Am I waiting to hear…nothing? Or are You near, Lord?

I sit at the feet of my Master, shivering because I don’t know how to stop. I’m here because I need to be–something came up to give me reason to be near Him. My world feels like it’s falling apart. It’s scary–what I have to look out at from beneath His shadow.

“Oh, God,” I plead. “Please, let me know my circumstances can’t diminish Your power or presence in my life. Let me know You haven’t changed and that You’ll always been there. I need to feel close to You, right now! Oh…I’m too afraid to be where I am alone.”

A sob escapes me and I cry. Half of me hates being this dependent, half of me knows it is good, even with all this pain.

A few moments pass and I’m not sure He’s heard me. I feel a little quieter inside, but I think this is just because I’m waiting to hear an answer.

Then a sound from Him stirs the silence in the room. He doesn’t say a word, but somehow He is just enough. I wouldn’t say that I feel Him, but I am reminded deep in my soul that He is there. That is all I need.

Not that I can work wonders with whatever God gives me, but that He can do great things through seemingly small or imperceptible means. He does not have to show up on my doorstep to give me what I need. Just a hint of Hope can do a world of good.

Why should I keep at this when it’s so hard?!

I feel tired. Worn down. Empty of anything to give. My words on God’s activity in me once sounded so grand, even eloquent. Now, what I wish I could tell, I can’t. This has turned into a longer journey than I thought it would be. One with few get-up-and-shout-in-celebration moments along the way. There are wonderful moments all along the way–don’t get me wrong–but they often spontaneously arrest me as spots of beauty and hope amidst an otherwise ambiguous journey.

These days those spots God nestles in my life seem less and less the substance of things seen. They are deep workings of God’s Spirit in my heart. The surprising thing, to me, is that what cannot be seen with the physical eyes can often be difficult to speak of as well. This makes these wonderful moments feel like a bit of a handicap when I consider them after they’ve passed. They worked well in connecting me with God, but they seem to do little in connecting me with others. Who will understand me with stories like these? I find myself asking.

It’s not just that what I would have to share is so crazy, but that no one talks about the things that I would like to say. I get the feeling, sometimes, that no one really goes that deep, and they would prefer that I didn’t either. I try my best to comply in a way that puts the interests of others above my own, but so many dreams of highly meaningful relationships must die as I do this. That’s why I love to write–or am learning to love writing–because I realize it is the doorway to greater possibilities than I often find in normal conversation. Here, as I write, I get to share the perfusion of my soul and find others who identify with the words these things compel. What a blessing!

Lately I’ve been identifying with Mary (the mother of Jesus), concerning how she once hid away in her heart the many astounding things that she was a witness to from the point of Jesus’ entrance into her life to the climax of His mission at the cross. I imagine the quiet wonder she must have daily been infused with as she encountered the rare operations of the Holy Spirit upon her and upon her Son. How it must have plagued her heart to not be able to share so many of the amazing things God was doing with the family, friends and townspeople that she would have grown up with! Her soul was blossoming all the time, while her friendships probably wilted–not for lack of care, but for lack of deepening identification.

I think there is a special kind of pain known to the disciples of Christ who go through many trials in His name. There are so many who sit on the sidelines and suppose that people so near to Jesus should not have to go through such horrific or continuous tests. Or else they wonder at why a person should make such a big thing of walking with God–as though it were an all-encompassing thing. They recommend a break from such things, a chance to get ones thoughts and life in order. What they really mean is find out how to escape the very things that God’s using in your life to mold you into the image of Christ. They attempt to encourage a sufferer to remove ones presence from the gifts God gives.

This discourages me. I wish there could be more encouragement available to those of us who walk through difficult seasons with our Lord. I wish there were more understanding, more rejoicing with us in the monumental things God works out of monumental pains. But so often there is either quietness or rejection to meet our attempts to share what goes on between us and God. Thus, my following Christ has become a quiet thing–something I pour my heart and soul into, but mostly in the context of private interactions with the Lord.

