“One bold message in the Book of Job is that
you can say anything to God.
Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt,
your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment
He can absorb them all.
As often as not,
spiritual giants of the Bible
are shown contending with God.
They prefer to go away limping,
rather than to shut God out.”
from Disappointment With God
by Philip Yancey
When these words first sunk in, they were liberating for me.
I was taught that we should always be reverent toward God because, well…He’s GOD.
We make requests – respectfully.
And we thank Him.
No yelling or complaining or whining or blaming – that would be DISrespectful.
But I’ve realized my holding back in prayer was the equivalent of holding my hands over my face like a little kid playing hide and seek who thinks nobody can see him because his face is covered up.
There’s no authentic relationship when there’s holding back.
Telling God everything – expressing bitterness, revealing and exploring doubt and even angrily listing for Him all the reasons something isn’t fair – was strange at first.
I tell God everything I’m thinking and feeling. He can take it. Because He’s GOD. Besides, He already knows what I’m really thinking anyway. Sometimes even when I don’t. Sometimes I discover what I’m really thinking and feeling when I’m right in the middle of telling Him.
I’ve been posting memory verses on facebook for a few weeks now, a new verse starting every Sunday. Every day, I post an new image from pinterest and sometimes write a short commentary on the verse. We’ll find out how consistent I am, both on facebook and now here on my blog. Here’s the first post for this week:
I don’t know about you, but when there’s a problem, I want to fix it.
Whether the problem is mine or someone else’s, the most frustrating thing in the world is when I am powerless to change circumstances for the better. But what is better? Who am I to decide that? Who are you?
We can be so arrogant in our pain sometimes, thinking a loving God wouldn’t – couldn’t possibly – want or use this circumstance to accomplish His omniscient understanding of “better.”
The first image for this week’s #memoryverse reminds me of a story. I’ll paraphrase, so if you’ve heard it before, bear with me. A young man asks God what He wants him to do with his life. God tells him that every day, he is to go and push a giant rock at the bottom of a valley nearby. For twenty years, the man pushes the rock. All. day. long. After twenty years (I would have lasted a day), the man finally cries out in frustration “God, I’ve done EXACTLY what You’ve told me to do for TWENTY years and that rock hasn’t even moved a fraction of an inch!” God looks at the man with compassion and replies, “I didn’t ask you to MOVE the rock. I only asked you to push it. Look at your arms. Your legs. Look at your body. Look at how strong you’ve become.”
oh. I didn’t consider that.
The promise of Isaiah 66:9 tells us “‘In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,’ says the Lord.”
Are you suffering and all your efforts feel as futile as pushing against a giant rock all day long? The rock may not be moving, but REMEMBER.
It’s possible, that in His sovereign will, God may have placed that rock in your life. He may have just allowed Satan to throw a rock at you. Regardless of the source of the rock, there is peace that comes from the confidence that God is redeeming every pain for ULTIMATE “better.”
Sometimes, He uses rocks to make us stronger.
While I don’t claim to know what God’s “better” is with regard to the circumstances of your life, I can say with confidence that, above everything else that’s going on in your life, His “better” is that you will be drawn closer to Him and that through an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Jesus, you will be transformed. I pray this confidence and peace for you today.
“Courage, dear heart.” Aslan
Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment— he can absorb them all.
As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God.
They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out.
In this respect, the Bible prefigures a tenet of modern psychology: you can’t really deny your feelings or make them disappear, so you might as well express them. God can deal with every human response save one. He cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively: an attempt to ignore him or treat him as though he does not exist.
That response never once occurred to Job.”
