It was Sunday afternoon. I was in “my” room. The living room. Looking out the window that spans nearly an entire wall, hypnotically watching a baby squirrel chowing down on the suet in the birdfeeder. I call it “my” room because it’s lined with a 12 foot wide by 7 foot high wall of 12×12 cubby shelves filled with books about God. Theology. Spiritual Growth. Prayer. Suffering. blah. blah. blah.
84 square feet. My own personal little library. That’s a lot of books. A lot of words. I’ve learned a lot from those books. With endless more still to learn.
My husband was chilling out in the adjacent room. Even though we’re visually separated by the wall of books, we never have to raise our voice to hear each other.
The clock ticks.
Me, softly: “I miss the old me.”
FirstHusband: “What do you mean?”
Me: “You don’t notice a difference?”
He knows what I’m talking about.
The clock ticks.
Me: “I miss optimism.”
silence. He’s not ignoring me. He’s waiting. He knows me. I’m not done talking. I’m not done thinking.
(I know, I know. I’m NEVER done thinking.)
The clock ticks.
Me: “I hate that the gate is so narrow.”
FirstHusband: “I know.”
A few years ago, when I experienced the deafening silence and pitch black darkness and seeming cavernous distance from all that I had come to recognize and understand and depend on as the presence of God, I couldn’t understand why He was allowing such intense pain. I wondered then if the separation was temporary or permanent. If it was temporary, I wondered if the other side would prove to be a pruning that led to a more fruitful bounce back to what I had come to know as “normal” or if this season was a “refined by fire” step leading to an altogether new and different relationship with God.
I’m still not sure.
I’m not sure I’m completely done with that season, so it very well may be that it’s premature to be contemplating the “lessons learned” of it all.
“that I have great sorrow and
unceasing anguish in my heart.
For I could wish
that I myself were accursed
and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my brothers,
my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Romans 9: 2-3 ESV
Paul is saying, “I genuinely grieve for those who don’t know Christ. I would give up eternity with Him, if it meant that they could know Him.”
And just to be clear, me saying I understand Paul better, does NOT mean I share his sentiments about sacrificing my relationship with God so that somebody else could know Him.
I know me. I’m much. much. too selfish for that.
The pain I experienced during my recent separation from Him here on earth is more than enough to tell me that eternal separation would be…
unbearable doesn’t begin to describe it.
But I do understand what Paul is saying.
And the raw truth of it is suppressing optimism. It’s sabotaging Hope.
Not that I don’t know Satan will be defeated in the end, because I know he will. It’s just that the evidence that the earth is Satan’s domain seems to be everywhere I look.
I can’t not see it.
Back in December of 2013, I wrote about asking God to “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Here’s an excerpt from that post:
“The next morning, I woke up…brokenhearted. Seriously. It’s the only word that fits. I was literally grieving over how many people HATE God. or even the idea of Him.
Immeasurable grace. Unconditional love the likes of which I will never fully comprehend.
and so often – much too often – the response is arrogant and caustic rejection. vehement acrimonious derision. revulsion. hate.
and then there’s indifference.
God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can experience abundant life in Him.
and so many people respond with “meh.” So many people don’t respond at all.
I’m brokenhearted. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
this is new. and not from me. On my own, I’m incapable of this kind of intuitive compassion.“
Some read those words and thought I was being arrogant. condescending. sanctimonious. I can’t stop them from thinking that. Haters gonna hate.
Some might read them and think I’m an emotionally driven drama queen. Those people obviously don’t know me very well.
The fact is, it’s much easier to live with the knowledge that so many people hate God when you only process the information intellectually. It’s their choice. And the choice has consequences: current and eternal separation from the God who loves them unconditionally. End of story.
But when you genuinely care about someone, and you know they’ve mistaken religion for a restored relationship with God through Jesus, you grieve for their loss.
Again. I can’t stop people from thinking that.
I believe that God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can be restored to uninhibited relationship with Him and experience abundant life through Christ, not only for eternity but also now – here on earth. And so. many. people say He doesn’t even exist. So. many people blame Him for Satan’s handiwork. They want Him to intervene and stop “bad” people from hurting “good” people, not thinking through the implications that would have in their own lives if God intervened and stopped them from ever doing anything rebellious.
My acute awareness of how many people live separated from God brings with it the broken heart I prayed for. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
And I can’t not see it. I can’t not know it.
And so I find myself wrestling with the paradox of personally experiencing the joy of abundant life in Christ and grieving because so many people seem to hate God. And anyone who loves Him.
I wouldn’t change the seeing. or the knowing. It’s good to know.
