Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want

Still Waiting (Tyndale, 2017)

Author and speaker Ann Swindell titles her first book Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want.  In her book, Ann uncovers what the story of the Bleeding Woman reveals about Christ’s character as well as how He draws near to hurting people.  Since waiting isn’t a calm and even business, it exacerbates the hurt.  Also, in both small and overwhelming ways, we all know what brokenness feels like.  Ms. Swindell ties the two together when she states that “we wait because we are broken and we’re broken because we are waiting.”  In our waiting and brokenness, then, we must learn to love our patient God.

Thus, the road of weakness leads straight into waiting.  And it’s counter productive to wiggle our way out of brokenness.  Rather, we need to seek Jesus.  Because He embraced, valued, and entered into our weakness.  Therefore, we face a choice between our own strength and the strength of Christ.  Only Christ’s strength sustains us through our waiting, especially since waiting sometimes hurts more than our initial pain.  To walk step in step with Jesus involves paring down our illusion of self-sufficiency.  That’s our cost of waiting.  Surprisingly, this awareness is itself a gift, for there we encounter Jesus.  Also, this awareness of brokenness denotes our baseline reality – the starting point of our need for Jesus.

Most noteworthy, let Jesus speak identity over you.  Resist the temptation to define yourself by what you lack.  In doing so, you fall prey to Satan’s lies.  When you buy into Satan’s lies, offense easily creeps into your heart.  Offense leapfrogs your hope, tenderness, and faith.  At this point, you either walk the way of offense or the way of obedience.  As the author underscores, obedience enables you to keep putting one foot of faith in Christ in front of the other.  In addition, through obedience, you express heartfelt honesty as you get on your knees before God.  Also, this stance fosters healing as you spend time reading the Word and experiencing God’s presence.  It’s hard to harden your heart against Christ when you spend time with Him.

In conclusion, Jesus understands our brokenness and shame.  While letting shame live as a parasite in our place of struggle renders us enslaved to life under it’s control, we, like Jesus, must choose to scorn and silence shame.  In order to do this, we focus on Jesus instead of idolizing our suffering.  That focus on Jesus, in turn, leads us to risk.  Through risk, the only way forward, we realize closeness and intimacy with God and others.  Finally, until the day of healing comes, tell your story of Jesus’ presence with you in the midst of waiting.  Proclaim His restoration, for restoration brings hope.  As Ann exhorts, while you’re still waiting, hope founded in Christ never truly disappoints us:

“For now, we wait.  But we have hope in our waiting, whatever it is we are waiting for: hope that Christ is with us, hope that Christ is for us, hope that Christ is coming again.”

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me (Tyndale, 2017)

Pastor and author John Ortberg titles his latest book I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me: Getting Real About Getting Close.  Although we crave intimacy, it remains a scary concept for a lot of people.  Therefore, intimacy cannot be coerced.  For God desires connection, not compliance.  Thus, the building blocks of intimacy consist of shared experiences that build meaningful connections.  This requires the essential elements of time and presence.  In other words, intimacy is a big feeling built on small moments.  Details matter.  And while the spiritual nature of God’s presence at first seems like a barrier to intimacy, God’s spiritual nature actually makes intimacy with Him deeper than with anyone else.

Vulnerability, Pastor Ortberg observes, drives us to attachment, to intimacy.  In moments of temptation, of aloneness, we make the choices that uniquely shape our character.  Yet, only God’s big enough and strong enough to assure us everything’s OK.  As John states, “Jesus offers to walk with you in the midst of your ordinary life today.”  Jesus continually invites us to connect – and never gives up.  However, our capacity for self-deception know no bounds.  This creates a serious problem with intimacy.  Thankfully, grace secures the foundation of Jesus’ call to more courageous self-awareness.  In addition, His great love for us gives evidence that we’re worthy of love and belonging.