“A friend of mine is a singer. From time to time she goes to record vocal tracks at a studio here in town. One evening she went and she was in a different room than she had ever been in before. In a studio, there is always some form of sound absorbing material, so that the recording is clean and clear, but in this case the sound materials were unique. The guys in the studio called them “trees” because instead of being attached to the walls, the whole room was full of these sound absorbing columns. My friend would stand on her mark, and they would move the columns around her, surrounding her with the trees. Well at one point, the lights went out and if she hadn’t already been on her mark, she would not have known where she was, and would have been bumping into the “trees,” and unable to find her mark. Because her feet were planted before it got dark, she felt secure and confident, she just had to wait until the lights came back on. Do you see where I’m going with this? There will be struggles in this life. You will have suffering, and loss, and confusion. But the question is not “where are the trees,” but “where are your feet?” If you understand that Christ has made a way for you to be in the presence of God both now (through the Holy Spirit), and in the end (in the New Heavens and New Earth); if you cultivate a relationship with his Holy Spirit–becoming ever-more aware of his daily, constant presence with you; if you worship in light of these truths–knowing that God is here in Christ’s name, and if all of this seeps down into your heart, then when the lights go out you’ll be on your mark, you’ll be secure and confident, and you just have to wait until the lights come back on–in this life, or in glory.”
by Curtis Froisland
[to read my version of this story, CLICK HERE]
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Father, thank you for turning the lights out. again. Thank you for stripping away all the tangible, visible things that had become a stumbling block in my pursuit of an intimate relationship with You. Only You know the extent to which the extraction of those things rocked my faith and shattered my confidence. Even though these last 5 months have been the darkest of my life and I may never fully understand them, I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned. Thank you for striking me full in the face with the reminder that if I sincerely want the intimacy with You that I say I do, I have to be willing to be vulnerable. Transparent. I need to wholly surrender to Your sovereign plan. Thank you for helping me to find peace in the process and result of letting go of my own dreams and plans. Please help me find sustaining and true joy in trusting You and following You NO MATTER WHAT. Please, please help me find that fine line between dying to self and being a good steward of the gifts You bless me with. Please help me to relentlessly pursue my passions without allowing them to become idols. Please help me to overcome my fear and determination to NEVER put my love for them above my love for You ever again and to boldly “go and make disciples” in every single area of my life. Help me to step forward even though I know one of those steps could result in disobedience and discipline. again. Please help me to remember that pruning is necessary in order that I “bear much fruit. Thank you for helping me to understand Your silence doesn’t mean You’ve left me alone in in the dark.”
“You move in the unseen. You set the captives free. As I stand and sing, you’re breaking the chains off me. Breathe in me Your life, I can feel You are close now. I can never hide You are here and You know me. All I need is You
And I love You…Breathe in me Your life ’til Your love overtakes me. Open up my eyes, let me see You more clearly.”
by Bones (Live) by Hillsong
specifically, providence and coincidence.
coincidence: the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection
I can’t ever remember believing in coincidences. My husband on the other hand, is a big believer in them. He believes some things – LOTS of things – just…happen. I believe some things happen randomly too. But I also believe that God takes each and every one of those random events and circumstances and, in His sovereign will, wrapped in undeserved and unearned grace and mercy, purposefully works them for His good.
Every. single. one of them. Because He is that good. He’s all powerful, all knowing and ever present.
When we find ourselves smack in the middle a seemingly random happening, both my husband and I agree that God has given us the freedom to choose. We are to be guided by wisdom (Bible, learned knowledge, prayer, experience, wise counsel, reason, etc.), but we get to choose how we respond. We both find loads of scriptural support for this belief.
The big difference between Hubs and I on this is that I tend to assume God’s hand in nearly everything – big or teeny, obvious or not, whether I ever get to know how or not. I’m not saying I believe God MAKES everything happen in this fallen world, although I believe He could. Again – He is that good. I’m saying I don’t find scriptural support for the extreme, exclusive idea that He makes EVERYthing happen. Sure, some things He makes happen. But some things He allows to happen. His sovereign will is unknown to us. In all cases, I believe the promise of Romans 8:28.
Who am I to determine what is meaningful or insignificant? The Bible tells me nothing is insignificant to God. The Bible tells me the hairs on my head are actually numbered.
Even being “in the dark,” as it were, I intuitively look for deeper meaning. What is God doing? Why did He allow something to happen? I immediately start thinking and praying about how to respond, whether it be taking action or figuring out what God wants me to learn or take away from the situation.
Last week, I had a friend remark to me “You see God in EVERYTHING.”
Not sure I ever consciously thought about it before, but she’s right. I do. I can’t imagine living any other way. To me, it’s completely normal. The fact that I see God in everything is probably one of the reasons I don’t believe in coincidences.