And a little bit not…
“…faith isn’t the absence of doubt. It’s believing and acting alongside your doubts…
…faith wouldn’t even exist if doubt were not also present, because the essence of faith was the leap taken in the face of uncertainty. Faith wasn’t a set of beliefs, or an ability to hold onto those beliefs without wavering. Faith was action – action taken right in the middle of your doubts.
If there were no uncertainty at all, a leap of faith wouldn’t even be necessary. You could just keep on walking.
from O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling
by Jason Boyett
I used to think that doubt was evidence of a lack of faith.
Not so much anymore.
These days, I’d probably say I’m a bit of a “doubt snob.” By that, I mean that when I hear a Christian say they’ve never doubted God, I would wonder if:
1) they are lying. (let’s just get that one right out of the way)
2) they have forgotten. (kinda like childbirth. The memory of that kinda pain fades with time)
3) they haven’t actually thought things through. (see what I mean? “doubt snob”)
I’ve spent my life trying to figure things out. If God ever gave me a new name, it probably would have been “Madua” (in Hebrew, it means “why”…what is the reason…what is the cause). I’ll pull and follow a “why” thread as far as I possibly can go.
In all the question asking and thread following and reading and learning and studying I’ve done so far in my life, the one fact I know for sure:
Not everything can be known for sure.
What do I do with that?
Do I only take action if I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the action will result in success?
Do I only believe in God if I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that He exists?
No one can prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God exists. I can’t prove that God answered a prayer. Or led me to a decision. Or provided an opportunity. Or equipped me for one of those opportunities.
So, again. What do I do with that?
In the absence of certainty, I choose to act or not act.
Personally, I choose faith in God. I can have some faith in myself or in “the system” or in other people, but at some point, they’ve all let me down. I can have some faith in reason and science, but when you drill down to their root, neither can be employed to prove their own foundational claims without some core assumptions as their bedrock.
Assumption is a synonym for faith.
We all have faith in something. And we all act on our faith, in spite of our doubt.
“I don’t know that Lucifer’s sin was rebellion in the full sense of the word. He did not seek to replace God or overthrow God. He simply sought to act independent of God…
the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” (emphasis added)
by Steve Fry
I don’t use the word “sin” much.
Not that I don’t believe it exists and that I’m prone to it.
I believe it does and I know that I am.
It’s just one of those words that has too many interpretations to be used effectively in casual conversation.
(I don’t use the word “Christian” so much either. Way, WAY too many interpretations of THAT word.)
In certain company, if I were to utter the word sin, I would find myself standing all alone holding my own personal (Jesus) Freak Flag, listening to crickets.
Because not many people want to talk about the word sin. But when you don’t talk about something, meaning begins to take on more and more personal connotations. Definitions aren’t globally understood and accepted when they’re formed and sequestered inside a vacuum of individual history and experience.
“Sin” can mean different things to different people. But my thought is that before the word sin means something to me, it means something.
When I think about the multitude of sins in my life, at the core of each and every one of those sins, I recognize a desire to choose for myself what is right and wrong rather than look to God and submit to His authority. That’s why Steve Fry’s statement: “the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” hit home with me.
Regardless of the actual behavior, the choosing to decide for myself – to act independently of God – is rebellion.
Rebellion against God. It’s the heart of the nature of sin.
It’s not my actions alone which constitute sin and separate me from God. My actions are an expression of the state of my heart and my mind. And the state of my heart and mind are a reflection of the state of my relationship with Christ.
I can admit my dependence on God, live under His authority and experience abundant life in Christ.
Or I can act independent of God, choosing to rebel against His authority and separating myself from Him.
“That when he had failed in his duty,
he only confessed his fault,
saying to GOD,
I shall never do otherwise,
if You leave me to myself;
it is You who must hinder my falling,
and mend what is amiss. That after this,
he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.
from The Practice of the Presence of God
by Brother Lawrence
This is one of my all-time FAVORITE quotes. Let me paraphrase and give you an idea of how I process these words.
paraphrase: “I forget, I remember, I repent and I COME BACK.”
(don’t be freaking out about that word “repent.” I’ll get to it in a second.)
“…when he had failed in his duty” means when I forget God.
And I will forget. I do forget. I fail to remember Him. Over and over and over again. When I first read this little book and began practicing the presence of God, my thought was, “I am SO gonna start doing this!” Less than 24 hours into this new way of living in relationship to God and I realized how difficult it was and how often I found myself just flat out forgetting – not only to practice God’s presence – but forgetting God altogether.