I want to give Him everything I have–even when I don’t always fully understand what He will do with it. This is something I wouldn’t take leave of or give up. I just don’t understand why so many of the side-benefits that used to go with this relationship have faded as my intimacy with God has deepened. I guess somethings don’t go with us when we commit ourselves to running after God. For one thing, we’re not plodding along in a covered wagon that pulls along all our belongings behind us. Some of us have left that behind to be able to walk and keep pace with God in a much more unhindered fashion. We have wanted nothing between Him and us. I guess it’s just that sometimes we forget…that comes with a price.

I don’t know how God can possibly change me enough to make me congruent with everything that He stands for. I’ve done all that I can do in giving my life over to Him and asking Him to do what He wants with it. Now, I must wait. I cannot accomplish the change that remains for Him to make: the change that transforms me into a person who delights in His will in all things and wants what He wants as though it was the only thing worthy of concidering. That is a great work; when I surrender, I do not perfect that. I simply invite God to begin the work that will deliver me to that end. I’ve never seen it in full, but I’ve seen some pretty fantastic glimpses! I don’t know how, but He will change me to match the experiences of my life that He’s allowed to change.

I’ve found, so far, that where God raises the stakes, He raises my expectation and perception of Him–and that’s worth everything He takes me through to get there. I will take this journey. I shall consider myself blessed to be given the honor of being raised to such glories in Christ. I will consider God as One bestowing blessing on me and not a curse. I will ignore my feelings to the extent that I will not let them rule how I see God. This is not easy. God will have to do it in me. But, I believe if He got me on this path, He can furnish the means for me to walk in it and trust Him all along the way. He knows each new doubt I face and how to bring it down, to bow before His majesty. I want Him to do it and He wants to do it more. Hallelujah!

 

What about when I need a break from God?

For some of you, your first thought upon reading the title above is utter shock: “That’s unbiblical!” you cry out. You’re so afraid of ending up guilty of such an infraction that you deny that such a phenomenon could even exist among the race of humans–except, possibly, with the exception of the fiercely pagan (which you make it your business not to know).

For others of you, you read the title of this post with relieved expectation: “Finally, someone is acknowledging that mankind at times finds themselves in such a state.” If you’re in this place, you may want to get out of it, but you also may not. If you are honest, you probably want to get to the heart of what’s going on inside of you before you would ever want to move on. You may have many people around you who are coaxing you to pull yourself out of this “slump”–whether they attempt this by anxious persuasion or caustic maneuvering.

But what are your reasons for needing a break from God? And, may I ask you, what are the characteristics of the God you must escape? How do you see Him? How do you see Him seeing you? These are things that must be considered if the relief your heart needs is ever to be found.

I’m not telling you your feelings and needs are wrong, and I don’t believe God is either. I’m challenging you to let these feelings and needs lead you to a deeper level of revelation than you’ve ever plumbed. Find out what you’re running from and what you’re trying to run to. What is the source of your chains and what holds the power of your release? These are powerful questions that hold out to you the potential of freedom.

These questions will serve your heart well. They do not deny the condition of your heart; rather, they seek to diagnosis your heart in the deepest way possible so that it may be aligned with its most ideal treatment. The ultimate treatment is not something you can do for yourself, but you can certainly do some work to get yourself in a place of contracting with God for this work to be accomplished in you.

Not everyone understands the heart well–even people who claim to know God like they invented Him. But if you want to truly understand your heart, go to God and invite Him to reveal what He sees inside you. Expect His tenderness to train you in paths you haven’t gone. Understand that though He does not protect you from recognizing obscene realities of sin within you, He will cause you to rejoice in seeing that your shame He has fully taken upon Himself. He assumed the weight and penalty of your shame so that you might go free. But He didn’t do this so that you could then walk away from Him.

