psalms a lot. Over and over, the psalmist is struggling with his current reality which, in the King James version, sucketh, and then declares something like this:
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
You might say that a Lent series on encounters with God is simply this: remembering the deeds of the Lord. Telling about my Miracle Girl daughter is remembering your miracles of long ago.
Nevertheless, I struggle to keep this in mind.
When I get discouraged, rarely do I think, “Man, how many times has God picked me up when I’ve been discouraged? How did he do that again?” More often, I think something along the lines of, “Damn, I’m discouraged! Where are you, God?”
I think I tend to move toward a Jacksonian theology when this happens. “Sure, you used to be all that and show up when I needed you, but what have you done for me lately?” By lately, I mean within the last few hours.
Now, so as not to be too self-deprecating here, when the crisis comes, it’s hard to remember the past. The not-funny thing about pain is, it blurs everything except right now. When discouragement or depression or anxiety or despair hits, keeping a head above water becomes almost all we can handle. It feels like God moves very slowly and acts a bit deaf. I think that’s exactly why we have these Psalms: to teach us how to respond in our day of trouble.
This week I’ve been discouraged. This week, I’ve been severely discouraged. Is it internally or externally triggered? Rooted in reality or just my warped perception? I don’t know. I know when it hits like this, prayer becomes exceedingly difficult. The saying “When it’s hardest to pray, pray hardest” is sound wisdom but no easier to apply for being so wise.
When I felt the discouragement start to cascade upon my head, I asked God for a small sign I could see. I was not able to perceive any answer.** That made things harder because then I felt discouraged and had tried to pray and God seemed to be ignoring me. I’m not claiming this as an accurate theological or spiritual statement, but it’s what I experienced.
It took me two days to get my head above water again. During a prayer walk, I was discussing with God how I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t answer a simple prayer when it would have made such a huge difference to me. That’s when this struck me full force: I was angry at God because he hadn’t done for me lately. When I asked for an encouragement, I wanted a new one. God has sent me many encouraging signs in my life, and during our time in Nicaragua, and this calendar year.
But I wasn’t reviewing God’s faithfulness. I wasn’t remembering the deeds of the Lord. I felt like I was drowning so I wanted God to throw me a line. A reasonable request for a guy going down in the water. BUT, here is the key, I was only taking the line that I had in mind. That’s not how it felt, of course. Like I said, I felt God was ignoring me.
He hasn’t ignored me, though. I am committing to remembering. I am writing myself notes of remembrance. I am going to keep the deeds of the Lord closer at hand, so that when I feel myself slipping, I can grab onto them immediately, rather than when I am in drowning-guy-thrashing-around state.
There’s a bigger picture here, of course. Having an ahistorical faith is a serious threat to understanding our unity in Christ and our partnership as people of his Kingdom. Just as an example, I sometimes hear evangelicals reject “the Catholic church,” as a blanket statement. But how many centuries before the Reformation were they simply “The Church?” We do ourselves harm when we cut ourselves off from God’s faithfulness and his work throughout the life of our body. But this is a longer conversation and a post for another day. That’s the macrocosm.
Today, I am recalling that God, who is faithful to complete the good work he’s started in me–no small thing, that–has done a lot for me. A good bit of it, he’s done lately. I should probably write a song.
*Or a very spoiled partner doesn’t like not being spoiled anymore, take your pick.
**I could have missed whatever God might have sent me. Still, there I was.