Loving God Must Be Nothing Less Than Knowing Pain

Out of greatest loss, the purest gains do spring up. To be committed to know no other thing than Christ, is to have the advantage of knowing more than all these lesser things put together.

Christ knows our emptiness and our apathy towards life and Him, He would simply have us know this — which He then accomplishes through some of the most fiery trials we have come to know.

But, what are the benefits that so motivate this God of love to approach us through such difficult means? They are meeting God, they are knowing God for the One Who transcends all earthly majesty and comfort; they are seeing the emptiness inside too deep to be bridged by mortal effort, but only by divine love.

This is what makes our mortal experience worth completing — God is working in us, on behalf of our greatest happiness, to bring us nearer to His side; to seek for His face, which cleanses our hearts from all God-less pursuits that begin and end in vanity.

Can we deign to thank God for less, to request that He would do less for us, so that we might not be so bound up in Him? Such would be a vain and rebellious limitation on our God. We should grieve His Spirit and hold Him afar off from us.

No, that we would rather He shake us than leave us alone, that He would approach us in our misery, then deny us in our bliss. Nothing less can be knowing God, loving Him with all our hearts.

If You’re Wondering Whether Valentine’s Day Still Has A Point…

Many of you may be struggling with loss or disappointment over this Valentine’s Day. Nothing turned out like you hoped, and you wonder why you dreamed it could at all. It is just one more day that proves just how far off peace and love and faithfulness truly are. Impossible.

Your reality is too troublesome for you to engage in fantasies about a life without this much pain and distress — emotional abuse is all you know, even if all it amounts to is loneliness and bitterness over the absence of people to care about you.

For the full, Valentine’s Day is one to celebrate, for the empty it is a day to remind one of the reasons for self-pity and the wealth of resentment that hides beneath the surface until another supposed-to-be-wonderful day comes around again.

But, maybe in some bitter-sweet way, these days are gifts — not just to the satisfied, but to the insatiable. Maybe our hunger for more is being piqued, not by a series of cruel events, or a date on the calendar, but by Someone Who wants to get our attention.

Could we be missing something? Something so great and mysterious that it would be worth listening?

If this sounds ridiculous to you, don’t worry. I’ll spell out what Who it is and what He’s saying.

Or, maybe I should start with us — you and I.

A. We are lonely

B. We wonder if we will ever truly know what love is like

C. We sometimes worry we’re crazy — expecting too much of things — because we’ve never seen proof that loneliness has an end, or unending love has a beginning.

D. We’ve looked all over, and haven’t found anything deeply and infinitely satisfying yet. Is there anywhere else to look? Or is this all there is and we are just assuming we can have more than we shall?

These questions couldn’t be more perfect. They show what’s inside — at the very core of our beings — a desire to be whole. We are almost constantly aware of something that is missing. Whatever we can get to stick on the outside ultimately fails to touch the inside; to live up to our expectations for happiness and peace.

So, what is missing?

What we need is something that does not so closely resemble us, or so reflect our engineering that it carries the same disease of emptiness we long to be freed from. We need something deeper than ourselves — something captivating and soul-sustaining.

Some call that need love. They would be the wise among us. But, we cannot bank on just any love we can find on the street somewhere. We need a love that has been tested and proven strong; a passion that will fill us up, not drain us out and leave us alone. We’ve had enough of that.

Even when delivered to us at the right time, all the red roses, boxes of chocolates and kisses in the world cannot make up for the days that we need love that is strong enough to acknowledge us, build us up and work in us even at our mean- and messiest.

Love must offer hope that is beyond who we are or what we’ve done to be a life-line. Only Christ can offer us this kind of love.

Christ is not a religious icon, or a figment of a spiritualist’s imagination. He is God who once chose to be a man to die on a cross that represented the crux of our suffering mess.

This is good news not because He took on all our suffering, and will now make it all go away, but because He has brought an end to the hopelessness of our suffering. (If that still doesn’t sound too good, wait till you see the picture in full.)

