Our last two Sunday sermons have been about The Hole in Your Soul. In the first, I used Psalm 42 to talk about the fact that all of us seem to have some feeling of emptiness inside that we aren’t able to fill. In the second, Pastor Connie used Psalm 63 to remind us that this a “God-shaped hole”* and only he can ultimately satisfy us.
I think you vibrated with both these truths from your own experiences: you have first-hand knowledge of that gnawing feeling of emptiness, and you’ve learned over years of trying this-and-that solution that nothing in your earthly experience can cure this. But what do you do now? Should you just spend more time reading the Bible, praying, going to church and doing other spiritual things? Well, Pastor Connie made it clear that the basic challenge is to stop focusing inward, on the hole, and to turn your attention elsewhere, meanwhile, having faith that God will do the filling. Maybe the best “elsewhere” for you to turn your attention is the needs of other people around you.
My wife Judith came to me with this illustration. She and other women at ABC have been sharing books that inspire them, and they’ve recently read Pearl of China, a book about the life of Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973). Pearl grew up in the home of a very zealous and severe Southern Presbyterian missionary in China. Her mother never felt the same call, but she wanted to be an obedient wife and tried to support him in all he did. But the life she left behind in America, and especially the distance from her family, left her with a sense of inner emptiness. When her three youngest children all died from a tropical disease because her husband refused to cancel an important missions trip to get them medical attention, the hole within her became deeper and wider. On top of the loss of her children, she had to deal with the loss of love for her husband and a diminished trust in God. Understandably, she became very depressed.
In a biography of her mother entitled The Exile, Pearl Buck describes how she found a way to turn her intense feelings from inward to outward — toward others. First, she invested love, protection, values, motivation and education in her remaining four children, ensuring their best possible start in life. Then, she developed a sensitivity for the poor and hurting Chinese families around their home, providing for immediate needs and also advocating for more humane social policies. In time, the Chinese people in the area of their missionary work began to believe that she had done more to communicate the gospel through her loving deeds than her husband had through his theologically profound preaching.
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Here are some Scriptures that will help you change your focus from inward-oriented to outward-oriented:
You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)
A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. (Luke 16:13-16)
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.(Proverbs 19:37)
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Luke 6:38)
I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35)
— Pastor George Van Alstine
* This concept seems to have originated with 17th century mathematician/theologian Blaise Pascal: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each person which cannot be satisfied by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”
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Pastor George took this picture of Desiree and Kathe Zamorano (daughter and mother) at last Friday’s “Lights for Liberty” demonstration in Altadena, protesting the treatment of children and separation of families at the U.S./Mexico border. (The sign says “Compassion Not Cages.”) The two of them are personally involved in advocacy for Daniela, a Venezuelan women who is being held at Adelanto Detention Center. They are filling the hole in their lives by helping to fill the big hole in Daniela’s life.
We’re trying to schedule an informal meeting in the next few weeks where we can have Kathe and Desiree share with us about the important work they’re doing with individual refugees. Look for information in next week’s Messenger.