“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."]
“…what I testify to is the power of visual art, and especially music…They have the potential to awaken the mind and heart to aspects of God’s glory that were not perceived before. Paintings or photographs of mountains and streams can call forth a sense of wonder and peace. If we are willing to “look along” (not just “at”) these pictures, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and peaceful mountains and streams of God’s power and mercy.
…We must make it our aim that the joy awakened by music be joy in God…Then the effort to delight in God through music will involve a prior shaping of the mind by the Word…Then the effort to delight in God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music has already awakened joy. Is this joy…stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music make us more glad in the glory of God.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
Lord, thank you for using praise music and my worship through that music to awaken my mind and heart to aspects of Your Glory I had never perceived before. Thank You for the joy it brought and the delight I found in You because of WHO YOU ARE. Thank You for the overwhelming and undeniable awareness of Your presence in those moments. Thank You for helping me to completely forget myself and for moving me into deeper praise, no longer centered in gratitude for Your temporal blessings, but grounded and focused on eternal things: Your Sovereignty, Your Holiness, Your stubborn love for me and my desperate and relentless need for You.
Even though the lesson was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced, thank you for teaching me that finding worship through music wasn’t enough, that it only took me part way. It limited true praise to those brief moments. Thank you for showing me that my dependance on music was quenching Your Spirit. It prevented me from finding joy and delight in WHO YOU ARE in the ordinary, everyday moments of my life. Thank You for the understanding that I can’t find that joy and delight on my own, through my own striving, depending on anything in this world to facilitate it.
Holy Spirit, please bless me with joy and delight, so I won’t be tempted to settle for less by depending on anything or anybody but Christ.
“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good; his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God”
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (NIV)
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet. Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love
Here I raise my Ebenezer. Hither by Thy help I come.
Oh, and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home”
sung by Kings Kaleidoscope
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
“…how did the early Christians pray for joy? First, we may assume that they prayed the prayers of the only Bible that they had, namely, the Old Testament. Thus they would have prayed:
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).
“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Ps. 51:8).
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps. 51:12).
“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us” (Ps. 90:15).
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Ps. 85:6).
Don’t miss how radical these prayers are. They assume that we are unable to make ourselves satisfied in God. And they assume that God has the right to do it, is able to do it, and does it in answer to prayer.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)
“Breathe in me Your life. ‘Til Your love overtakes me
Open up my eyes. Let me see You more clearly
Falling on my knees, ’til I love like You love
Like You love me”
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
My husband is scared right now.
happy. but scared.
Happy because of all the stuff I’m getting rid of. And I’m getting rid of a LOT of stuff. a LOT of stuff.
Scared because of the honey-do list that goes along with ordering my environment.
I’m so thankful to God for him. He is my density.
In the middle (and at the bottom) of stirring this mess in my head, he said: “You really need to work through this. I don’t recognize you. It’s like you’ve given up. I don’t know whether to encourage you or give you a swift kick in the butt. You’ve lost your mojo.”
mojo. is that another word for faith?
It was bad. I couldn’t even pray.
What does faith look like when you can’t even pray?
it’s not pretty.
I needed to think. I need to think.
And so I clean my house. I paint my house. I purge my house. of books even. over 100 so far. I want every superfluous thing in my house gone. GONE.
GONE I tell you!
physically and metaphorically.
But in the middle of all the thinking I’m reading two books right now.
I know. But yes. These two are thick.
and not in a benchpress them kind of way.
FirstHusband suggested I re-read these books. Smart guy.
I’ve read both of them before. But I was younger then. Not that much younger. But still.
They were both responsible for pivot points in my faith.
In all my thinking and purging, I need to go back to bones of what I believe and why.
Messy deep digging blog posts ahead.
Even so, if you know me IRL (in real life), don’t weird out when you see me in person. If you’re at a loss about what to say, we can talk about the little blond girl’s face at the end of this commercial. cracks me up every time.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
Me: “Someone made coffee?”