He did this so that you would have every reason to walk toward Him. And not just walk, but run into His arms–knowing and being convinced of how much you’re wanted there. This realization is the only thing that will be able to call off your break from God. More than that, it is the only thing that can resolve the arguments that anchored you in your retreat.

To demonstrate how much He cares about resolution when it comes to what’s going on in your heart, God has already done three things for you:

The first thing He did was that He took care of your ultimate problem. He set at ease the enmity between you and Him and opened Himself up to you. He saw your fault in the problems that exist between you and He and assumed the debt you racked up. Where you were wrong and had to make things right (but couldn’t), He made things right.

The second thing He did was call you to come look at what He did and understand why He did it. A lot of problems we have with God would be cleared up if we would just look at the cross and take the time to ask Him “Why?” He died so that love could be the answer.

The third thing He did was invite you to embrace the implications of that answer. If God loves you, why aren’t you taking advantage of it? No, don’t use this as an opportunity to scorn Him and get the upper hand when it really counts. Doing this will only make the gift you were meant to enjoy non receivable, even a curse. Instead, delve into this love-gift. Discover in it’s depths (no, I’m sorry but you won’t find this from a distance or by hovering on the surface of it) the most steadfast and true love you will ever find. Come rest in the one place where your performance is no longer counted against you–for good or bad. Hide yourself–find your covering–in the place where One performance forever seals you in the arms of your Father and Heart-Lifter.

For all your arguments and struggles, God entreats you to  argue with Him. He does not want your heart to be burdened and beat up any longer. The cross shows us that He is serious. Christ’s whole heart became blistered and bruised by your very pain. Everything that is wrong with your life and you He came to know intimately. He insists, now, that you come near and not retreat from Him because He wants to sort things out with you. He does not want you to isolate yourself with your problems; He came to Calvary so that fellowship could be restored between you–even to the extent that your problems would become His.

God removed every reason that sin and shame had to keep you apart from Him and invites you to hash out what remains–showing you that all these things together are not as strong as His love for you. He will provide the means for conquering them if you will ask Him to. God does not call you to dismiss parts of yourself to be able to fellowship with Him. Instead, He insists that you bring everything that composes who you are to Him. He promises you that seeing yourself in the pure light of who He is will remove all the blemishes of your heart; all the misconceptions, anger and frustration.

This does not mean, for now, that you will never experience these things again, but that they will no longer rule you. They will never keep you from fellowship with Him. Rather, the weaknesses in you will cause you to find greater comfort in His strength. And you will learn to let go with joy because what He holds out to you is far more important than anything that would keep you from receiving His gifts. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” ( Isaiah 1:17-19).

The relationship between your shame and His sacrifice is the only thing with the power to not just draw you “back”–to the less rebellious place you were before–but call you Home (to God) for the first time. This is grace: What you’ve been looking for so long to find. This is fearlessness in facing the truth because the Truth already faced down the reasons for your fear.

He arrested the development of your eternity-defining struggle against Him so He could call you home to mercy and not what you deserved; to life and not the death that awaited you from a wrath-appointing God; to peace and not the enmity you’ve always known to be the chief characteristic of your relationship with God. So, ask God to give you a break from your troubles–if that’s the request that burdens you the most. Ask Him to give you a break from all the things that make you hate Him or misunderstand what He’s doing (or done) in your life. But, above all, ask Him to teach you the blessed opposite of taking a break from Him. He will teach you–oh, most eagerly!

Is it possible for conflict to make love more compelling?

Conflicts that control or weaken your ability to enjoy life are conflicts that cut off your life-supply of love. Love is the substance of your life and it must control conflicts in order to enable you to grow. If the love within you is not strong enough to do this, the conflicts you face will destroy and choke the theory you have of love.

For love to be real, it must fulfill two requirements, 1) it must not be from you and 2) it must be something that is practiced, not merely felt. Does this seem a little rough, a little less appealing than the love you feel is more natural? If so, than might I suggest that it’s possible that the love you hold to is more about you than it is about extending yourself for the interest of others?