Let’s go back to the rose. We all love roses (who doesn’t?), but most of us rarely consider the whole rose when we profess this affection. By the time we come in contact with a rose, it has been perfectly cropped and arranged. We see a beautiful rosebud in full bloom with a healthy, young, thorn-less stem.

But, is this the real rose? What about a rose in the truest sense of the word? It is a flower of incomparable beauty, but it is also a botanical wonder that we will not handle without care — it can harm us easily, piercing the skin unexpectedly and drawing blood.

We are careful to reach out for this attraction. It is at its most natural that a rose represents real love. For love to be true it must draw others in, but protect against ones who will not handle it with adoration and respect. For a rose to be stripped of its shield-of-thorns it will die; the same is true for us.

We belong in relationship with others, to bring delight and receive the like, but we must be sure that our vulnerability will be protected effectively. How do we insure this?

As figurative roses, we are of the colony of roses that have been deprived of our original thorns. At first glance this makes us more appealing, but it doesn’t make us any healthier, or livelier. Rather, we are ready to dying, while the most important part of us is missing.

So, how can we make the the thorns reemerge in us? Well, staying in the dirty water of our keeper’s vase, rarely getting plant food isn’t the answer. We must be reattached to the rose bush we were taken from, and become nourished again by the life of the plant. As a solitary rose we are dead — it is only a matter of time before the wilting sets in and our real state is known. We are not as pretty or vibrant as we appear, the difference is the emptiness that is now on the inside.

But, as a part of the bush we belong to, new life can emerge, and we can become whole again. This is what the Christ came to do for us when He died. He presents Himself as the One we have been removed from, the One life dwells in. He wants to reinsert us into the life-system of His love — the main rosebush.

The loneliness that creeps up on days like this is meant to alert us to our one big problem: We are every day, perhaps unconsciously missing out on Life — the love and care of Jesus Christ.

This is not how we are supposed to be or where God wants us to stay — just as the rose does not truly belong in the vase trying to survive another day on synthetic plant enzymes. It is because of our internal emptiness, and the garbage we discover then, that God came as the Christ to die the vase death for us and reconnect us to the rosebush. The vase represents living for ourselves in a world that is fading away, and the rosebush represents God who is Life and Love to be enjoyed by all who believe He is the only way for them to be restored to the rose-reality they were meant for.

So, the deal is now:

A. Christ is God

B. God came to earth for your sake — to reconnect you with His life in the relationship you broke by deciding to live without Him.

C. With Him is life, and without Him is death. Unless you allow Him to reconnect you, you will never know life or love, only a sham.

D. God reconnects you when you offer your empty heart to Him, thanking Him for seeking it out, and welcoming Him to fill it with His love and life.

It’s not hard, and it’s not complicated. Like me, you have a need, you cannot fill it, you must accept the One Who has already arranged the satisfaction, you just have to tell Him you accept His gift, you want it, you need what only He can give you.

Make this your day for God to work in you, and your life will never be the same. Jesus will introduce you to more of His life, and expose more of death’s emptiness as He turns you into the kind of rose that blooms without ceasing — a show of the power of the bush you’re rooted in. Happy Love-Coming-In Day!

I Feel Like Screaming, “Protect Me, Will Ya?”

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted God to be right there and save you? Or, you expected Him to make you know that there was no danger, but instead He let you confront it face-to-face? When you were alone in the dark, He let you hear the creaks and silent whispers of the blackness all around you; He let you learn to cry out to Him for what you needed when none of the security-evidences you wanted were visible.

Perhaps, as I have, you grew angry at God for all that He hadn’t and wasn’t doing to make you feel safe. Why aren’t my feelings His highest priority? you wondered subconsciously.

When we struggle in situations like this one, it is because God knows us so well, even we find that we know Him so little. He wants to push us past our preconceived boundaries of what is good and beneficial for us; to cause us to see more of His climate, become better acquainted with His zone of activity.

We can only see so much of what delights God’s heart when we won’t let Him put us in places where those things can be center-stage. If we won’t allow God to get right in front of us in some pretty uncomfortable places, than there is really only so much physical, emotional and spiritual area that God can have in our lives.