Me: “awww. You’re my favorite daughter!”
PinkGirl: “I would have preferred ‘favorite child.’”
FavoriteSon: “What do you want?”
FavroiteSon: “umm. hmm.”
Every year, on the first weekend of October, my church hosts a huge rummage sale, called the Whale of a Sale. All year long, we collect pre-owned items, storing them in PODs on church campus. Then, two Saturdays before the sale, we empty the PODs and fill a gymnasium. For two weeks, we continue to accept donations, organizing and pricing everything from furniture to – literally – kitchen sinks.
Inevitably, well-intentioned people donate broken, torn and dirty items. One dedicated volunteer who organizes the linens every year finds a few donated suitcases, fills them with dirty sheets, blankets, curtains and bedspreads, takes them home, washes them and brings them back. She’s diligent. Why bother with stinky, dirty donations? Why not just throw them away? Because she also volunteers for the United Methodist Children’s Home and she knows. She knows that some people have nothing. And dirty can be washed. Torn can be mended.
Last year, a leather couch was donated. At one time, it must have been beautiful. After hours of standing, day after day on a cement gymnasium floor, I can tell you it was comfortable.
But it was also dirty.
Some of the volunteers wanted to throw it out. I said no. They gave me their reasons, I gave mine. As co-chair of the event, I pulled rank and the couch stayed.
It didn’t sell. The first charity truck we called to pick up the remaining sale items left it behind.
But the day after the sale, before the second charity truck was to arrive, a church family brought in another family in need. We told them they could have anything they saw. We were offering them the stuff that no one bought, the stuff that a charity truck left behind.
Among the items remaining were a few Bibles, which we always give away freely during the sale. The children each picked up a Bible and the littlest one, a little girl no more than five, who had found a children’s bible, looked up at me and asked, “I can have this? It’s mine?”
Nearly wrecked me.
When I said, “it’s yours!” she ran to her mom to show her, saying “LOOK WHAT I GOT!!”
That’s when I noticed her dad, a very big guy, sitting on a very big, very comfortable leather sofa, with a very big smile on his face.
They filled a pick-up truck and a mini-van.
I am so blessed.
(This is not the couch, just what the mom was talking about doing to it)
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!
When people asked me if I went to church, I said yes.
As a child, I believed all the Bible stories and I knew where to put every single felt Bible character on the flannel board. I knew all the words to “Now I lay me down to sleep” and “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our fud.” I even knew the sign language to the song “The B-I-B-L-E.” When I did go to Sunday School and we took turns reading aloud from the Bible, I knew to secretly skip ahead to “my” verse and rehearse it in my head so that when it was my turn I wouldn’t sound stupid. My family watched “The Ten Commandments” every Easter season and we never put the baby Jesus in our nativity set until Christmas Eve. I could recite the Lord’s Prayer by heart, could sing the doxology on cue and I even knew how to sing the first verse of Silent Night in German.
This is how I defined being a Christian.
When I was fifteen, I made a commitment to Christ. Looking back, I’m confident my decision was authentic, but I didn’t know how to disciple myself, so spiritual growth was inconsistent and confusing.
As a teenager and young adult trying to learn how to live out my new faith in my every day life, I found myself actively involved in fundamental Baptist churches, believing without question, everything I was told by well meaning teachers and volunteers. There was a lot of emphasis on rules. I began compiling an internal list of things “good” Christians should always do and an even longer list of things “good” Christians should never do.
Questioning religious authority was one of those “never do” things. Unacceptable. Expressed doubt equated to a lack of faith, or worse yet, evidence of sin. You might as well have sewn a big “H” on my forehead for “heretic.” I dared not ask too many questions for fear of landing on someone’s prayer list.
On the “What good Christians always do” list? All good Christians had quiet times and quiet time included Bible reading, note taking and prayer. Prayer was formulaic: the five finger method, the ACTS method. . . praying on our own was never encouraged – we might leave something out or our prayers might be too selfish. And quiet times were supposed to be first thing in the morning, preferably before sunrise.