This leads to Romans 12:15, a passage Pastor Ortberg calls “the golden rule of intimacy” – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”  There’s a magic arithmetic in shared experience.  When we share joy, that joy increases.  In contrast, when we share pain, that pain decreases.  So, don’t put sadness in charge of your life.  Rather, take your sorrow to God.  Since Jesus exemplifies the ultimate combination of authority and vulnerability, He offers us ultimate intimacy.  Also, God created us to have great authority and great vulnerability.  It’s not a matter of having one at the expense of the other.  In this process of commitment, we experience a freedom that avoiders never know.

Finally, Pastor Ortberg defines the Deep Down Dark  as “the place where you know you can’t make it on your own.”  In the Deep Down Dark, groaning (complaining to God) in suffering builds intimacy.  On the other hand, grumbling (complaining about God) destroys it.  Furthermore, healing from shame – deeply embedded condemnation – only comes from finding an acceptance greater than our greatest rejection.  As Lewis Smedes writes, we need the “spiritual experience of grace.”  God’s grace readies us to make any statement or take any actions that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.  Intimacy, John asserts, needs “outimacy.”  It needs to overflow in love beyond itself.  This happens in a community that lives and breathes Jesus.

As a result, it’s not a case of  I’d like you more if you were more like me.  As Pastor Ortberg concludes:

“I wonder if he [Jesus] whispers it still.

Just stop.

Be still and know.

Whoever has ears, let them hear: Bring in the love!”

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed

Unseen (Zondervan, 2017)

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed is the second book by critically acclaimed author Sara Hagerty.  Sara bases this book on Jesus’ encounter with Mary of Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8).  As Ms. Hagerty summarizes, “God invites us, through Mary’s forever-retold story, into . . . the kind of unhinged love that lays everything at His feet whether or not anyone else ever sees, approves, or applauds.”  Thus, although we live for what’s right in front of us, God ever so gently calls us to His unseen.  For craving the opinions and accolades of others breaks our gaze with God’s eyes – the only eyes to ever truly see us.   So, even when no one else is looking, God sees us.

In contrast, our human eyes easily betray the truth of the our story.  Therefore, Sara underscores, when God hides you,  everything hinges on your response.  God hides you: (a) so you find Him in His hiddenness; (b) to show you His kind eyes toward you; and (c) to tell you your story.  After all, God’s richer version far exceeds yours.  Furthermore, God creates, roots, and grows the sweetest greatness in secret.  And seen by God alone.  Most noteworthy, even when you’re a mess, God’s whispering into your story, not looking away from it.  It’s unnecessary, then , for you to partake in the most elusive form of hiding – that is, hiding from God.  Hence, in those naked-place moments when you permit yourself to be exposed before God, He covers you with Himself.

As we sit at Jesus’ feet in the hidden place, we become restless without a vision of what’s available to us.  Thus, our eyes need training to see God’s glory in the middle minutes.  Also, rather than hastily striving to check out of our hidden place just yet, we must heed God’s whispers to find Him there.  In the process, our relationship with God feeds us in a way our productivity and accomplishments cannot.  That friendship, in turn, enables us to win our day back – one minute at a time- with the spoken truth of God’s Word.  Plus, those who oppress us when we need uplifting inadvertently send us into hidden conversations with God.  Conversations that change us.  What others refer to as our end or ruin potentially, Sara states, “brings us closer to God than any one of our strongest days.”

Finally, Ms. Hagerty exhorts, if we’re able to tolerate our thirst long enough, we’ll find more of God.  Consequently, the thirsty thrive in God.  As we acknowledge our wounds, God heals them.  In addition, we learn to trust God more than we believe our fears.  Where people’s opinions fail us and we can’t see through our fears, God speaks to us in the unseen places.  As a result, here’s what happens when you lean into hiddenness.  You see prayer more as a growing connection to God’s heart and less as getting a desired answer.  When you listen in hiddenness, Sara explains, God’s thoughts reveal themselves to you.  They become precious.  You journey through the hidden places in expectation of victory.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together

The Imperfect Disciple (Baker Books, 2017)

Jared C. Wilson, currently director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently published The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together.  In his Introduction, Pastor Wilson states he wrote the book to demystify discipleship.  Because all of us need tuning up in the gospel every day, Jared thinks of discipleship as not simply following Jesus, but refollowing Jesus every day.  We veer off track so easily.  Yet, we don’t often realize our souls are greatly troubled when, in fact, that’s the case.  As a result, the author notes, we need to feed, nourish, and lubricate our souls.  Through this process, we don’t need good advice.  In contrast, we need good news.  And there’s good news for those on the bottom!  Jesus turned things right side up, not upside down.

