The worst kind of waiting there is

“But really the worst kind of waiting there is comes when you or I have to wait on God.”- Dr. Tony Evans

“How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear.”- Habakkuk 1:2 (NASB)

In Chapter 15 (“The Patience of Detours”) of Detours , Dr. Tony Evans states that, although patience is a virtue, we find it difficult to come by.  Yet, while all kinds of earthly waiting inconvenience us, the worst kind of waiting comes when we wait on God.

Dr. Evans describes what happens when, despite our prayers and worship, nothing seems to change.  We still feel empty and stuck.  Thus, Tony gives voice to our feelings:

“Sometimes it seems that God takes so long that you can begin to wonder if believing in Him is even reasonable.  You begin to wonder if it’s even worth the effort.  What’s the upside to this thing called faith, God? . . . After a while you begin to feel that the relationship is too one-sided.  Then, when things get even worse, you may even consider pulling back.  Withholding worship, prayer, devotion — because it just doesn’t make sense anymore.”

As a result, we cry out to the Lord like Habakkuk.  However, over and over again, the Bible instructs us to wait on the Lord:

“I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.  My soul waits for the LORD more than the watchmen watch for the morning.  Indeed, more than the watchmen watch for the morning.”- Psalm 130:5-6 (NASB)

In conclusion, to dissipate doubt and dissolve despair, Dr. Evans states that we need to wait with:

  • anticipation
  • hope
  • longing
  • expectation
  • desire
  • faith and obedience

Today’s question: For you, what defines the worst kind of waiting?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Learning to wait well- living as a child of God”

Like little children

MrHenning73

And he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”- Matthew 18:3

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”- Pablo Picasso

I completed my elementary/secondary student teaching practicum during the winter quarter of my senior year at Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, Illinois.  My elementary experience was with Diane Stuhlmacher’s first and second graders at Zion Lutheran School in Chicago.  Toward the end of my five week internship, Miss Stuhlmacher instructed each student to “secretly” draw a picture of me, often approaching their subject to take a closer look.  Completed impressions then were assembled into a class portfolio. It was presented to me on my last day with them.  While most drawings were typical of six and seven year olds, one picture stood out.  Georgette’s 7+ inch high figure didn’t miss a detail- from my brown hair and glasses to the distinctive pattern in my belt (my hands were behind my back).

Young children bring exuberance and a sense of wonder to learning.  John Ortberg (The Life You’ve Always Wanted) writes that preoccupation with self keeps adults from experiencing joy.  The minutes of life are divided into two categories: living and waiting to live.  We literally are killing time, unable to pour ourselves out for the joy of others or delighting in the infinite variety of small gifts God daily offers us.  Yet, the joy the happiest child shows is but a fraction of the joy that resides in God’s heart, as G. K. Chesterton speaks of in Orthodoxy:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.  For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.  But perhaps God is . . . . It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon.”

Compatibility with pain is one test of authentic joy. Worldly joy always is joy “in spite of” something. Theologian Karl Barth characterized joy as a “defiant nevertheless” slamming the door against bitterness and resentment.  It is an illusion to believe that joy will come someday when conditions change.  Today is the day to know joy. We, like little children, can be joy-carriers!

 

 

 

Thanksliving

Luther High School South-Chicago, IL

Luther High School South-Chicago, IL

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”-Colossians 2:6-7

“Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow.  A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.”- Henry Ward Beecher

It’s Wednesday, November 27, 1968.  Bushel baskets and bags of food are lined up in front of the grand piano, wheeled into the gym from the choir/band room for Luther High School South’s Thanksgiving service.  South’s original electronic pipe organ recently had played its last note. A new Allen organ was on order.  Recent technological advances would enable the Allen to produce a decidedly authentic church pipe organ sound.  Amazingly- and a preposterous notion in 1968, thirty-three years later that same Allen organ would play a most memorable service of thanksgiving and celebration- for fifty years of Christian education at Luther South.

November 27, 1968 was a day for students and staff to give thanks for God’s past, present, and future provision.  A ministry downsizing or vocation loss, however, places severe strain on our resolve to give thanks at all times and in all circumstances.  Pastor Jeff Manion (The Land Between) encourages us to remember that God loves to provide exactly what we need at exactly the right moment.  Providing is what God does.  British pastor and author Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), once explained how, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to live a life of thanksliving in response to God’s blessings:

“I think that is a better thing than thanksgiving: thanksliving.  How is this to be done?  By a general cheerfulness of manner, by an obedience to the command of Him by whose mercy we live, by a perpetual, constant delighting of ourselves in the Lord, and by a submission of our desires to His will.”