I was consistently not a “good” Christian.
After over a decade of serving in and faithfully attending Baptist churches, my husband I walked away from the fundamental legalism – and ran from the unaccountable theocracy so prevalent in its leadership. After searching for a church for nearly 8 months, we found ourselves attending a Methodist church whose “Open minds, Open hearts, Open doors” motto meant that the answer to every theological question began with the precursor “It’s a matter of interpretation…” We found that for nearly every “set in stone” doctrinal stand the Baptist church had taken, there was a parallel “set in sand” interpretation by the Methodist church. The emphasis was on service. service. and more service. acceptance. tolerance. and more service.
Sure, I prayed. I read my Bible. I even had a prayer journal that I wrote in occasionally. I thanked God for His blessings nearly every day, asked Him for help when I needed something and engaged in the Christian “WHYne” when something bad happened in my life. I taught my kids a full CD of Bible songs, bought them Veggie Tale movies and prayed with them at the dinner table and every night as we tucked them in bed. We had family devotional books and we actually used them at bedtime and on the Sundays we skipped church. Sometimes. I was a moral person, a “good” person. When I didn’t get charged for an item at a store, I would go back inside to pay for it. Even in Christmas season when that meant waiting in line a second time. I was honest, I did good deeds, I sang solos in church and even had occasional stints attending Sunday School and Wednesday night services. I thanked God for good parking spaces and I laid fleeces for “big” decisions, not realizing that a fleece was really a big dice I was tossing in a desperate lack of faith.
But as a young married woman,
trying to learn how to relate to this guy I promised to love and live with for the rest of my life,
trying to raise responsible, happy kids who knew and loved God
trying to build a business while waiting for that moment when everyone figured out I had no idea what I was doing,
trying to fit in at church by appearing to be the person other people expected me to be,
I had compartmentalized my life, my time and even my thoughts. It was almost as if I were different people: a wife, a mother, a home manager, an entrepreneur, and church member. Not that each of those personas in my life were so vastly different from each other, it’s just that they didn’t overlap. I take that back. My home and work life overlapped. My home and church life overlapped. But my work and church life? NEVER. Church was religion and religion had no place in my work life. At least no comfortable place.
And notice I didn’t include “Christian” in that list. I said “church member.”
To make a 25 year story short, in October of 2007, I ended up with a worn copy of a book written in 1965 entitled “The Taste of New Wine” by Keith Miller and I discovered what I had been missing since the moment I accepted Christ.
I never knew that what I was missing even existed.
I realized it was possible to have an intimate, personal relationship with a living God. The kind of relationship that saturates my life, my days and my moments, regardless of where I am or who I’m with. A presence of God I’m so acutely aware of that I feel like I’m never alone. The kind of faith I can live out every day and not compromise in some cowardly attempt to make other people more comfortable. The kind of faith that leads me to intuitively consider people and situations from a bigger perspective than from my own skewed and limited vantage point. The kind of faith that has planted in me a desire to do everything I do “as unto the Lord” even when it’s as boring as loading the dishwasher or as unpleasant as interacting with a passive aggressive person. This authentic relationship doesn’t have much to do with church or religion. It’s much more intimate.
I was surprised to discover that when I began living out my faith, without condemnation of others who think and believe differently, they weren’t offended by my honesty. When they realized our differences didn’t freak me out or compel me to immediately and aggressively try and change their mind, it opened dialogs I never thought possible. I’ve been honored by the trust people have placed in me as they talk about their lives, their struggles and their faith – or lack of it. I don’t betray that trust. More and more, I find myself risking being rejected or ostracized by just being myself. I’m tearing down the walls of my compartmentalized personas and rebuilding on a foundational commitment to God that remains constant and crosses over into all areas of my life.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Keith Miller’s book, The Taste of New Wine, was the impetus for this life changing shift in my thoughts and actions. Through his authentic and vulnerable account of how God worked in his life to bring him to an authentic and bold faith, Keith taught me what living out my faith could look like in my own life. I learned it was possible to extend unconditional grace and never compromise my beliefs to make myself or others more comfortable. I learned that I could serve God every day as a missionary in my vocation and in the secular world, not just in the safety and comfort of my home and in the church where talk of God is accepted and expected.