That may sound a bit harsh, but if love is of God (as it says in 1 John 4) than truly you cannot attest to your possession of it if we are not “of God” yourself. Therefore, you do not look to yourself to conjure up love; you merely offer yourself to God that He might transform you into a tangible expression of the love He gives you.

God’s love teaches that all conflicts come from us–us and our neighbors–and the resolution of all conflict comes from God. Because we do not have to be the ones to create a way to fix all the situations we’re in, we learn to trust God and glorify Him in our trials.

Yes, how lovely our Savior looks in these things as He embraces us in the cares that have come because of our sin and the consequences of our original rebellion! He who should have stayed far away from us, now not only comes near, but shares with us in our mistakes, that He might make them testimonies to His success at Calvary: How He has covered all our sin and made us acceptable before God not on our merits, but on His.

If God’s love can so masterfully convert this conflict into something that can make us love Him, can He not use all the daily conflicts we face now to make us appreciate that love more and more?

Wikipedia: His political essay Utopia speculates about life under an ideal government.

Everything is not okay…and even so, I think I’ll be okay

What do you do when everything is not okay? How do you live life when it is no longer possible to pretend that’s your life is all right, that you know how to deal with the horrors you’re going through?

This might surprise you, but I don’t think we do anything in the common understanding of the word. Instead, we sit and watch. We ask God for a greater vision of what He’s doing and we trust Him to bring to pass what He reveals to us.

We use the time in front of us in a way that says “I’m letting God do what He’s doing with me. I’m not going to get in His way–though I’m surely going to be running His way a lot!” We recognize that we’re not going to come through this without His comfort. We believe that because He will give us His comfort, our entire test will become a blessing.

We don’t do this because we want to impress God. Neither do we do this because we hope our sheer willpower can make us more righteousness while we fight. We do this for such a higher reason: We do it so that we may not forfeit an opportunity to treasure the presence of God in moments He wants to redeem. We treat days and years and seasons of pain and pressure like missives written in code. We consider ourselves loaded down with grace not because we see so much good but because we know God does.

He knows where we are, and He may not move us, but He won’t let us mistake that He is right in our midst. Trials teach us to welcome Him in with greater abandon. The teach us that He defines our hope and that no one or no thing can cripple Him though they try to cripple us. We are safe in His arms. What ever wants access to us, to destroy us, must go through Him first.

Trials also bring out the sin in us; they impress us with the magnitude of what Christ did for us at the cross. They remind us that our greatest enemy has been vanquished. They encourage us that we are not beholden to our former orientations–we have been raised to live for Christ.

There is nothing to obsess over. There is only to walk the path He made ready. There is really nothing for us to settle, nothing for us to make right. God has done all that. He simply invites us to enjoy it, to come into the kingdom He has set up. After all, God allows trials in our lives because He wants to get us acquainted with what He can do, what He has done; He knows how handicapped we are when all we know is what we can do.

 

Revel in these things

Do you find it possible to revel in God and the things He is doing for you when He invites you to settle into obscure places? Can you be satisfied when He chooses to bless your spirit while allowing your flesh to be afflicted with painfully incapacitating cramps?

Is it necessary for God to fulfill your natural ambitions for self gratification in conjunction with His own ambitions for the mortification of self in you?

Can you see pain through the eyes of redemption?

Is there a desire for true life at whatever cost it may come– wherever place it may be found?

What matters more: comfort or contentment? One demands a certain set of circumstances, the other welcomes whatever the Father includes as a necessary part of His plan for your sanctification.

Is it okay for your life to become a mission field–a designated area that God can freely position Himself and His instruments to make of You a person who honors Him with everything, no matter how humbled we are by our fledgling resources. Our God can use anything for His purposes; indeed, He knows no boundaries for His glory–do you?