God knows what we need and how He’ll provide it.  He has provided in the past, is sustaining us now, and will continue to do so.

“All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,

The Son, and Him who reigns with them in highest heaven,

The one eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore,

For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.”

 

 

Till the sky spills over

LutherSouth2001“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”- Colossians 2:6-7

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”- G. K. Chesterton

“The remedy is in the retina.”- Ann Voskamp

I have yet to attend one of my Luther South (Chicago) Class of 1969 reunions.  However, when I received advance word that South would be celebrating its 50th Anniversary on an August weekend in 2001, culminating with a Sunday service of praise and thanksgiving in the school gym, I dropped everything to contact them.  I wanted to express my gratitude through serving as the organist for the worship experience.

The sky spills over with gratitude as I reflect on South’s blessings to me:

a.  a strong college prep curriculum with outstanding electives that provided a smooth transition to Concordia- River Forest

b.  extra-curricular opportunities: drama club, musicals, school newspaper (mailing editor, sportswriter)

c.  opportunities to minister in worship; as senior accompanist for the A Cappella Choir and assistant chapel organist

This is not to say that high school was a cakewalk.  Socially, it was a difficult and awkward time.  For an unhealthy amount of time, I chose to ruminate on those social issues rather than focus on the greater blessings with gratitude.  The personal slights I felt infringed on my perceived right to happiness and obstructed my vision.  C. S. Lewis once commented on thinking about the world in God in the Dock:

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

Joy is hiding in gratitude.  That’s why G. K. Chesterton describes joy as “the gigantic secret of the Christian.”  As Ann Voskamp points out, we can begin with one act of thanksgiving  for the seemingly insignificant, especially when things go wrong with us, and unlock the mystery of joy:

“When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. . . . The clouds open when we mouth thanks.”

 

Souls centered on God

“My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you . . .”- Psalm 42:6

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love . . . for to you I entrust my life (lift up my soul).”- Psalm 143:8

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 8 of Soul Keeping by stating that in the process of reaching out to God, we are lifting our souls up to Him to be healed.  When our soul is centered in God, we know in faith that our heavenly Father will hold our pain, fear, and anxiety.  Pastor Ortberg defines the spiritual life:

“To place the soul each moment in the presence and care of God.”

John emphasizes that it is much harder than it seems to keep our souls centered on God.  He adds that a very simple way to guard our souls is to ask ourselves: “Will this situation block my soul’s connection to God?”  When we ask ourselves this question, we’ll find how little power external circumstances like a ministry downsizing or vocation loss or financial problems have over us.  We will come to the realization that external circumstances cannot keep us from being with God.  If anything, they will draw us closer to Him.

Unless God is part of the equation- that is, our thinking takes Him into account- our soul loses its connection to God.

Today’s question: What Bible verses have helped keep your soul centered on God during your desert, transitional time?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The soul needs a future”

When the soul grows short

“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom.  But the people grew impatient along the way.”- Numbers 21:4

“Nothing in man seems to intent upon God as the soul. . . . The soul seeks the Might One as though he is the soul’s own home, as though it can only be at home with him. . . . The soul is hidden in God’s creating hand.”- Waaijman, “Soul as a Spiritual Concept”

Today John Ortberg concludes his discussion of five indicators when a soul lacks a center (Chapter 8, Soul Keeping).

3.  A soul without a center lacks patience.  When the Israelites grew impatient with their long wilderness journey, the text in Numbers says that their “souls grew short.”  Samson’s soul grows short from the persistent nagging of Delilah.  Being in a hurry to be somewhere else is an indicator that the soul has not yet found its home.

4.  The soul without a center is easily thrown.  Pastor Ortberg notes (from experience) that the key to riding a mechanical bull is to stay centered and sit loose.  Rather than clamping on tight, one needs to be flexible.  Life gets complicated and stuff happens.  John states: “If your soul lacks a center when life comes at you fast, you will be thrown off the bull.”

5.  The soul without a center finds its identity in externals.  When our soul is not centered in God, our temptation is to try to control our life.  The Bible speaks of this in terms of the lifting up one’s soul.  It is the opposite of faithful dependence.  When we define ourselves by external things, we lose our identity.

Today’s question: Which of John Ortberg’s five indicators are most applicable to your current situation?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Souls centered on God”

Soul power

“You’re a soul made by God, made for God, and made to need God, which means you were not made to be self-sufficient.”- Dallas Willard

In Chapter 2 (“What is the Soul?”) of Soul Keeping, John Ortberg states that because our inner life is invisible, it is easy to neglect.  Unlike our outer self, no one has direct access to our inner life- it wins no applause.  As Dallas Willard writes in Renovation of the Heart, our soul is the reason for value and mystery in our existence:

“What is running your life at any given moment is you soul.  Not external circumstances, not your thoughts, not your intentions, not even your feelings, but your soul.  The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self.  The soul is the life center of human beings.”