The Taste of New Wine was one of those books that I couldn’t put down until I was finished. It’s one of those books that I can’t stop living until I’m finished.
Finished living, that is.
Keith Miller died of cancer on January 22, 2012 at the age of 84.
My mother’s suffering ended on December 27, 2011. I’m so thankful that I’m confident she is with our Father in Heaven.
“We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things”
Blessings by Laura Story
I’m a day late on this, so I’ll have to do two: I’m thankful:
1. that everyone in my immediate family knows God, loves God, desires an active relationship with God and strives to serve God in their every day lives.
2. that no one in my family is battling a life-threatening illness.
In my post entitled “an unextraordinary life” I wrote:
“When I’ve experienced trials in my life, sure God might have sent them, but it’s just as likely He allowed them. Either way, He’s promised that He will work it all for good. Even when, from my own perspective, it didn’t seem like it was for my good.”
A reader commented:
“I agree with you that God allows trials to happen and then brings something good out of them, but I don’t believe that he sends them. Matthew 7:11 gives the picture of God as a Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. I can’t picture a loving father purposely bringing trials into His children’s lives.”
I spent some time in 2009 reading and learning about the seeming paradox of evil and suffering vs. a loving and all powerful God. I don’t like to think of a loving Father “sending” his child trials, but I can’t ignore some evidence.
I should probably begin with my definition of the word “trials.”
I view a trial as anything in my life that causes me pain – physical or emotional. It’s something in my life that I don’t want in my life. Something I fear or dread or suffer through.
I should clarify what I mean by my use of the words “send” and “allow” as well.
When I say I believe God “sends” some trials, I’m referring to trials God intends for us – plans for us – to experience.
When I talk about God “allowing” trials, I’m referring to the things God does NOT intend for us, but doesn’t intervene to prevent or to protect us from. Maybe these trials are consequences of our own sin, maybe they are consequences of our sinful nature and freedom of choice or maybe they are just the result of random circumstances in this life.
Make no mistake, I believe Matthew 7:11:
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
When I think about my own children, I can identify with Matthew 7:11. I want to give them “good gifts” all the time. But if I never disciplined them, I would play a starring role in turning them into Veruca Salt. Leading me to Hebrews 12:6-11:
“because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
And again, thinking about my children, my mind automatically goes to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Here’s a question for you: When God told Abraham to take his son up a mountain and sacrifice and kill him, would Abraham have used the word “trial” to describe his experience? He had waited 100 years to have a son. The feelings that overwhelmed him as he left home . . . NOT telling Sarah what God had instructed him to do . . . as the minutes dragged during the agonizing climb up that mountain . . . would “trial” not be a descriptive word for that experience?
I’m thinkin it would.
And if we can agree that was a trial for Abraham, the real question is: Did God intend for Abraham to have that experience? God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son, not as punishment for sin or to hurt him, but to test and strengthen Abraham’s faith. Abraham’s obedience – letting go of his own will for the sake of God’s will, even when it didn’t make any sense to him and wrenched his heart – was a test of faith I’m not sure I could pass.
And then there’s John 9:1-3:
“As he went along, he [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
I agree with what Matthew Henry has to say about the trial of this man:
That they [trials] are sometimes intended purely for the glory of God, and the manifesting of his works. God has a sovereignty over all his creatures and an exclusive right in them, and may make them serviceable to his glory in such a way as he thinks fit, in doing or suffering; and if God be glorified, either by us or in us, we were not made in vain. This man was born blind, and it was worth while for him to be so, and to continue thus long dark, that the works of God might be manifest in him.
