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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 141
August 2002

THE MIDDLE TIME


 

DOLDRUMS

Back in the days when the United States was a military presence in Vietnam, I was one of about a thousand sailors aboard the cruiser U.S.S. Chicago--a flag ship running a circuitous route around the Gulf of Tonkin. Being a teenager from the land-locked state of Iowa, I was a stranger to the rolling, flip-flopping acrobatics that even a large warship can experience on the high seas.

A military ship is not a luxury ocean liner filled with paying customers. The government does not spend a lot of money on stabilizers intended as a digestive aid during high seas. The green-gilled swabby is expected to get used to eating from a tray that is trying desperately to fly across the room, and to learn how to walk with a curious rolling gait through passageways that are tipping and rolling from side to side.

But odder still were those infrequent days when the vast ocean was strangely calm, its surface utterly flat. With the top of the liquid depths as smooth and still as a linoleum floor, it felt as if the massive warship was nothing more than a toy boat sitting in a vast, empty room. The eerie calm was as unnerving as the silence of a vast desert roaring in the ears. Had we been on a sailing ship, we would have been helpless to move an inch. It was, in its barren vastness, quite claustrophobic.

In nautical parlance it's called the "doldrums"--a word that has been borrowed to describe that flat, sluggish, unproductive feeling that most humans experience from time to time. In Spiritual terms it can describe a period of listless separation from God--a feeling of "He no longer cares, so why should I," or that God has simply become irrelevant for the moment. Our mind becomes sluggish and dispirited, our thoughts rooted to the soil, rather than soaring with the eagle.

When we are there--and we all will be--the remedy is nearer than we think, for the Lord never steps away from His children. He is as near as a loving, attentive dad who remains always nearby to pick up his child and encourage, and comfort, and to wipe away every tear.

 

REVIVE US AGAIN

As summer lazily extends itself through July and into August, everything around us seems to slow down. Most of the birds have had their families, and have either moved on--or at least are enjoying a break from filling the gaping, voracious beaks of the young. The deer have had their fawns, and are now patiently conducting them into an exploration of their new lives. The turtles in the pond do little more than sun themselves, and even the excitable, hardworking chipmunks have slowed their pace.

Many of the growing things have shifted into neutral as well. After the vigorous growth of the spring and early summer, the trees and bushes now look much the same day after day. And, while changes are taking place, the garden will appear much the same tomorrow as it does today. The potatoes are established, the tomatoes have filled their supporting cages, and the vine crops have laid out their overwhelming growth to cover the soil.

Even the lawn has slowed its growth. The heavy rains we received this morning would have, in the spring, excited luxuriant growth, and would have required mowing every few days. But now, during the lazy middle days of summer, the grass takes its sweet time to reach such a height.

In the springtime of our relationship with the Lord, there is excited, luxuriant growth. We look forward to time spent with Him. We open His word with eager anticipation, hungry for His counsel. There is a powerful, almost overwhelming desire to love Him, to serve Him.

But as springtime moves into summer, and summer begins its slow descent into autumn, the pace of the relationship slows. Our early fervor diminishes, it becomes easier to go days without seeking the Lord's counsel, and the obligations of this age re-exert their claim on our time and affections. We search harder for the words to our prayers, and our ears become less attuned to His voice.

In the summer of our relationship with God, it is easy to think that the growth has stopped--that because the rains have diminished and the heat has caused us to stop looking up, we must settle for the monotonous plateau on which we find ourselves.

But if we think of that relationship in terms of a lifetime, instead of a solitary year, we come to realize that while there will indeed be the slower seasons of summer and autumn, there will just as surely follow the bracing rush of winter and the glorious new growth of the spring.

We don't spend just one year with the Lord; we spend a lifetime-- indeed, an eternity. And while we will surely experience summers in which we become sluggish and lazy, to accept that condition as the inevitable norm is to deny that springtime will occur again.

 

DROWNING

When I was a very little boy the municipal swimming pool in my hometown was a huge and imposing ocean of chlorinated water. Revisiting that dilapidated container in Riverview Park as an adult, I can see that it was barely larger than a typical backyard pool, but as a boy its waters seemed to stretch to the horizon.