I quickly realized that practicing God’s presence wasn’t something I could just decide to do and then do it. I had to PRAY and ask God to “remind me to remember Him.” And I had to pray it multiple times per day. Some days, I had to pray, “Lord, please make me WANT to remember – bless me with a desire for You! I realized:
if my goal was to be aware of God’s presence in the minutiae of my life and
if my plan of action to achieve that goal was to “just do it” that
ON MY OWN, I would never achieve it with any kind of consistency.
My goal had to be prayer –
first, a prayer for a desire to practice God’s presence and
second, the prayer “Lord, please, remind me to remember You. Relentlessly. Any and every way possible.”
The truth of the next part of this quote had hit home:
“I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself”
God had quickly shown me that HE would be the one to “hinder my falling.” I would never be able to remember Him on my own.
And finally, the best part:
“after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
I’m going to forget God. But when I remember and go back to practicing His presence, I’m not going to waste a minute of the time that could be spent with Him by beating myself up because I forgot Him AGAIN. When I do that, I’m punishing myself for something JESUS ALREADY DIED FOR.
I’ve repented. There’s no room or need for guilt. Guilt is different from repent. Guilt is a noun. Repent is a verb.
guilt: (noun) “a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong”
repent: (verb) “express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.”
I need to remember and relentlessly claim the promise of Romans 8:1:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
So, to paraphrase this quote from Brother Lawrence? “I forget, I remember, I repent and I COME BACK.”
“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.
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty”
What exactly does that mean? Determination? Confidence? A recognition of personal identity and worth? Where does inner strength come from? Do “broken” people have it and just can’t find it because it’s buried under layers of pain or fear or hopelessness?
My problem with “inner strength” is that it waxes and wanes, usually parallel to my circumstances. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Crisis is just as likely to discourage me as it is to fuel me to action. Criticism is just as likely to fill me with doubt as it is to spark a fire of determination. Rejection is just as likely to send me running as it is to compel me to plant my feet. Inner strength seems to be dependent on how I feel and think about myself at any give time.
Inner strength is shifting sand. I can’t plant my feet in shifting sand.
Thankfully, my daughter already knows all this. We were both gracious, both engaged and fully listening to the well-meaning giver of unsolicited advice, but as the young woman spoke, I prayed. “Lord, should I tell her? Have you prepared her mind and heart to hear?” She paused, raising her eyebrows, looking for a response, seemingly expecting affirmation and agreement.
My daughter and I looked at each other. We both knew what could be shared in that moment.
I said, “As Christians, we believe there’s even more to it than that. The Bible tells us that because we have a relationship with Jesus, we have a helper, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so we are never alone. God is always with us. Everywhere we go.”
There was a brief pause. She hadn’t expected that response.
She broke the awkward silence by turning back to my daughter again. “That’s good…but sometimes, you’ll feel like God isn’t there…”
She continued a few more minutes, paused again, and looked at me. I had been praying about what to say, if anything.
I said, “It’s true, there are times when it doesn’t seem like God is there. It’s like when you learned to ride a bike. Whoever was teaching you was running behind the bike, holding the seat, and then he let go. You didn’t feel his hand on the bike anymore, but you knew he was still there. When you fell, he was there to pick you up and comfort you and encourage you to try again. He didn’t keep you from falling, but he never left.”
I could tell she had heard me. I didn’t push. I hadn’t stopped her as she explained to my daughter that she needed inner strength for those times when she didn’t “feel” God.
My daughter knows her faith isn’t grounded in her emotions. My daughter and I both know how to practice the presence of God and that sometimes, He is silent. We both understand that the source of our inner strength is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that whether we “feel” God or not, we can have confidence that He is with us. I knew I had planted a seed and that the young woman would think about the conversation later.
God would not be revealed to her as the ultimate source of inner strength through our effort or will. We just planted a seed. Now, it’s up to the Holy Spirit to soften her heart, open her mind and “draw her to Himself.” (John 6:44)
If you’ve entered into a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. When you lack confidence in yourself, I pray you are blessed with confidence in Christ. I pray you find your identity in Christ and understand your value through a deep understanding of His unconditional love for you. I pray that regardless of how you may feel on a given day, you will remember, “God is with you, wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty”
Have you ever been in a situation where the harder you try, the farther away from your goal you seem to get? No matter how focused and determined you are, no matter what you do or say, the distance between what you’re striving for and what’s actually happening just continues to grow.
What begins as a desire to set things “right” can birth a desperation that leaves a knot in the pit of your stomach and a frantic anxiety that drives us to push and try to manipulate circumstances.