I wrote this blog post in bits and pieces over the last 36 hours, after hearing a message emphasizing that God blesses us with strength through anointed weakness. All the while I couldn’t help thinking of Nick Vujicic. Last night, I watched a number of Nick’s youtube videos, looking for the “right” one to include in this post. I had already seen a number of Nick’s videos over the last few months but I had never heard him talk about his decision to serve Christ in any of them. I bought his biography last week, but haven’t begun reading it yet. I knew I had found the video to include when I got the 3 minute 45 second mark. Go ahead, it’s worth the 8 minutes.
“Because I have no arms and no legs He’s using me all around the world and we’ve seen so far, approximately – and this is conservative – 200,000 souls come to Jesus Christ for the very first time in the last 6 or 7 years . . . I would rather have no arms and no legs temporarily here on earth and be be able to reach someone else for Jesus Christ – and then spend eternity with them there.”
So yes. I believe that sometimes God sends us trials.
And then, there’s Rachel Barkey. I stumbled upon Rachel’s story in 2009 when I was researching the paradox of evil and suffering vs. a loving and all powerful God. Rachel died of cancer at the age of 37, leaving behind a husband and 2 small children. But before she died, she had an opportunity to give her testimony in which she describes the trials of her last years. It’s a compelling 55 minute testimony that I’ve found myself thinking about often over the last two years. You can watch it HERE (start at the 2:10 minute mark to skip to the beginning), but here’s the quote I transcribed for inclusion in a blog post after I watched it back in June of 2009:
“I am dying.
But so are you.
Neither of us knows if we will even see tomorrow. And perhaps the reason that I am suffering now, the reason that God is waiting to bring judgment against all the evil in this world is because he is waiting for you. For you to acknowledge your sin and to turn to him for forgiveness.
Maybe you are the one we are waiting for.
Jesus suffered. God did not spare him. Why would he spare me? If my suffering would result in good for you? If my suffering is the means that God would use to bring even one person to himself, it is an honor for me to suffer.
Does that seem strange?
I suppose it does.
But really, it is the only way that all of this makes any sense at all.
A God who sees my suffering but is is unable, or worse, unwilling to spare me? A God who sees my suffering but allows it? With no greater purpose or hope? My God is able to save me and he will. But save me from what?
From a life without him.”
So yes, I believe that sometimes, God sends trials.
(thank you Jessi, for inspiring this post)
Today, I’m specifically reminded that I’m blessed because God has revealed to me – not through my OWN trials – but through my empathy for others experiencing trials – how blessed I am to be alive, to be able to get out of bed every morning on my own, without assistance. How often I take that for granted.
I’m blessed because this OVERWHELMING awareness motivates me to STRIVE to be a good steward of this body God has blessed me with.
Today, I’m exercising because this sister in Christ can’t. (Click HERE to find out who I’m talking about)
Think you need a gym membership, the latest workout DVD, or some special equipment?
You need shoes.
Put on a comfortable pair of walking shoes. Then say to yourself: “Well, I’ve already got my shoes on, I might as well step outside.”
Then open your door and walk to your mailbox. The end of your driveway. To the parking lot of your apartment building.
Then, turn around, look toward your front door and say to yourself: “Well, I’m already out here, I might as well walk for a minute.
Tomorrow, do it all again, but walk for two minutes. Rinse and repeat, adding a minute every day until you get to 20. Pay attention to the world God has blessed us with. Feel the wind on your face, the sun on your (SPF protected) skin and thank God for your body and the blessing of being able to walk.
Micro-actions have cumulative effects. Walking builds stamina and strength, and paying attention to the miracles in the world around you can bring spiritual renewal through gratitude and praise.
And the endorphins don’t hurt, either.
“An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought . . . suiting them for service in workaday life. A Christian intellectual is all of the above to the glory of God.”
“…the true intellectual occasionally sees some things, makes true observations and has insights that few, if any before him have seen or had. If there is any danger in this, it is not in having a one-track mind, but in having a mind with so many tracks that it either arrives at many places at the same time or it never gets out of the station.” (emphasis added)
(from Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James W. Sire)
Intellectual? That sounds so much better than “I just over think everything,” which we both know I have a tendency to do, Lord. Sometimes my head is filled with so many thoughts and ideas, I can’t focus. Sometimes I weigh alternatives to the point of inaction. So frustrating.
