When life seems overwhelming

“Isn’t this our first reaction when life seems overwhelming — we start lightening the load, dumping cargo overboard so we don’t drown?  The problem is, we can dump the wrong things overboard.  We think nothing of tossing over joy while hanging on to the very things that overwhelm us.”- John Eldredge

John Eldredge concludes the Spring section of Walking with God as he discusses seeking guidance from God.  When clarity from God isn’t immediately forthcoming, John states, our first step involves paying attention to our own posture toward God.  In other words, our posture affects our ability to hear God or colors what we do hear.

Especially when giving up some joy seems inevitable, it’s essential that we stop to ask God.  For God often desires that we run against life’s prevailing current.  Thus, this guidance often feels counterintuitive.

Most importantly, John advises, notice your reaction as you start to close in on what you believe God’s saying to you.  If your reaction produces joy, the author states, you’re onto something.  But if that reaction produces sorrow, fear, or discouragement, you need to stop and ask why.

In conclusion, John stresses that he’s not advocating a senseless or hopeless approach to life.  In fact, Oswald Chambers once said that the existence of God provides the only explanation for a Christian’s life.  Otherwise, life makes no sense.

Therefore, wisdom and revelation go hand in hand- and come from the Holy Spirit.  John adds: “We need them both to walk with God, need them in generous doses to navigate the dangerous waters of this world.”

And when healing or a breakthrough seems illusive, as Christ followers we possess a gospel of resurrection.  Despite what losses come our way, they don’t signal the end of the story.  Jesus came so that we might have life.

Today’s question: What Bible verses sustain you when life seems overwhelming?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “The three laws of relationship”

Please note: the annotation of Walking with God will post Thursday, June 8th

Complaining – the rival of grace

“Whining is the opposite of worship, and complaining is the rival of grace.”- Kyle Idleman

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In Chapter 8 (“More Peaceful Than Your Disappointments”) of Grace Is Greater, Kyle Idleman asserts that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reflects more than a helpful suggestion or a hint for healthy living.  It’s a command.  Thus, lack of gratitude isn’t a wink-wink sin.  God considers it a big deal.

Therefore, Kyle stresses that God takes grumbling and complaining very seriously.  Why?  Because He takes it personally (emphasis Kyle’s).  In addition, God takes complaining personally because it:

  • overlooks the greatness of the grace we’ve received from God
  • undermines the Good News of the Gospel
  • ignores the generosity and faithfulness of God

As Pastor Idleman summarizes, complaining boils down to a refusal to trust God and acknowledge His grace in your life.  The author adds:

“Complaining has a way of pulling the shade down on the window of grace.  It keeps the light of God’s grace from shining in.”

Furthermore, Kyle states, research shows that the more we complain, the more we find things to complain about.  Also, when we complain our focus centers on what we wish was different, not on thankfulness for God’s blessings.  Unlike complaint, gratitude doesn’t depend on circumstances.  Gratitude recognizes that God’s grace gives us reason enough to be thankful in all circumstances.

In conclusion, Pastor Idleman notes that ultimately, we possess few reasons to complain about our situation.  We worship a God of resurrection.  Therefore, Kyle urges you to reverse engineer grace in your life.  In other words, find reasons to be grateful for God’s grace in situations you wish were different or in things you’ve complained about along the way.

Today’s question: How has complaint served as the rival of grace in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “We need to first be limited”

The other side of lament- life

“On the other side of lament, there is life.”- Esther Fleece

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”- Luke 1:19

In Chapter 11 (“Hope Beyond Lament”), the concluding chapter of No More Faking Fine, Esther shares her discovery that moving forward from lament to healing always requires rest.  Furthermore, this process:

  • doesn’t happen overnight
  • is intentional, not accidental
  • requires sleep, slowing down, and stillness

Also, Ms. Fleece stresses, God uses every season of life to bring us closer to Him.  Consequently, that includes our seasons of resting and waiting in the presence of God.  In addition, God intends rest to revive and refresh us, enabling us to continue on our healing journey.  Ultimately, we invite others into our healing journey as well.

However, although you’re trading your laments for something new, it’s unlikely you know what your “new” looks like. Furthermore, it’s unlikely you know what God’s planned next for you.  Yet, God asks you to trust Him and take the next step.  As a result, Esther explains:

“Sometimes God gives us grace to rest, and sometimes He gives us grace to enter back in, to take land back for Him, and to advance the gospel outside of our comfort zone. . . . Just like it took faith to step into the journey of lament, it would now take faith to rise up out of lament into something new.”

In conclusion, Ms. Fleece notes that as God begins our healing process, He want us to start dreaming again.  What did God create you to do?

Today’s question: What have you discovered lies on the other side of lament?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A vow of praise- in the midst of uncertainty

When we lose lament- losing the depth and goodness of the gospel

“As Christians, when we lose lament we lose more than the journey of a full human experience . . . we lose the depth and goodness of the gospel.”- Walter Brueggeman, Psalmist’s Cry: Scripts for Embracing Laments

Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 6 of No More Faking Fine with a reminder.  God welcomes, honors, and hears our honest laments.  Thus, even when we see no relief in sight, we put our trust in a God who hears.

