I grew up on the music of Billy Joel. His collection of songs makes up the soundtrack of my youth, and I love putting his music on in the background when I’m doing stuff around the house. It really does take me back to a good time in my life.
I was doing that today and his song The Stranger came on the playlist. I’ve listened to the song a thousand times, but today I listened to it for the first time from a completely different perspective.
Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on
As a Christ follower, I do believe we’re engaged in spiritual warfare every day. Our lives are in the middle of a combat zone, and we’re caught between God’s love and mercy, and the wretchedness of the enemy who will do anything to keep us away from Him. It seems like a no-brainer, right? Who wouldn’t want to be with God? But if there’s one advantage the enemy has it’s that he operates on a plain of existence that’s easily visible to our human brains (and bodies).
I struggle every day with setbacks. From the things I see to the things I do, I know they don’t honor God, but I do them anyways. Why? Because they feel good or provide instant gratification or because they’re easy and fit so comfortably into my pattern of lazy. I truly believe laziness, comfort, and convenience are all tools used by the enemy to distract us and keep us away from God. A perfect example is my being to lazy to set my alarm on Saturday night and oversleeping on Sunday morning, thus missing the opportunity to go to church. As they say, the devil is in the details.
I know the man I want to be, the man I am trying to be. I see the vision of myself five to ten years from now, living and working in a foreign country, calling God’s will my career. I then try to juxtapose that with the person I am now, with the stranger that lives inside me. The guy who still feels the impulse to flip off the idiot in traffic. The guy who has a Masters degree in the use of the F-word in conversation. The guy who struggles with thoughts of lust and sinful desires (darn you, yoga pants!).
Though you drown in good intentions
You will never quench the fire
You’ll give in to your desire
When the stranger comes along
Yet even though the daily battles are real, it’s still about the journey and the process of walking in faith with Jesus. God provides so many opportunities and tools along the way to remind me of where I need grow, and to guide me in that direction. Just today I came across this article in Relevant Magazine. It was very thought provoking for me, and my takeaway was how we’re all called to be patient with each other, specifically in the context of social media and Internet comments. This is most definitely an area in which I fail daily.
The culture of hot takes and instant Facebook statuses isn’t exactly conducive to the idea of being “slow to speak and slow to become angry,” but it does provide an opportunity to show grace, humility and kindness. We can demonstrate that the way of the Gospel is different than the way of the world by not being quick to respond with biting takedowns every time something happens that “offends” us.
Then I received an email from my friend. In it, he detailed his recent struggles and how he’s closer to God as a result. My friend’s troubles are real and serious. They’ve cost him a lot, both financially and emotionally. It was a sobering reminder of how blessed I am, and why there’s no reason for me to not overcome my burdens when I see what he’s done (and continues to do) to overcome his. The summary excerpt of his message is below.
This entire experience has reminded me that God can work in our lives. We need to understand that He knows what’s best, and trust Him. I pray daily that God helps me avoid situations and feelings that would tempt me … . I am at peace with what happened, and know that God will get me through the rest of what I need to deal with. … When it’s time, God will provide. I know this now. I’m not happy about it but I understand what I need to do, and I know that I’m not alone. And, the reality is that what I have far, far outweighs what I don’t have – God, family, love, friends, and faith. With these things, I am able to face anything.
The word’s to Billy Joel’s song and from my friend’s email are a reminder of our human nature. We’re imperfect beings loved unconditionally by a perfect God. We will fall and He will pick us up. We will fail and he will forgive us. We will be broken and He will transform us into something beautiful.
Though He may seem, to us, like a stranger at times, God knew us and loved us before He created us. He is intimacy and He is love. When the weight of the battle feels like too much, all we have to do is surrender it to Him, the one who’s been there from the start, and will always be by our side.