This might be a chicken or the egg kind of thing.
Either way, over the last few months, I’ve seen more of my own fingerprints than God’s. My life was one of the smudgiest sliding glass doors you’ve ever seen. And all the fingerprints were down low. Where I could reach.
To drastically summarize 16 “hard look in the mirror” blog posts: God has been silent in my life for a few months. I don’t like it. At. All. I feel like God the Father has taken His hand off the bicycle seat of my life to teach me…what? To be confident He is there even when I don’t feel the security of His hand? I researched the theology of “the dark night” and came out of all the reading grounded in one of the metaphors. I was going to stop swimming and float. Not drift – with no intention. FLOAT – in the current of God’s will. I wasn’t going to fight the current. I was going to stop swimming in the direction I thought God wanted me to go. I was going to FLOAT.
In the silence.
Seemed like a reasonable plan.
Until the silence became unbearable. I wrote last week, that I came to a breaking point. If you didn’t read that, “CLICK HERE” to check it out.
okay. so that Monday night, I went to sleep having intentionally chosen this season of silence and whatever God is teaching me over tried and true past remedies for finding Joy in God. I called it my darkest night.
Tuesday morning, I woke up to an email in my inbox. The local school where I’ve recorded for more than 3 years had two cancellations for that upcoming weekend. Could I cover two vocal labs (recording sessions)? (If you didn’t do it a minute ago, you’re gonna have to read “two steps forward. one step back.” to get the full impact of that “coincidence.”)
and remember. I see God’s hand in EVERYthing.
So, in the spirit of floating, I said yes.
I spent the entire morning looking for two songs to sing. Given that I had less than four days to prepare a lead and at least two harmonies for each song, I focused specifically on songs I already knew. Song after song – one obstacle after another. No track. Background vocals already on the track. Wrong key. just…wrong after wrong after wrong.
I left the house for the afternoon and when I came back, someone had posted on my facebook wall:
“Hey, so you know the song ‘He is with You” by Mandisa? I think you should sing it at church. Take a look….'”
I immediately thought: “Mandisa? I can’t sing Mandisa.” But again, in the spirit of floating, I responded:
“I’m gonna call that a God thing. LocalRecordingSchool called me today asking me to fill in two cancellations this weekend. I struggled to select tracks all day. One down. one to go. Thanks, friend. If the rough cut is any good, I’ll give you a copy.”
And then another facebook friend commented:
“‘There is a God’ by Lee Ann Womack?”
Monday night I had broken down, wimped out and asked God to let me/help me sing again, then almost immediately took back my request, choosing the lesson of the dark night over the temporal blessing that would have come with the singing.
Then all that happened on Tuesday. The fingerprints on my sliding glass door were MUCH bigger than my own.
and they weren’t anywhere near my reach.
and no. I’m not talking about Holy DARK KNIGHT, Batman.
I had never even heard about the dark night until I started reading about finding joy and delight in God, spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness and the silence of God. I first stumbled upon the term while reading “Prayer” by Philip Yancey. He said:
“I take some comfort in the fact that virtually all the masters of spirituality recount a dark night of the soul. Sometimes it passes quickly and sometimes it persists for months, even years. I have yet to find a single witness, though, who does not tell of going through a dry period.”
Is a “dry period” necessarily this “dark night”? Are these terms interchangeable? Both have been so eclectically described, I can’t lock down a globally accepted definition. People who have attempted to describe their experience have trouble articulating it. I’ve read John of the Cross, who is the originator of the term “dark night.” I’ve read Teresa of Avila and an unknown monk. Those three were not easy or complete reads. Thankfully, Thomas Green wrote extensively about the dark night and interpreted for me. C.S. Lewis, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Henri Nouwen and a number of others have written about dryness and/or the dark night.
It would appear that one dark night does not fit all.
Here’s the Cliff Notes version, courtesy of Eric Sammons
“Unfortunately, “Dark Night” has become a term used very loosely to designate any difficult or depressing time in life. But this is not the meaning St. John of the Cross gives to “Dark Night.”