One day those waters got the better of me. I could not swim, but I could walk on the bottom. So, spying an older friend who was swimming the circumference of the pool, I pursued, safely trudging after them as they rounded the shallow end, then headed for the opposite end, where the diving boards were. Intent on the pursuit, I failed to notice that the water was deepening, and in moments I was beneath the waves, struggling for air.

Even after the decades that have passed since that incident, I can still feel the claustrophobic sensation of being immersed in that smothering cocoon--of being utterly surrounded by something unfriendly, cut off from all sound and life--giving air. But then, after what seemed an eternity, a strong hand reached down into my watery grave and yanked me up and out onto the safety of dry land. Just when all seemed lost, my dad reached down into my abyss, and pulled me to safety.

There are days when God seems not to exist. There are days when it seems there must be a thick, iron canopy arched above the clouds, blocking any two-way communication between earth and heaven. And there are days when, though He does still exist, God just doesn't seem to care about our mournful entreaties.

How shortsighted we have become in this age of instant news, instant food, and instant gratification. How short-tempered we have become to expect God to adjust His schedule to ours, to expect Him to realize how terribly busy we are, so would He please just take care of this one simple matter of answering our prayer! I mean, how hard can it be?

Immersed in the watery grave of a smothering, narcissistic world, we can feel, at times, utterly cut off from our heavenly Father. But we cannot escape the hard truth of His sovereign will. What good is there in calling upon a God who does only our bidding? That would not be a god, but a marionette. The truth of living is found in the waiting, in the dependency, in the strong arm that ultimately reaches down into our abyss and draws us up to safety.

 

BREATHING FREE

About twelve years ago, when we were preparing to leave southern California to move back to our home state of Iowa, more than one person questioned our sanity in leaving the land of perpetual sun for the backwater of five-foot snow drifts. My reply was always the same: I love the snow, and the different seasons of the Midwest; the one thing I hate, however, is the summer humidity.

I recall the humidity of the Philippines, back in 1970 when I was touring the South Pacific islands courtesy of the United States Navy. Because our ship was sort of air conditioned, a swabby could ready himself for liberty in relative comfort: showering and putting on the freshly starched whites in preparation for hitting the sights and sounds of Olongapo City, just outside the gates of the Subic Bay Naval Station. Scrubbed and pressed, I would bound up the ladder, throw open the hatch--and immediately be wilted down to a sweat-drenched wad of cotton by the oppressive humidity of that fair land.

Sometimes, during the periods of summer humidity in Iowa, I wax nostalgic for the relative comfort of the Philippines.

We've been living with these clammy, breath-sucking, sweltering conditions for most of this summer. During such periods, the heavy, wet air makes oxygen a rare commodity and the water cooler a popular one. Tools slip from one's hand from the sweat running down the arm; salty drippings blind the eyes. All together, I'd rather have root canal, thank you.

But this morning we awoke to the clean fresh delight of dry, cooler air. How wonderful to once again throw open the windows, to be greeted by sweet morning air devoid of the oppressively thick wetness--to once again hear the birds and frogs and crickets, rather than the monotonous drone of the air conditioner. We could breathe again!

And that fresh, drier air felt very much like the happy freedom of praise.

The world with its transient pleasures eventually sucks away all our joy. It wraps itself around us, suffocating our hope as if with a wet woolen blanket on a miserably hot day. It lies heavy on the lungs, whispering temptations into the ear, while it sucks out any remaining happiness, freedoms, and expectations for release.

But when we throw off the world and its sickly-sweet enticements, and return to the open arms of our forgiving Savior, suddenly the weight of oppression is lifted. The air is once again clean and bright, and filled with the sweet sounds of heavenly praise.

And we can breathe again!


 


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Issue No. 141
August 2002

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Aspects is Copyright © 2002 David S. Lampel.

Permission is hereby granted for this original material to be reprinted in newsletters, journals, etc., or to be used in spoken form. When used, please include the following line: "From Aspects, by David S. Lampel. Used by permission." Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (Updated Edition), Copyright © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission. Where indicated, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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