Thus, discipleship rests on our trust of Jesus’ mercy toward our total inability to become bigger, better, or faster.  In addition, discipleship must deal with the tension between the glorious reality we believe in and yearn for and the harsh reality of life.  As a result, Pastor Wilson underscores, “every day when you encounter God . . . you face the choice of simply looking at Jesus or actually trying to see him.”  As G. K. Beale observes, people resemble what they revere, either for their ruin or their restoration.  Therefore, to truly behold Jesus, it’s crucial to cultivate Spiritual formation.  This means we find ways to immerse ourselves in the work of the Holy Spirit.  In the process, we re-sync ourselves to the rhythms of the Kingdom of God.

Through centering on the gospel, the essential duties of maintaining a relationship with God seem more delight than duty, more rhythms than rules.  Contrary to popular belief, hearing is believing.  In other words, to see we must first hear.  For, Jared states, the glory of God blares from the pages of Scripture.  Thus, God’s not giving us the silent treatment.  In fact, the author stresses, He’s practically yelling.  To behold Jesus, we must feast on His presence rather than giving Him crumbs.  Prayer enables us to strengthen this relationship.  Also, we need to think of duty as worshipful prayer rather than worshipful prayer as duty.   Our daily life communicates when where we place our hope and trust.  And the more we pray, the more we abide in God’s strength alone.

In conclusion, Jared emphasizes that our availability to God’s call to sacrifice is predicated on our understanding that God needs no more messiahs.  Jesus already took care of that job.  Thus, God doesn’t need us.  Ah, Jared adds, but we’re wanted!  God’s grace goes all the way down.  It meets us in the darkest valleys of the heart.  But God’s grace also goes all the way up to His glory.  Therefore, to practice followship of Jesus is to believe, through God’s grace, that heaven’s beyond our imagination or ability to conceive.  One day the Lord “will pull out a chair and seat us at his own table at the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

The Joseph Calling: 6 Stages to Discover, Navigate, and Fulfill Your Purpose

The Joseph Calling (Broad Street Publishing, 2017)

Os Hillman, founder and president of Marketplace Leaders, titles his latest book The Joseph Calling: 6 Stages to Discover, Navigate, and Fulfill Your Purpose.  First, Mr. Hillman notes that adversity functions as a key catalyst in how God moves people into their calling.  Thus, more often than not, people God uses simply respond to a crisis event rather than initiating a vocation from their own heart.  Therefore, through a Joseph calling, you become known by the adversity you’ve gone through in order to spiritually and physically provide for others.  Most importantly, without a foundational understanding of your purpose, your adversity and suffering won’t be worth it.

However, the author notes, you must discover why God created you before you start trying to determine your purpose.  And your underlying purpose should always be to do the will of the Father.  As a result, your relationship with God enables you to derive your earthly assignments.  So, when God calls you to walk down a specific path, He gives you – and only you – the grace for that assignment.  Also, in addition to discovering your purpose, you need to discover your anointing.  Os defines an anointing as when your gift functions easily and seems natural.

But, Mr. Hillman stresses, each of us must enter a valley – usually unwillingly.  Consequently, in that valley we experience the God of the valley and find strength in His faithfulness.  Furthermore, in the valley God brings us to the place where all we want is Christ.  Also, the valley provides fertile ground for a harvest of wisdom and virtue.  Through faithfulness in the valley, we enter a new dimension with God that we never though possible.  God doesn’t waste any valley experiences.  Hence, it’s important that we don’t attempt to extricate ourselves out of our valley time.  For doing so results in leanness of the soul.