…not brought about by external events, such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Instead, they are brought about by God alone, who uses the Dark Nights to purge the soul of attachments to the things of this world….”
“…God becomes the primary initiator of prayer, not man…the soul experiences dryness in prayer. It is a painful state that tests the soul to see if it desires prayer for the consolations or because it desires God Himself. At this stage, the ability to meditate becomes difficult, even painful, as no fruit comes from it and the Holy Spirit wants to move the soul from meditation to contemplation.
I have to ask. Is there scriptural basis for this?
Make no mistake. I’m a strong believer in the “dry spell” of it all. I’m a witness to it. I KNOW it happens. and I know first-hand how devastating it is. How it can rock faith. I’m smack in the thick of it.
and it. SUCKS.
My skepticism is with the surety and scriptural foundation of the dark night as the reason.
I’ve seen a commenter on another blog ask about the scriptural foundation of the explanation of the dark night and he was effectively dismissed. The general assumption expressed by those who responded to him was that he didn’t understand and obviously hadn’t experienced it. It didn’t occur to anyone that the reason he didn’t understand was that their explanations were vague and weak.
and I find myself thinking of an emperor in his underwear.
offended? If the invisible shoe fits, wear it.
It would be so much simpler if I was just smack in the middle of disobedience and I could repent, claim the promise of Romans 8:1 and move forward. Instead, I’m compelled to keep reading….
“Why is this painful stage necessary?…It is necessary so that the soul can be purged of defects that still exist within it, defects which prevent the soul from being passively receptive to God’s grace.”
purged of defects?
I have defects. I reek of defects.
“…a person might flee from the Dark Night and regress into lower levels of prayer. The proper response to this temptation to regress, however, is renewing your trust in God, continuing to utilize acquired recollection in prayer, abstaining from seeking consolation, and seeking counsel from a good spiritual director.”
lower levels of prayer?
lower levels of prayer. like with consolations and meditations?
and the “proper” response is to
(1) renew my trust in God
(2) continue to utilize “acquired” recollection in prayer
(3) don’t seek consolation and
(4) seek counsel from a good spiritual advisor.
(2) I think that means remember what God has done in my life in the past.
(3) Don’t try to pray the way I used to pray. Because those prayers are “lower.”
(4) God, if you want me to have a spiritual mentor who’s experienced this before, you’re gonna have to send me one. Break the silence.
SEND. me. one. PLEASE.
I admit. I’m torn. Between
(1) wanting there to be such a thing as this dark night and
(2) thinking it’s just a scape goat for people who need to rationalize whatever spiritual obstacle they are facing.
Faaaarrrr more likely, I’m grasping at straws to rationalize failing.
I started this journey because I wanted to find joy and delight in the nature of who God is without the crutches of circumstance or experiences. This is the scripture that comes to mind right now:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
count it all joy.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”]
If you read my last post, “growing pains” you know I’ve been having trouble seeing God’s hand in my life over the last few months.
God has been silent.
When I first became aware of the silence, I immediately assumed sin was separating me from God. I confessed all the sin I could identify. I raked through my life and identified the sin I had been rationalizing or been numb and oblivious to. I asked God to reveal to me anything I hadn’t found.
Be careful what you pray for.
I let go of some things in my life. Good things. One thing in particular that was responsible for actually helping me to discover how to worship God – to praise Him – for who He was instead just thank Him for what He did for me; for the blessings He afforded. This was something I had never understood or been able to do before. That’s what made leading worship a good thing. a very good thing.
I let it go because it had morphed into a crutch I had become dependent on to facilitate that worship.
I let go of other “good” things too. They had become obstacles in my relationship with Him.
But if you are one of the handful of people who actually read this blog regularly, you know all that.
Since then, God has been silent.
I’ve been seeking God every day. Relentlessly.
that’s an understatement.
Still. God has been silent.
After more than 6 years of sensing God’s presence and movement in my daily life, it took less than two months for me to become resigned to the silence.
Not seeing or sensing God’s hand in my life, I stopped looking for it.
I expected the silence. It became my new normal.