Even so, thank you for my love of reading and learning and thinking. And thank you for my limitations, both real and self-perceived. They keep me grounded and authentic. It’s so easy for education and knowledge to displace my trust in – and dependence on – YOU, especially in times of confusion or when circumstances seem . . . irrational.
Thank you for every day that I wake up with more knowledge and understanding than I had the day before. At the same time, thank you for making it crystal clear to me that – compared to all that is possible to know and understand in this world – I know and understand about as much as can be contained within grain of sand.
Thank you for the intricate details in this world, from the greatest wonders to the tiniest. That you are evident in the awesome beauty of the Grand Canyon as well as in the first breath of a newborn infant is just a peek at your perfect plan and limitless power. Every creation is filled with opportunities for discovery, every problem is an opportunity for ingenuity,
Through your power and grace and mercy, please help me to learn from my mistakes. Please help me to make different and better decisions based on what I’ve learned. Please bless me with insights and ideas and imagination, even if they sometimes overwhelm me. I want all that I am and think and feel to lead me to choices that place me in the center of your will. For your glory.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
“With all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, with all the strength that I can find. Take my time here on this earth and let it glorify all that You are worth. For I am nothing, I am nothing without You “
from Nothing Without You (youtube link) by Bebo Norman (amazon link)
and if you have an extra 3:33 minutes…
This was dual published on my Pragmatic Communion blog.
(Christian brain image from wallpaper4god.com)
I had another mountaintop recording experience last night. So profoundly thankful to the Lord for equipping me to do what I did, from leading me in my song selection to providing me with physical stamina to blessing my voice.
I actually struggled with my song selection, originally deciding to sing “Sweetly Broken.” But I just couldn’t seem to send the confirmation email with the track and lyrics.
Finally, five days past the submission deadline, I changed my mind and decided on Kristian Stanfield’s version of “Jesus Paid It All.” It had been in the worship set just two days before and I had spent the prior week rehearsing it, so it was nearly ready.
Part of me wondered if I was gravitating to Jesus Paid It All because of the lyrics. Easter is April 24th and the guys mixing the recording will be listening to these lyrics during the entire month of April. I began praying for the session and specifically for the people who would be present at the session and mixing the recording afterward. I’m praying again today…
Lord, I pray for the guys at the recording session last night. I only know their names, not their stories. I pray that through the session last night, and the music and lyrics they will be listening to over the next month as they mix the song, you will move in their lives in a deeply personal way.
- If they don’t know you, please use my offering to help draw them to a saving faith in you.
- If they do know you, I pray that they will be encouraged in their faith.
- If they know you, but have forgotten you, please use this song and my voice and witness to remind them of you and give them a relentless passion for your intimate companionship.
Lord, I’m so thankful for every opportunity to record. Even if nothing ever comes of these recordings, the studio sessions themselves are such an overwhelming blessing to me. I pray that these sessions would be shared blessings; that the other people involved would be blessed by these experiences too. If your plan is for me to share any of the recordings with others, please lead me to the person who can mix and master them. I trust that you can provide me with compensated work so I can earn the money needed to compensate that person and pay the licensing fees.
Regardless of when or whether that ever happens, I’m going to continue recording until you lead me in another direction. I’m going to continue moving forward until you say stop, rather than sitting still and waiting for you to say GO.
I also prayed yesterday that God would, in some way, bless me with encouragement. As I drafted this post, the mail came and in it, the rough mixes from last month’s recording session of “Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me).” I had re-recorded it because my voice had changed so much after months of voice lessons. I’m listening to them right now. Thank you Lord, for answered prayer.
“…understanding ownership was half of my lesson. If God was the owner, I was the manager. I needed to adopt a steward’s mentality toward the assets He had entrusted – not given – to me.
