Written by Adam Brown
Last fall, I traveled to Budapest, Hungary to study abroad for three and a half months. While I was in Budapest, I traveled to different places in Europe on the weekends and tried to do anything but study (don’t tell my mom). Instead of study textbooks, I tried to learn through experiences. I had amazing experiences seeing different cities and landscapes that I never thought I would ever get to see. However, I also had some not-so-great experiences that taught me a great deal about myself. It wasn’t until recently that I was reflecting on both the good and the bad that I realized that all the chaos that surrounded me from day one was extremely beneficial for me. Not only did I come away from the trip knowing what kind of chaos I can handle, but I also learned to understand how I turned that chaos into order for three and half months and beyond.
I identified three different levels of chaos through my travels. Those who have traveled before may be able to relate, and those who haven’t may get an idea of what it might be like. The first level of chaos was my physical and everyday life. I was no longer in a country where I spoke the native language. I was surrounded by different foods, sights, sounds, smells, currencies etc. I was thrown into a city that I didn’t fully understand historically, nor did I understand the way of life of the native Hungarians. This process was started over again every time our group traveled to a different country on the weekends, which actually became quite physically and mentally exhausting.
The second level of chaos was a little deeper: my relationships. I was thousands of miles from family, friends and fellowship. Luckily, technology allows for long-distance calling and Skyping, but it’s still not the same. I met new people from foreign countries and had to rely on my own intuition to make it through those situations. It was a very exhilarating, but chaotic experience to make new connections and have no physical contact with the people I was comfortable with. The experience of creating relationships with people that have vastly different cultural, lingual, and geographic presuppositions was a much different experience than I could have imagined. I would like to point out that this chaos could have been worse except my good friend and roommate of the previous two years, Nick, studied abroad with me also.
The last level of chaos I experienced took about three months of reflection to fully explore: my emotions. The emotions I felt on my trip were unlike emotions I had ever experienced before. My emotions ranged from different forms of happiness to different forms of sadness to the overarching feeling of just being uncomfortable (Note: the term ‘uncomfortable’ typically holds a negative connotation, but in this sense it is neither bad or good – just a state where I had never been before). I tried to write down the feelings I was having at different times throughout my trip, so I could explore them when I was back in the U.S. After I thought about them for a few months I realized how much my range of emotion had grown while I was abroad.
I mention the three levels of chaos I experienced during my study abroad trip because it was exactly this chaos that made my experience so beneficial. The order I found after dissecting each of these levels has proven exponentially helpful to me in my daily life. It made me think about the important pieces of my life and how I wanted to apply what I learned in the real world. It was important for me to identify the chaos, so I could utilize that information and turn it into something positively useful. Likewise, there is another level of our lives filled with chaos that has been graciously turned to order; our spiritual life.
The spiritual chaos in our lives is painfully obvious, but we cannot see it on our own. We need God’s Law to point it out. God’s Law points out our failures and tells us directly that we have sinned, and we deserve to suffer eternally in hell for our disobedience. That is exactly what the devil wants – for us to suffer eternally. Satan is continuously filling our lives with chaotic temptations with the intent of breaking us down, so we will forego our personal responsibility as the creation of God: to use our God-given talents to glorify Him in our thoughts, words and actions. This is clearly evident from when the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness following His baptism. After 40 days and nights of fasting, Jesus was approached by “the tempter”. He was given three opportunities to relinquish His personal mission of fulfilling God’s Word by living a perfect life to save us all from our deserved suffering in hell. However, Jesus recognized what the devil was trying to do and dismissed him by pointing back to God’s Word by beginning His reply three times with, “It is written . . .” (Matthew 4:1-11 NKJV). Even after fasting for forty days and being confronted by Satan, Jesus was able to organize the chaos around Him and turn it to order through the power of God’s Word. This is our perfect example of how to live and glorify God.
All too often when we are tempted, though, we take the exact opposite approach. Instead of living to fulfill our personal responsibility, we follow our sinful earthly desires. We follow the example of Thomas who doubted Christ’s resurrection until he was not only able to see, but touch the physical evidence. We follow the example of Peter who denied Jesus three times after Jesus’ arrest in fear of also being taken captive. We follow the example of Judas who betrayed Jesus for merely 30 pieces of silver.
Matthew 26:41: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus tells us specifically to watch and be aware of the temptations of this world and pray to God for help in defeating the tricks of the devil. Through God’s Law we know what is required of us, but so often we consciously choose to ignore it and follow the desires of our sinful flesh. Our sin blinds us, and we cannot even watch for temptation without the help of God. We constantly need to be praying for God to open our eyes to 1) see the temptation around us and 2) continually ask God to forgive and strengthen us. Nevertheless, the most satisfying and comforting part about our Lord and Savior is that instead of waiting for us to find Him, He willingly comes to us through His Word and gives us the answer to turn our spiritual chaos into heavenly order.
The answer that God reaches down to us with is His Son, Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate gift of God because He is the purification of everything that we are, and He is the fulfillment of everything we cannot be. He is fully man who encountered the same temptations we face, yet He is fully God who conquered all temptation, lived a perfect life and suffered the consequences that should rightfully be the burden of sinners alone. It is by the absolute grace of God that He sent a replacement for our dreadful mistakes, that Jesus took the blame for our conscious disobedience, and that God reserved a place for us in heaven.
During the Last Supper Jesus tell his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus was reminding his remaining disciples, though they may be confused about the future, that He was the only answer they would need to find eternal peace after His earthly departure. We, too, can find joy and peace in this statement (and in Jesus’ entire speech to his disciples at the Last Supper) because Jesus is presenting an answer to all our chaotic questions about our limited time on earth. He is the way. The only path we will ever need. He is the truth. The only truth that will eternally set us free. He is the life. Best explained by Jesus, Himself, when he spoke to Martha near Lazarus’ grave, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. . .” (John 11:25-26).
God’s grace is not just a mere comfort in times of sadness or tribulation, either. His grace is abounding in and around us every single day, through all our experiences – good and bad. The comfort in His unconditional love is that He is always there to help us, hear our prayers, and is quick to forgive us when we have acknowledged our failure.
The chaos in our lives is evident on every level of our existence, it just needs to be identified. Whether you’re going to school, working through your career, starting a family, travelling the globe etc., there is always room to find and establish order. More importantly, our spiritual lives are constantly being attacked and bombarded with temptations from the Tempter. As is the case with our earthly lives, we need to identify our spiritual chaos through God’s Law and listen to His Gospel to turn that chaos into heavenly order. We pray that God would send His Holy Spirit to strengthen us and keep us steadfast in His Word until life everlasting. Amen.