I began reading everything I could about finding delight and joy in God. About spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness, the absence of God and the silence of God. C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Philip Yancey and authors new to me, like Thomas Green, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. People who experienced and wrote about the “dark night.” Some of them talked about the dark night lasting the rest of their life.
I stopped writing in my prayer journal.
I had nothing to say.
I began abiding.
I threw myself into the mindless work of purging my environment and my life of superfluous things.
I began learning how to “pray without words” as C.S. Lewis would say. I stopped filling up the space between me and God with my voice. my incessant talking. I shut up. and I listened.
And God was silent.
In the beginning, I hated it. It was unsettling.
I was brokenhearted. I don’t say that kind stuff about myself. But there’s really no better way to describe it.
C.S. Lewis described it this way:
“We can bear to be refused but not to be ignored. In other words, our faith can survive many refusals if they really are refusals and not mere disregards. The apparent stone will be bread to us if we believe that a Father’s hand put it into ours, in mercy or in justice or even in rebuke.”
from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
After a few weeks, there was peace in the quiet. Like sitting with a close friend. The kind of friend you can ride in a car with, not talking, and feel no need to fill the void with spoken words. completely grounded. no need for a stealth “#awkward” tweet from the passenger seat.
so, there was peace.
but not joy.
In my last post, I said that I hadn’t been able to pray any specific petitionary prayers because I didn’t trust my motives. I said that last Monday I had hit bottom. The silence had become unbearable.
I asked God to let me sing again. In my weakness, I instinctively reached out for the one thing that had allowed me to experience true JOY in God – regardless of my circumstances.
Singing to Him. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do it since June 30th.
I went to bed that Monday night, the silence ringing in my mind. Disappointed in myself for caving. For chickening out and turning my back on whatever God is trying to teach me in this time of silence. Instead of trusting in the process of this journey, I reached out for old, tried and true, comfortable habits.
I wimped out.
I was convinced God was teaching me something. Something important. Although I had no idea what and I had no idea how long the lesson would last. It seemed that, at what appeared to be the hardest part of the lesson, I was asking God to give back what I had given up. I was going backward. I was turning my back on what He has for me now.
As I fell asleep, I took back my request. I told God that I didn’t want to settle for temporal blessings of comfort and happiness in exchange for this new relationship. Even if the new relationship meant years of silence.
Last Monday night was my darkest night.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”]
“God can do anything.”
Luke 1:37 (NIV)
Lord, I pray for revival, filled with doubt that You will stir it. Not because You can’t, but because You won’t. I believe You can do anything. But I also know You don’t force yourself on anyone. And the people I’m praying for are very comfortable right where they are. They see no need to change. They see nothing wrong except for this Jesus Freak who’s rocking the boat.
So I ask you Lord, not for anything specific, because I have no flippin idea what to ask for. You know. You know exactly what is needed and exactly when. Your plan is perfect. Your timing is perfect. I know You don’t need me, but pray that You can and will use me. I’m asking You – I’m begging You – to move. Move in the hearts and minds of individuals. I pray that they will be DISsatisfied with an assumption of Christ. I pray that they will, from their soul, cry out for Jesus. I pray they won’t be able to stomach any substitute.
Almighty God, I’m begging you for a miracle, no matter what it looks like. No matter how much it hurts. Because You are my comfort, my peace, my strength and my hope. I trust You, even when I don’t understand what You are doing.
“He [God] specializes in solutions that have no explanation other than Him.
Don’t get discouraged by the long, unyielding situations in your life. God has solutions for them. He may not have revealed those solutions yet – He let many people in Scripture endure long periods that required faith and patience – but He is never late with His answers. Wait, believe and hope. Nothing is impossible with Him.”
The One Year Experiencing God’s Presence Devotional: 365 Daily Encounters to Bring You Closer to Him
by Chris Tiegreen
Think back over your life.
What was something you prayed about that you believed at the time turned out very badly but now, in retrospect, you see was the best thing that could have happened?
Can you see situations in your life where God saved you from a negative consequence or used a bad situation as a foundation for something great? Did someone else share their God story with you?
I want to hear about your blessing in disguise!!!
Comment! Email! If you know me in “real” life, tell me face to face!