Rainbow days vs. ordinary days

In Chapter 2 of God is Closer Than You Think, author John Ortberg contrasts rainbow days with ordinary days.  Rainbow days are days when God’s presence is unmistakable.  Wise people learn to treasure rainbow days as gifts and store them up to recall during those times when God seems more elusive- those ordinary days.

The major problem with ordinary days is that a spiritual malaise tends to set in.  It often goes unnoticed because it is so subtle and gradual.  Pastor Ortberg describes it as “spiritual attention deficit disorder”.  Given a choice, rainbow days would seem to be a slam-dunk.  Yet the author asserts that quite the opposite is true, that God wants us to learn to “see Him in the ordinary rather than be dependent on the extraordinary.”

All things considered, perhaps ordinary days aren’t so “ordinary” after all, but a required course for us to experience God’s presence and glory through the inner eyes of the soul.  As William Berry writes in Finding God in All Things:

“Whether we are aware of it or not, at every moment of our existence we are encountering God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is trying to get our attention, trying to draw us into a reciprocal, conscious relationship.”

 

 

Seeing small

As Chapter 9 (“Go Lower”) of One Thousand Gifts begins, author Ann Voskamp is recording her blessings via the lens of her camera.  She is pleasantly interrupted by her young daughter, who is all of three and a half feet tall.  Her daughter wants to take pictures as well.  With operating instructions from Ann and camera in hand, the daughter’s unadulterated joy permeates the room as she embarks on her photo shoot.

When mother and daughter sit down to scroll through the pictures, Ann is surprised by the photos.  She finally realizes the surprise reflects her daughter’s perspective and vantage point.  What looks normal to an adult is huge in her daughter’s smaller world.  Ann concludes:

“If the heights of our joy are measured by the depths of our gratitude, and gratitude itself is but a way of seeing, a spiritual perspective of smallness might offer a vital way of seeing especially conducive to gratitude.”

It then follows, Ann notes, that all wonder and worship grows out of smallness.  Martin Luther and G. K. Chesterton both captured this essence of smallness.  Martin Luther once said: “God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”  Somewhat more succinctly, G. K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy) observed: “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it.”

 

Practice, practice, practice. Hammer. Hammer. Hammer.

Toward the end of Chapter 3 of One Thousand Gifts, author Ann Voskamp remarks that sometimes her quest to list 1,000 things for which she is thankful seems quite juvenile.  In the midst of mundane existence, is making that list merely a ridiculous experiment?

The truth is, Ann explains, that learning requires practice- and at times that practice is mind-numbing.  The obstacle to such intentionality, as C. S. Lewis describes in his book God in the Dock,  is the misplaced notion that God created the world simply to make us happy:

“If you think of his world as a place simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place for training and corrections and it’s not so bad.”

It’s not enough to read the Biblical injunction to “give thanks in all things” or listen to sermons on the subject.  Ann states that we must practice until it becomes second nature to us.  She summarizes the relationship between practice and training:

“Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.  Practice, practice, practice.  Hammer.  Hammer.  Hammer.”

To paraphrase Erasmus, a contemporary of Martin Luther, the nail of ingratitude is driven out by the nail of gratitude.  The vacuum created by getting rid of a bad habit must be filled with a good habit.

 

The whisper test

In Chapter 4 (“How to Know When You’re Hearing from God”) of The Power of a Whisper, author Bill Hybels clearly states that, while God’s whispers rarely are tangible, there are specific and concrete steps (aka “the whisper test) we can take to discern “if we’re hearing from God or hearing from the sushi we ate last night.”  Over the years Pastor Hybels has compiled a list of 5 filters through which God’s perceived whispers must pass- the whisper test (pages 98-106):

1.  Is  the prompting truly from God?  The message must square with God’s character and attributes.

2.  Is the message Scriptural?  When we sense God’s prompting, we must ask ourselves if we could imagine Jesus taking the action we’re considering taking.

3.  Is the message wise?  Does it pass the “general-wisdom” test?  Pastor Hybels stresses: “Scripture is relentless in exhorting us to be wise in all our dealings, to be wise in all our ways . . . If God is indeed in the plan, it will likely not involve blatantly unwise action.

4.  Is it in tune with your own character?  Does the whisper pass “the wiring test”?  The whisper must be consistent with the person God created you to be.

5.  What do the people you trust the most think about that whisper?  Consider Proverbs 11:14- “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”

 

Crying “Uncle!”

In Chapter 7 (“The Gospel of Suffering”) of Glorious Ruin, Pastor Tullian Tchividjian quotes his friend Scotty Smith, who once said the “God will use the pain in our lives to make us cry uncle, so that we might cry Father.”  The author adds that as Christians we serve an unrelenting God who desires that we find full satisfaction in Him.  Often it’s through affliction or adversity that we come to the end of ourselves, ready to ask Who is with us through our suffering rather than Why and How.

Steve Brown, cited by Pastor Tchividjian, summarizes these thoughts quite effectively in his book A Scandalous Freedom:

“Pain is not something most people like.  That is why we run from it as fast as we can.  That is also why we aren’t free.  Jesus hardly ever goes to those places where we can run. When pain comes . . . don’t run away.  Run to it, and you will find you have run into the arms of Jesus . . . .”