When we understand crises and how God uses them, we’re less prone to make ourselves victims.  For example, the isolation stage reveals truth like nothing else can.  In the process, isolation changes us and removes what hinders us, forcing us to draw deep upon God’s grace.  And God’s performing a deeper work in us that cannot be seen.  Through our own personal cross, we experience the depths of God.  Plus, the fruit of this maturing process often results in successful problem-solving.  Thus, this gives you authority in the area God wants you to operate.  So when Satan throws bricks at you, tap into heaven.  That allows God to solve the problem and build His kingdom.

In conclusion, Os exhorts you not to think up things to do for God.  Rather, join Him in what He wants to do and is doing:

“Watch and wait for the trumpet call of God.  When the signs appear, then step into it.  Allow God to use you to be an instrument to manifest his presence into that specific situation.”

Your Powerful Prayers – Reaching the Heart of God with a Bold and Humble Faith

Your Powerful Prayers (Bethany House, 2016)

Susie Larson – radio talk show host, national speaker, and author- wrote Your Powerful Prayers: Reaching the Heart of God with a Bold and Humble Faith in 2016.  At the outset, Ms. Larson stresses that Jesus wants you to be comfortable with, yet undone by, His great love.  For God’s love and acceptance form an essential connection with prayer.  As a result, God invites you into a back-and-forth dialogue and an adventure of faith and obedience.  Therefore, what you say and pray about your disappointments deeply matters.  Because your words reflect what you believe to be true about God and about yourself.

In addition, the author notes, heartaches and unfulfilled desires often skew our perception.  Thus, we keep our thinking small.  Most importantly, it matters deeply how we steward our perspective, especially when God delays giving us what our heart’s desires.  So Ms. Larson encourages us to remember this important, immovable truth: we’re heirs and children of God; He deeply loves and profoundly cares for us.  As a result, when we find ourselves praying and pleading from underneath our circumstances, it’s time to remind our souls of His love.  And we must develop a lifestyle of listening to God so that we know our next steps.

Furthermore, Ms. Larson exhorts, you’re most powerful when you pray and most influential when you’re in step with God Almighty.  Hence, walking step by step with the Holy Spirit enable His desires to be your desires.  Also, God’s promises remain as potent and powerful as ever.  Thus, you pray with passion, boldness, humility, and faith.  This posture, in turn, keeps Satan from turning lies into truth, no matter how high he gets in the face of your fears.  As heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, you’re gifted with the privileges of His presence, promises, and power.  Perhaps, Susie suggests, it’s time to reframe your promises in the light of God’s power.  Rather than react to angst, respond to the Lord’s direction.

In conclusion, Ms. Larson underscores that we must recognize the difference between expectation and expectancy.  Briefly, Susie equates expectation with premeditated disappointment.  In contrast, she defines expectancy as the tenacious belief that your powerful prayers matter.  Jesus wants us in His presence expectant and full of faith.  And persevering prayer involves the gritty and supernatural- grabbing hold of promises that defy our circumstances.  Ms. Larson offers these words of hope:

“May we . . . walk the narrow road of holiness, humility, perseverance, and expectancy, because we know that our posture, our perspective, and  . . . prayers make all the difference in the world.”

The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You

The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You (Zondervan, 2010)

John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, wrote The Me I Want to Be in 2010.  First, John explains that the most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become.  In other words, there is a me you want to be (emphasis author’s).  Therefore, to complete that task, you need to flourish.  Pastor Ortberg defines flourish as receiving life from outside yourself, creating vitality within yourself, and producing blessing beyond yourself.  However, a battle rages between your flourishing self and languishing self.  John’s book, then, follows this battle as it moves from deep inside you to a world awaiting God’s redemption.

At the core of a flourishing soul, one finds the love and peace of God.  Since God uniquely designed you to delight in your actual life through the process of becoming you, only God gets the final word.  In fact, God’s working every moment to “help you become his best version of you.”  And when you primarily focus on being present with God, everything else falls into place.  In any given moment, your sincere desire to be submitted to the Spirit’s leading is all that’s needed.  Thus, the Holy Spirit never just flows in you.  He always flows through you.  Most importantly, sustainable spiritual growth occurs when you actually want to do what you ought to do.