To Be Godly Do I Work to Stand Out Or Try to Lift Up the Ones Who Are Sitting?

What is godliness? We talk about it a lot in Christian circles, but how is it really defined? Is it an inborn tendency to keep oneself unsoiled by the ways of the world, or is it a quality of the spirit for which we must work?

To be godly, is it important to avoid what fouls-up the external image we project as believers, or are we to be looking for experiences and insights that affect what Christ knows of our internal nature?

Should we seek to put more distance between ourselves and the world or dig deeply into how worldliness is already integrated into the fabric of our hearts before we even consider the people we hang-out with, and the influences we choose to subject ourselves to. Do we have the liberty of passing the blame to what runs to us, rather than what runs in us? Is our ultimate aim to know what is in us, or to make what others see of us the most acceptable and praiseworthy? Do we want to really boast that we must be made new in  Christ or would we be content with I must appear more put-together and holy myself?

Can I justify shoving away people whose choices I disapprove of, or in a way do I draw closer to investigate why I think I am so much better than they?

Could contact with the world — this place we are supposed to be not of, yet still firmly in for the sake of the people who fill it — be the very thing God means to prick our heart and make us acknowledge our humanness still remains even with all we’re doing for Him?

I don’t like the idea of this myself. I think it would be so much finer if I could stick with measuring myself and the people around me by my own customized standards of spiritual worth and excellence — what really makes me look good. I could begin with me and never need to get around to others, or Christ for that matter. I could be the star, and others could just long to be like me — at least the ones who seemed to be looking up enough. I could be always confident that no one else could hold a candle to my discipleship. My value could remain in believing that I am Jesus’ only prized sheep.

Yet, that same Jesus asks me what I have to gain in this, because it is certainly so much less than Him. You see, I am realizing that I have to go out of my way to reject Christ’s righteousness for me to stand instead on a flighty idea of reward belonging to my own stellar performances.

Besides missing what He has for me, I miss what He has for others — I miss grace. I miss what is supposed to be shared by Christians for the sake of Christ’s glory, not ours. I miss the whole point, because I forget that I am not the point.

But, if I will get close enough, others will make that error abundantly clear. For, I’m finding that God uses people to function as reflective pools of who we truly are. I can walk around all day thinking I’m “the bomb”, yet, by openly interacting with another, I can be corrected instantly.

This is the power of God in positioning us to see ourselves for who we truly are. This is God cultivating God-liness in the unmistakably god-less. This is the Holy Spirit fulfilling in us God’s unshakable desire for us: a God-central, God-dependent life. A life in which we do not look good, but this for the sake of Christ appearing relevant. We lay off the wraps of image and prestige — and the striving for these things — to take hold of grace that unquestionably must point out it’s necessity in our failures in order to be a compelling witness to the watching world.

If I would ask, “What needs to change in me?” instead of “What do You think You’re doing with me?”

Sometimes I want to know exactly where God is and what He is doing. How do I feel so full of joy some days, and others — though He is still as faithful to me as ever — wonder where I am and what could be the point God has in letting me have a lull here?

Yet, would I be concerned with my Rock if I did not experience storms, or feel what it is like to be left behind by what is going on around me?

But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.

Ephesians 2:11-13

These are the words that I need to hear. My prayers have been too consumed with me, too interested in what I’m thinking and feeling, too disinterested in how God overrides what I see and know.

Who is He who these moments of my emptiness-without-enough-greatness-to-keep-my-attention are meant to point out? I go nowhere and find nothing when I ask “God, why?” but, I find Who I was meant to discover in all this nothingness when I ask instead, “God, who are you, and what am I supposed to be seeking after today? What am I NOT seeing of You that is making me feel so disillusioned?”

Let me not try to hold onto what made me feel happy and full of hope yesterday, let me look for more in You, God, than I knew I needed yesterday.

I’m discovering Full is Emptiness that seeks out God

My life is full. Not because I have everything I would like to have in this life or too much on my plate, but because God is able — by a power I do not really comprehend — to satisfy my soul to a point which nothing in heaven or on earth can even come close. I was made for God, not goods; I grow when I quit complaining about what is missing and instead ask to see and experience what He had in mind.