As Pastor Ortberg summarizes, our soul connects our thoughts, sensations, gratitude, and will. The soul sends a message to our entire being.  It then follows that it’s terribly important to understand all aspects of our inner life, as each one must be healthy and functioning as God intended in order to run on soul power.  Dallas concludes: “Anytime you want to care for something you have to understand it, whether it’s a beagle or a BMW.”

Today’s question: At this point in your desert journey, are you running on soul power?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our life center”

 

An engaged heart

“As far as I can see, prayer has been ordained only for the helpless. . . . Prayer and helplessness are inseparable.  Only he who is helpless can truly pray.”- Ole Hallesby, Prayer

Timothy Keller continues his discussion of the twelve touchstones of prayer by presenting the three things prayer requires.  Prayer requires:

4.  Grace- prayer must be in “Jesus’ name, based on the Gospel.  Pastor Keller states that to pray in Jesus’ name is “shorthand for his divine person and saving work.”  Grace makes is possible to be heard by God despite our inability to follow all other guidelines and rules.  The author adds that ordinarily we will address our prayers “to the Father with gratitude to the Son and dependence on the Spirit.”

5.  Fear- prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe.  Awe before God’s greatness and the privilege of prayer, Pastor Keller notes, is an important sign of an engaged heart.  We never can take lightly the privilege of approaching “the throne.”  The author encourages us to take time and meditate on what it means to pray in Jesus’ name until it thrills us.

6.  Helplessness- prayer is accepting weakness and dependence.  Pastor Keller stresses that prayer is made for those who have no other recourse or resort.  When we pray we are accepting the fact that we are, and forever will be, wholly dependent on God for all our needs.  In fact, when we feel completely helpless, we can be secure in the knowledge that God indeed is with us and is listening to our prayer.

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, have you had an engaged heart for prayer or a disengaged heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Earnest prayer”

The fear of God

“If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.”- Psalm 130:3-4

In Chapter 7 (“Rules for Prayer”) of Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Timothy Keller discusses four rules of prayer in John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  The first rule is presented today.

1.  The principle of reverence.  Another name for this rule is “the fear of God”.  Calvin asserted that Christians need to have a dire sense of the seriousness and magnitude of prayer.  Prayer is a personal audience with Almighty God.  When we come to prayer awed by God’s majesty, earthly cares and affections no longer hold us in bondage.

Pastor Keller notes that the “fear of God” is properly understood as joyful admiration with a fearful aspect to it.  Because we are in awe of God, we don’t want to mess up.  The author elaborates:

“We could say that fear of punishment is a self-absorbed kind of fear.  It happens to people wrapped up in themselves.  Those who believe the gospel- who believe they are the recipients of undeserved but unshakeable grace- grow in a paradoxically loving, yet joyful fear.  Because of unutterable love and joy in God, we tremble with the privilege of being in his presence and with an intense longing to honor him when we are there.”

Calvin viewed this sense of awe as a crucial part of prayer.  Prayer both requires awe and produces it.

Today’s question: How have you experienced “unutterable love and joy in God” during your desert, transitional journey?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Spiritual humility”

Prayer in dark times

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, one thing will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord to behold the beauty of the Lord.”- Psalm 27:4

In today’s blog, Timothy Keller discusses St. Augustine’s three remaining principles of prayer.

2.  Pray for a happy life.  As Augustine previously noted, earthly comforts, rewards, and pleasures produce only fleeting excitement, not enduring happiness.  Augustine writes: “We love God, therefore, for what He is in Himself, and [we love] ourselves and our neighbors for His sake.”  If God is our greatest love and knowing/pleasing Him our highest pleasure, that, Pastor Keller states, “transforms both what and how we pray for a happy life.”

3.  Studying the Lord’s Prayer guides us in the specifics of how to pray.  Pastor Keller encourages us to look at all the types of prayer manifest in the Lord’s Prayer- adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication (petition).  He states we must carefully consider this great model of prayer and be sure our own appeals fit that model.

4.  Prayer in dark times.  Augustine admitted that, even after following the first three principles of prayer, Christians don’t know what to pray for when enmeshed in difficulties and suffering.  Are we to pray for a change of circumstances or for the strength to endure them?  Augustine argued that our sufferings are a shield, defending us from any illusion of self-sufficiency.  Yet, they also open a way for a prayer life that brings peace in any circumstance.

Today’s question: Which of Augustine’s four principles of prayer resonate most with you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Martin Luther’s guidelines for prayer”