However, we often equate surrender with defeat.  In reality, though, surrender provides the only way to victory.  For our willpower’s easily fatigued.  But in the long run, ingrained habits beat willpower.  As a result, true growth always proceeds in the opposite direction of self-righteousness.  Also, self-righteousness births a joyless life, leaving you most vulnerable to temptation.  So the Spirit desires that His presence establish a river of life, joy, and peace throughout the day.  Stated differently, the Holy Spirit wants to function as a non-anxious presence in every life.  And the intersection of what Scripture teaches and how your life unfolds = a never-ceasing stream to willingly do what Jesus says.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg reminds us of this important reality with God.  We never speak or act in His absence.  Therefore, John identifies the goal of prayer as living all your life and speaking all your words in joyful awareness of God’s presence.  This means, to stay in the flow of the Spirit, you need to monitor your soul satisfaction as well as know you signature sin pattern.  Once you know your signature sin, you also know what it takes to make you fully spiritually alive.  It’s also crucial that you find your special, private place to be yourself before God.  To become the me I want to be, God’s best version of you equals – a hoper.  For the Spirit of life is a Spirit of hope.  The Holy Spirit wants to make you a dangerous person, dangerously noncompliant in a broken world.  So, ask God for a mountain.

Walking with God; How to Hear His Voice

Walking with God: How to Hear His Voice (Thomas Nelson- 2008, 2016)

John Eldredge, director of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to restoring men and women in the love of God, originally wrote Walking with God in 2008.  He completed a revision in 2016.  In the Introduction, John defines our deepest need as human beings as learning to live intimately with God.  Therefore, as we develop and strengthen our walk with God through the Holy Spirit, our walk brings us back to the source of life.  However, our assumptions either help or hurt his walk every single day of our lives.  Underscoring the purpose of this book, John assumes that “an intimate, conversational walk with God is available and is meant to be normal.”  For God not only knows us intimately, but He also seeks intimacy with us.  This takes time and practice on our part.

Furthermore, to hear God’s voice we must adopt a posture of quiet surrender.  Also, walking with God and reading Scripture go hand in hand.  And hearing from God flows out of our relationship.  Since God’s after our transformation and our joy, we need to pursue joy as essential to life.  In contrast, we must carefully avoid making any agreements with Satan’s cunning lies.  Hence, we concentrate our focus on what God is giving rather than on what He isn’t.  We refuse to demand that life come to us on our terms.  Thus, insisting on understanding- as opposed to insisting on God- creates distance between us and God.  On the other hand, the collision of our desire to live a “nice little life” and our need to remain in Jesus can produce sanctification.

So, it’s critical that you possess the objective, everlasting truth revealed in Scripture.  Jesus knows the very words we need to hear, the words most precisely conveying His meaning to your heart.  In addition, Jesus’ words speak to motive.  Specifically, Jesus moves the whole question of motive from the Pharisees’ emphasis on the external to the internal.  As a result, John emphasizes that the greatest disaster for the human heart centers on the belief that we’ve found life apart from God.  When adversity strikes, we face two options: (1) let our disappointments define our life or (2) let them take us back to God.

In conclusion, John offers this advice when life threatens to overwhelm you.  Resist throwing joy overboard while hanging on to the very things overwhelming you.   Receive wisdom and revelation from the Holy Spirit to sustain your walking with God.  Finally, John offers these words of encouragement:

” . . . when we can’t seem to find the healing or the breakthrough, when the thief does manage to pillage, I believe ours is a gospel of resurrection.  Whatever loss may come, that is not the end of the story.  Jesus came that we might have life.”

Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story

Grace Is Greater (Baker Books, 2017)

Kyle Idleman titles his latest book Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story.  Kyle, teaching pastor at southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, uses Hebrews 12:15 as the inspiration for his book.  The verse reads: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.”  However, our familiarity with the word grace creates a problem.  Society’s frequent use of the word grace makes it so common it ceases to amaze us.  Consequently, when we miss grace things become toxic, and a bitter root begins to grow.  Thus, we must face the truth that we’re worse than we want to admit.  But, God’s grace is greater than we could’ve imagined.