Full is emptiness that asks to know the Father even if it be at the expense of everything I classify as riches.

I’m done Worrying, trying to be like God, and thinking I must have it All Together

I’m no longer going to worry about whether or not God will keep His promises to me; and how He will do this; and when…and the rest of my inhibitions about His seemingly inconceivable arrangements for my life.

Worry does not make me any more like God. And besides, no matter how much I think I will be able to get myself geared-up for the future He has for me, I will never be able to meet His purposes with confidence in my own readiness. By faith I leave all that needs to be done in me in His ever-capable hands.

After all, does God ever call any of us into projects and purposes that we have already mastered on our own? No, He welcomes us into a much larger world — where so much more is possible for us than what we know and see all by ourselves. By faith He teaches us to dream of how big and majestic He is with our eyes firmly shut and our hearts and minds wide open to His multi-dimensional views.

The Work He Wants to Do

We cannot force God to do what we want Him to do in our lives, but we do have more power than we think. We can choose to receive from God whatever He wants to do for us in whatever form He chooses.

This is a gift that I think we too often over-look. We should be asking ourselves deeper questions: What could we be and do and have if we let God take first place in our lives? What could it be like to forfeit our earth-bound agendas in favor of abiding by His heaven-releasing promises?

I think it would mean that we were choosing to know God for the first time — not because we knew just how our faith was fully insured, but because we wanted to put no conditions on God so that we could experience for ourselves who He truly is.

A Nagging Appetite

God, I want more — will I ever stop feeling like I am in want? Where should I go with all this longing? You know where I would go, but what is the good place You have set aside for me to be filled? I don’t like to count on You like this, but I’ve grown so tired of feeling unfulfilled in all that I do and seek. Where are You in all the frustration I’m feeling?

Lord, I need Your help to desire good things; to dwell in the land that You’ve placed me and feast on Your faithfulness. I can only feel empty when I stubbornly resist the joys You have set before me in this season because I set on moving ahead so I can see what’s next.

I think I don’t need to eat from Your table today if I’m more curious about what You may be serving tomorrow. But I wasn’t meant to fast until I can expect to enjoy what I really want. I was meant to sit at the feet of God with the unpretentious attitude of “feed me, Father; You know what I need.”

Waiting, Trusting, Watching

It’s one thing to give your life to God, and it’s another thing to follow Him through everything that comes next. I like beginnings, personally — that fresh-faced excitement and seemingly boundless vigor that identifies so many things that are in their infancy. I don’t often like that awkward stage that follows, when we’re not really sure what’s going on and what comes next. Everything we had come to expect while we were in that first stage now seems completely irrelevant. The future is not as crystal-clear as we once thought it looked. We wonder what we should be doing with ourselves, now that everything we once recognized as our normal course appears to be missing in action.

Should we abandon the mission altogether, or just try learning to adapt to a temporary shift in priority?

Have you ever had these questions about your life and what God is up to so mysteriously? Perhaps you are feeling a little disgruntled right now because you don’t remember getting His heads-up memo. You liked how things were not far back and you are not taking too kindly to all the sudden change in your life. Maybe you even thought that you and God were partners, meaning that He would clear anything new He wanted to do with you before making a move.

Well, might I suggest that He already is? Think about it, if you are working with God — that meaning you are seeking out His purposes and perspectives — then He could be revealing to you what you asked to know, as we speak.

You see, God will not always map-out for us everything He has in mind for our lives — sometimes what is most important to Him is our trust. Yes, we could feel better right now if we knew we could sign-off on the whole thing He’s got planned for us, but why can’t we?

God’s not getting in our way, we are. We think that trust needs to be earned and can never just be warranted — even by God. But why not? Because we want to believe that we are the ultimate judges of character. But what does that say about our own? We only trust what we can see and fully identify; we trust only what we can know by our own calculations — we are a long way off from faith. We are sight-dependent believers who don’t really know their God.