The art of “being used”

How does one work for God? In my experience God works on us that He may then work through us. There has been a cycle of three convictions that He has regularly used to cause my heart to be possessed by my Lord and Savior to a new degree.

The first is always being satisfied with God. Now, by this I do not a boring acqiescence to having “just” God. Being limited to God is only a deprivation in the weakest sense. It is the chance to see what we could never see if our lives were crouded with unnecessary distraction. It is firming up our faith by practical means: If God really is as great as He says He is than I can afford to let this go to discover more of what all of this means for me. It is an experiment; a pure and privileged opportunity to realize who God is that I might know who I am in Him.

The next sequence is being willing to let God change up what I’m doing. I like predictability and timeliness, but efficiency on God’s scale of values often requires that my definition of these be changed. Each alteration in my activities and concerns addresses the sin-orientation of my heart in a new way. I couldn’t handle everything that He wants to do at once, so converts me by degrees, He corrects me in one area at a time. He knows what I can handle, what will most tenderly and forcefully affect me in the ways that I need to be to receive more of Him. He is always increasing my effectiveness for Him just as He and His mind is perfected in me more and more each day.

The last exercise He does is in enlarging my desire for Him to obtain glory from me and through me. The change that occurs here is in seeing that my whole life is summed up in Him and that He is my richest supply of joy. Because I would be lost without Him, I cling to Him and ask that only one thing would come from my life: He would be recognized as the giver of every blessing that I enjoyed, every trial that brought me closer to Him; that He would be attractive and a curious mystery to anyone that got to see anything that He did through me; that the testimony of how central and essential He is to the life and livelihood of every man and woman that He created would go out through the life-tale of one more humbled person.

Christ uses suffering to make us well

There is nothing like knowing that you will be okay when God gives you a glimpse of

how in control He is of your circumstances,

how capable He is of unveiling more of His glory to you in it, and

how adept He is in transforming your heart by its pressure.

Love Him even if He is all you have! If testing is what He has chosen for you, then appreciate the fact that there was likely no other way you could have become pliable enough for God’s love to freely mold you.

Consider the trial-testimonies of others, and ask your Savior for new insight in reflecting on yours. Our stories are not so different; they will always reflect the same truths that we need to see, if we are first conscious of the same God at work behind them.

Our Lord has enabled me to face and endure the testing of so many things that I never could have faced or come through alone. This is how the gospel of Jesus Christ continues to accomplish the revelation of grace in our lives: It corrals us into positions from which we might be most certainly impressed by our need for His sacrifice and by His willingness to offer it.

Evil is my greatest witness to Christ

Is your God big enough to handle the evil in your life?

Is your Redeemer righteous enough to work all those difficulties you face into a marvelous backdrop for the work He is doing in you?

When your closest family, friends and coworkers disappoint you, and there is no immediate success to lift your spirits, can the Master of your soul be trusted to harvest an abundance of virtue in you even if He chooses to do it with the help of these frustrations?

Can your God be good and unsurpassed in blessing and honor even when your life and dreams are falling apart all around you?

Is your God worthy of the same praise in the storm as in the calm?

To be honest, I think the answer to all of these questions is yes. But in regard to the last one (on the appropriateness of praise in life’s moments of storm and calm), I think a mere affirmation is insufficient. I believe it is absolutely true to say yes, but lets not stop there; this scenario represents such struggle for our souls that we need to clarify the substance of this position more so.

We rejoice in trial for one reason: When the night is darkest He shines brightest. All of our once-lovely-but-insufficient hopes are easily extinguished in a black-out like this, but the Light who once seemed dispensable has become our only remaining beacon.

It is then that we rise up with the Psalmist to boast that He has become our salvation. He was our Lord before this; we knew Him as Friend from our birth; but today — against the backdrop of our undeniable weakness — something has taken place that will forever change our life and relationship with Him: Today we have seen Him who rescues the distressed; the One whose praises the universe shouts from end to end: “Our God — Oh, how blessed we are! — He is mighty to save.”