One of the most difficult lessons I’ve experienced in this area has been a situation where I was trying to explain something God was teaching and revealing to me and the more I talked (or wrote), the more people misunderstood and rejected what they thought I was saying and my actual message was lost. The more angry they became, the more they dismissed me and distanced themselves and in many cases, the more people cut off our relationship completely, choosing instead to talk about me behind my back and on the internet.
You just want to fix that kind of thing, ya know?
But no matter how hard I tried to explain what I was discovering and feeling, the more I realized I was talking (and typing) to air. I knew I was supposed to share what God was teaching me and I did. Reluctantly and after months of arguing with God, with love and heartache for people I cared about, despite growing awareness of the bridges that were being burned.
But over the last two years, I’ve come to realize that my obedience in sharing my lesson wasn’t to change hearts or minds or even just circumstances. It was to be a witness to Christ’s influence in my life. And it was to plant seeds. God would bring the rain for growth.
and the drought to create thirst.
and the fire to test.
The growing season has not been short or free from pain, for me or for others. But in hindsight, I can see how God has been moving. Slow and steady, softening hearts and opening minds. Teaching lessons that, while different from mine, have and continue to produce the best harvest – hearts drawn closer to Christ. And while it’s heartbreaking to see the pain that’s had to be borne through this season, The Holy Spirit has reminded me that when hearts are closer to Christ, it’s impossible that they remain unchanged. Through the change – the transformation – of the heart, other changes automatically come to fruition. Those circumstances that I desperately tried to change on my own, God has changed and continues to change.
My job was to seek and listen to the Voice of Truth. My job was to be a witness to what God was doing in my heart and mind. My job was to plant seeds, regardless of the consequences. My job was to pray, in faith, trusting that God would work all things for His greater, ultimate good, which is to draw people into intimate, living, dependent relationship with Him.
Not by my might.
Not by my power.
But by His Spirit.
So, whatever your impossible circumstances, pray. Persistently. and wait. His timing is perfect, even when He delays.
“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Corrie ten Boom
In my previous blog post, practice God’s presence. forget. remember. repent. (repeat, ad infinitum), I talked about practicing the presence of God by pretending Jesus was physically present with me everywhere I went. I confessed that, despite my sincere intentions to be aware of God’s presence with me throughout my days and my moments, I chronically forgot Jesus was with me. I realized I couldn’t remember on my own.
I needed help.
I was striving – and struggling – and failing – to consistently engage in an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Christ.
Change is difficult, but I’m a firm believer in the old adage “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” I knew that this intimate, living dependent relationship I so desperately wanted wasn’t going to just happen because I wished it.
It requires intention.
It requires discipline.
Intellect says you make time in your life for the things you love.
Reason says that if you want your life to change you’ll have to do something different.
So I had tried intention and discipline. With the best and strongest of intention.
No matter how “hard” I tried, consistency was elusive. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.
And then, God reminded me of something Paul said:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
Romans 7:15, 18b
My natural inclination is to try harder. But if Paul couldn’t even do it…
My next inclination is to feel guilty about it. Is that What did Paul did? Continuing to read in Romans:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit…
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Romans 8:1, 5, 8-9
Intention is needed, but it is not enough.
Discipline is needed, but it is never going to be enough.
Remembering that Jesus is with me everywhere I go requires a dependence on the Holy Spirit.
I could. not. do. it. on my own.
So instead of trying to remember Jesus was with me all day long, I began to pray that the Holy Spirit would remind me that Jesus was with me all day long.
Sounds like semantics, but oh, what a DIFFERENCE.
I already know the Holy Spirit dwells within me because of my relationship with Christ:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
I can’t remember on my own. I can’t do anything on my own. But the Spirit who dwells within me CAN.
Therefore he told me, “These signify the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD who rules over all.”
So, I stopped “trying” to remember Jesus was with me everywhere I went and I began praying for the Holy Spirit to remind me, again and again and again, of His presence in my life.
Do I forget to ask the Holy Spirit to help me?
to be continued…
I was recently part of a discussion about a church supported service project. A number of different ideas were on the table, none of them mine. The project itself wasn’t my priority. They were all good ideas. All needed. All would “do good.”
My concern, what I had been thinking and praying about for over a week prior to this meeting was that whatever service project we decided upon, it would track back to Jesus Christ.
Over the years, I’ve observed and/or been a part of a number of church supported service projects, at a number of churches – very, very few of which led to an open door to share the gospel.
All were good. All were needed. All did “good things.”
But serving those in need without tracking back to Christ is just philanthropy, not Christian mission.
I feel a metaphor coming on.