A steward manages assets for the owner’s benefit. The steward carries no sense of entitlement to the assets he manages. It’s his job to find out what the owner wants done with his assets, then carry out his will.”
(from The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving by Randy Alcorn)
Lord, scheduling tithe checks on bill pay is some serious fun! Thank you for the joy we feel in this obedience. THANK YOU for the provision of my husband’s bonus and THANK YOU for the opportunity to give even more than we normally do. The feeling that comes from giving back some of the money you’ve entrusted to us is like an adrenaline high! Thank you that we never regret it or begrudge it. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to serve you this way. We pray that we’ve interpreted your will correctly and sent your money where you wanted it to go. We pray that you will abundantly bless the efforts of those to whom you have sent it and we trust you to work all things for your good and your glory.
Our continuous prayer is that you help us to be good stewards of everything you entrust to us and to help us achieve our goal of becoming debt-free. Thank you for this answer to our prayer. Thank you for providing a means for more debt reduction. We profoundly understand what a blessing this job is and even more the blessing of this bonus. Thank you, Lord.
“Rich or poor God I want You more, than anything that glitters in this world. Be my all, all consuming fire.
You can have all my hands can hold, my heart, mind, strength and soul, Be my all, all consuming fire.
All we need, all we need, all we need is You.”
from All We Need (youtube link) by Charlie Hall (amazon link)
This was dual published on my Pragmatic Communion blog.
OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!
Two weeks ago, my client sent me an updated training packet from their software vendor. I just opened it today…and found the client’s check for my January invoice inside too!
That’ll teach me to procrastinate on work! If I had started today’s project for them two weeks ago, I would have found the check then.
God’s perfect timing? or my sad, sorry time management? I think we know.
Thank you, Lord, I needed that. Both the lesson and the check.
PinkGirl dropped our binoculars a few months ago while jumping on the trampoline. I know, I have no idea how she can look through binoculars and jump at the same time, but…
Anyway, it was a real bummer because we back up to a pond and the woods and a river, so there’s great wildlife to see and I wasn’t seeing it because the binoculars wouldn’t adjust focus anymore. Since I’m so Ramsey frugal these days, I was thinking I needed to find myself some binoculars at a garage sale, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it.
Friday night, I told FirstHusband: “I’m going garage saling (I’m just making up words today) in the morning.”
He took PinkGirl to rehearsal on Saturday morning and called me from the truck: “Did you know our neighborhood is having a community wide garage sale today?”
Now that’s just too much of a coincidence. I can’t remember the last time I actually took a Saturday morning to shop garage sales. It’s been over a year. Maybe two. or more. Seriously, a LONG time.
So I write FavoriteSon an I.O.U. for the $30 I take out of his wallet to supplement my available cash,
(what? like I haven’t ever emptied my wallet for HIM. Besides. He’s a teenager. He never needs any cash on Saturday mornings, he’s in bed.)
I get my coffee and I’m off.
First stop, is about 8 houses away and what do I see? You got it.
And these aren’t the cheapo plastic kind you find these days, these are the honkin big, heavy kind they used to sell when I was a kid. SO much stronger and better than what PinkGirl broke.
Thank you Lord! I should have made a bigger list!
Then, Saturday afternoon, PinkGirl was sporting new jeans, new shirt, new jacket, the periwinkle manicure I gave her Friday night, a new haircut…and ratty old nike shoes with my old laces.
She wanted boots. This from a girl who would go barefoot 24/7 if I let her. I anticipated an unproductive shopping trip in my immediate future.
We went to Payless. nothing. Some big shoe store in the mall. nothing. Sears. Bingo. Clearance rack. She found a pair of black ankle boots in less than 5 minutes. Bonus. So did I. They were marked $19.99 and each rang up for $9.99!
Thank you again, Lord! I really should have made a bigger list!
This isn’t the first time God has been my personal shopper! When I pray for him to help me make frugal choices with the money he blesses us with, he answers hands on!