Pastor Idleman asserts we best and most fully understand grace “not by way of explanation alone but through experience.”  Furthermore, our ability to appreciate grace directly correlates to the degree we acknowledge our need for it.  For if we cover up sin, we cover up grace.  Therefore, Kyle stresses, we need to confront this hard truth.  Before we collide with the grace of God, we must collide with our own sin.  In fact, the author coined the phrase beautiful illusion for the moment God’s grace finally catches up to someone’s mess.   God doesn’t give up on you.  It’s never too late.

Yet, grace is a two-way street.  Because grace flows, it’s not an option to receive grace from God, but then refuse to give it to others.  Hence, Pastor Idleman defines the litmus test of grace as “the extent to which you give grace and offer forgiveness to the person who’s hurt you the most and deserves it the least.”  Also, extending grace and forgiveness constitutes more than a decision we make.  It’s a journey.  Living in grace means releasing your pain to God.  In other words, while letting go of what happened to your isn’t fair, it is grace.  So, you forgive and remember.  And when you remember, remind yourself: “I forgive that.”

In conclusion, Kyle observes that complaining is the rival of grace.  Therefore, to help you give thanks in all circumstances, Pastor Idleman suggests, reverse engineer God’s grace in your life.  Specifically, find reasons to be grateful for God’s grace at work (1) in situations you’d like to change and (2) in much of what you’ve complained about in the past.  Since God authored your story, trust that grace has the final word.  Kyle summarizes:

“Life is hard.  God is good.  Just keep reading.  Grace is greater.”

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending (Zondervan, 2017)

International speaker and writer Esther Fleece recently completed No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending.  In her book, Ms. Fleece uncovers the biblical language of lament.  Esther describes lament as a real-world way to deal with our raw emotions that moves us forward to healing.  Furthermore, Esther states, think of lament as real talk with God when you’re hurting, the kind of song you need for hope and healing, a cry God can work with.  For no matter the cause of your pain, pain always needs to go somewhere.  Therefore, we need a grid for processing our grief.  However, coping mechanisms, although well-intentioned, ultimately never take us where we want to go and function as a cheap substitute for healing.

Lament, in contrast, requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us and taking our pain directly to God.  God, the protector and keeper of our hearts, desires to be with us in our pain.  On the other hand, unprocessed laments keep our heart in chains.  Also, when we opt not to wrestle with God in our brokenness, we turn to blaming others as well as God.  But, lamenting opens the door to a relationship with God in the midst of our heartaches.  Only God offers this type of intimacy for our pain.  First, though, we need to attest to our pain and offenses before we can lament them.  While facing the past is painful, it’s even more painful to live out the lies we’ve come to believe as truth.

Learning to lament out loud allows God to correct our misconceptions regarding how He sees us and thinks of us.  Hence, Ms. Fleece encourages us to take our questions to God rather than using them as an excuse to disengage.   She notes that, in our laments, God permits us to ask questions as a relationship-building test- to draw near to us in conversation.  God prefers honest questions to faked spiritual strength.  Specifically, Esther sees one particular question- “How long, Lord”- as a powerful prayer of hope.  In addition, that question serves as a bold declaration of God’s presence, active listening, and power to act on our behalf.

In conclusion, Esther urges us to spend time with God and in His Word to remind ourselves of His true character.  When we fix our eyes on God through the lens of our circumstances, we see a warped reflection.  Thus, reminding God of His promises helps us to remember them and reassures us of our trust in Him to keep them.   No season of lamenting lasts forever.  No season of lamenting is designed to take us out.  Instead, as we surrender to those seasons in faith, we know that the future holds joy.  In the meantime, Esther inspires us:

”  . . . let’s all make the choice to be done with faking fine.  God has much better plans — plans for true healing, wholeness, and life upon life.”