As Tullian points out, if our identity is founded on anything less than God (idolatry), we’ll experience pain whenever that lesser foundation is assaulted, as it inevitably will be.  It is not suffering that robs us of joy, but idolatry.  If our identity is anchored in Christ, suffering will direct us to the source of our joy.

St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9- “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ”

 

Approval addiction

Why do we often respond strongly to criticism?  Why are we so concerned with what others think of us?  Why is our self-image so bruised by the emotional and spiritual devastation of adversity?  John Ortberg discusses these issues in Chapter 10 of  The Life You’ve Always Wanted.   He labels the tendency to fixate on negative comparisons “approval addiction”.

Henri Nouwen put this problem in perspective in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son:

“At issue here is the question: ‘To whom do I belong?  To God or to the world?’  Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God.  A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed.  A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. . . . Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves.”

Whether our calling to the teaching or pastoral ministry spanned many years or was just beginning to yield it’s first fruits, our ministry position in great part formed our identity.  The spiritual, collegial, emotional and material support that daily sustained and blessed us has vanished.  We are in a spiritual battle with the forces of darkness.  We need to capture our negative thoughts to grow closer in conformity with Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

The word of St. John of the Cross encourage us: “In general, the soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so . . . . most frequently when it imagines that it is losing.”

 

 

Exult in monotony

In Chapter 4 (A “Dee-Dah Day”: The Practice of Celebration) of The Life You’ve Always Wanted, author John Ortberg describes a time when he was giving his 3 young children a bath.  One of his daughters was out of the tub and John was trying to dry her off, but she joyfully was running around and around in circles, repeatedly singing “dee dah day”.  Impatient and irritable, John told his daughter to hurry up.  She replied with a very profound question: “Why?”

Pastor Ortberg notes that when we are preoccupied with ourselves we are incapable of pouring out our joy to others or experiencing the myriad delights God offers to us each day.  Unless we understand the importance of joy to God, we’ll never comprehend joy’s significance in our lives.

The uninhibited joy we see in the happiest child is just a fraction of the joy that is in God’s heart.  In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton noted that children love to “do it again”, that they thrive on things being repeated and unchanged.  Adults, however, rarely rise to that level of enthusiasm:

“For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.  But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.  It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun, and every evening ‘Do it again’ to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but he has never got tired of making them.”

“I yam what I yam”

John Ortberg begins Chapter 1 of The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People with a statement by his childhood hero, cartoon character and philosopher Popeye the Sailor Man: “”I yam what I yam.”  Popeye would say this whenever he felt frustrated or had no idea what else to do.

Pastor Ortberg notes that Moses felt the same way when he encountered the burning bush in the desert.  Although God had chosen Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Pastor Ortberg surmises that God’s timing must have seemed strange to Moses.  Forty years prior- before he’d killed an Egyptian and fled as a fugitive to the desert- would have been a much more logical time.  Moses was in the prime of life and had powerful connections.  When God called Moses, he was a shadow of his former self.

The author states, however, that God’s message to Moses is also His message to us:

“I know all about that.  It doesn’t really matter.  For I will be with you.  Your guilt and your inadequacies are no longer the ultimate truth about you.  You are what you are- but that’s not all you are.  You are what you are, but you are not what you will be.  I will be with you.”

Following our ministry downsizing or position loss, we are no more at the end of the line than Moses.  God has plans for us, and has promised to be with us!

 

Four traits of gratitude

In Chapter 2 of Ruthless Trust, author Brennan Mannng discusses 4 characteristics of a life lived in gratitude:

1.  Gratitude is inclusive.  Henri Nouwen encourages us in his book Bread for the Journey:  “Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see the guiding hand of a loving God.”

2.  Gratitude is attentive.  If our focus is inward, we can’t be attentive to the daily manifestation of God’s gifts.  Brennan Manning notes that prayer is the key to such attentiveness: “To be aware and alert to the (manifested) presence of God . . . requires an inner freedom from self acquired through prayer.”

3.  Gratitude is contagious.  Simply stated, it’s delighful to be around grateful people and catch their spirit.  The author cites Brother David Steindl-Rast in his book Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer:  The root of joy is gratefulness . . . . It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

4.  Gratitude is theocentric.  Alternatively and wryly stated, G. K. Chesterton once quipped that an athiest’s worst moment is feeling grateful and having no one to thank.  Brennan Manning restates this concept from a Christian perspective: “The theocentric character of gratitude is anchored in trust that there is Someone to thank.”

 

Genie or Jesus?

Continuing his discussion of Jesus healing the paralytic (Mark 2:1-5), author Timothy Keller (King’s Cross) recognizes that at the moment the paralytic was lowered through the roof to Jesus, Jesus had the power to heal him right on the spot- just as He has the power to immediately act on our requests.  However, Jesus knows that we need Him to go much deeper than that.  Pastor Keller explains our choice is a genie or Jesus:

“He (Jesus) actually has the power and authority to give each of us what we’ve been asking for on the spot, no questions asked.  But Jesus knows that’s not nearly deep enough . . . . we don’t need someone who can just grant our wishes.  We need someone who can go deeper than that . . . . In short, we need to be forgiven.  That’s the only way for our discontent to be healed . . . . And we will discover that in the process of dealing with our deepest wishes, Jesus has revealed an even deeper, truer one beneath- and it is for Jesus himself.  He will not just have granted that true deepest wish, he will have fulfilled it.”

Romans 12:2- “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”