Yes, we all want to see a happy ending to our adversity.  But that’s not necessarily the best pathway to healing.  Ms. Fleece explains:

“While we all want a happy ending — or maybe we can agree to lament as long as we’re assured God will clean up everything afterward — there are no guarantees on this side of eternity.  We must stop saying, and thinking, things like, ‘It’s time to move on.’  There is no healing in hurrying through grief . . . no restoration in ignoring pain.  Rather, healing can be found when we learn to lament honestly.”

Even unanswered “why” laments, the author observes, teach us how to expectantly wait for the Father’s will.  In our distress, God blesses us with closeness to Him.

In conclusion, lament gives us a language to relate to God in the midst of evil.  Also, lamenting means we surrender to God’s sovereignty.  Yet, even in the darkest of moments, we put our hope in the Lord of the resurrection.  In the full scope of history, only Jesus has the last word.

Today’s question: During your desert, transition time, have there been times when you seem to lose lament?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “How long, Lord?- a  powerful prayer of hope”

God, being rich in mercy

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ.”- Ephesians 2:4-5

Judah Smith concludes Chapter 8 of How’s Your Soul? as he discusses the third and fourth emphases of Ephesians that dramatically shape the identity of our souls.

3.  So great a salvation.  Pastor Smith exhorts us to remember where we’ve come from, the progress we’ve made.  Perhaps we’re dissatisfied with our current status or frustrated in our level of achievement.  Yet, Judah underscores, sometimes we simply need to stop and say: “Thank God I am where I am.”

Furthermore, Judah believes the apostle Paul thanked God for where he was in Ephesians 2.  There Paul emphasized our great salvation (emphasis Judah’s).  Therefore, Judah calls particular attention to the opening words of verse four- But God.  Judah notes that “But God”:

  • identifies the foundation of the gospel
  • provides the greatest revelation we ever need of God’s love, care, and concern for us
  • reminds us God took the initiative and provided the solution

Although we don’t always live or feel like new people, our reality remains unchanged.  In Christ, we are a new creation.

4.  We belong.  Pastor Smith firmly believes that belonging describes a fundamental need of the human soul.  Consequently, your new identity in Christ shapes and defines your soul more than anything else.  Jesus came to break down barriers and walls.  As a result, with Jesus, we belong.  We’re part of His family.

In conclusion, Judah summarizes and recaps the four emphases of Ephesians.  For healthy soul identities, we have:

  1. our identities set firmly in Jesus, the source and definition of who we are
  2. a Savior superior to all authority and power, who declares we’re blessed and approved- alive together with Christ
  3. a great, complete, final, and free salvation
  4. a community of Jesus followers where we belong, even with our imperfections

Today’s question: What Bible verses remind you that God is rich in mercy?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The point of our walk with God”

Incarnate the gospel

“It’s relatively easy to pontificate on how to live the gospel; it’s infinitely harder to incarnate the gospel in your life.”- Ann Voskamp

“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”- Mark 6:34 (ESV)

As Ann Voskamp continues Chapter 17 of The Broken Way, she first discusses the phrase “had compassion on them.”  Ann notes this phrase appears in Scripture only in regard to Jesus and the Father.  In addition, that phrase- splanchizomai in the Greek- refers to getting kicked in the gut.

Therefore, Ann writes, “when Christ’s people feel compassion like Christ did , and they feel the strike in the stomach — they feel the pain in the deepest places.”  Furthermore, Christ’s people hurt, bend over, reach down, and reach out.  As a result, their lives shape into the cross of Christ- cruciform.

Next, Ms. Voskamp lists some characteristics of compassion.  Compassion:

  • shapes your body, your life into a response
  • is a radical cross-shaping of a life
  • consists of the word parts com (“together”) and pati (“to suffer”)
  • consists of co-passion, co-suffering

However, Ann wonders, why does condemnation flow so quick in our veins, while compassion moves sluggishly slow?  Thus, Ann describes a potential consequence:

“When faith loses its compassion, it’s co-suffering — it cohosts demons.”

In conclusion, Ms. Voskamp observes that there’s no direct correlation between the good behavior of others and our compassion.  Rather, “it’s our compassion that serves good to all people.”  Put another way, we must change ourselves to find compassion in our world.

Today’s question: How hard have you found it to incarnate the gospel in your own life following your vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Generous in sharing our brokenness”

A new creation

“You are a new creation, but sometimes it takes time for your new nature to become second nature.”- Mark Batterson

As Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 3 of If, he offers encouragement that it is never too late for you to be what you might have been.  God still can roll away your if only regrets.  One way to break the sin habit is to establish a prayer habit.  That way you can leave the past in its place- the past.  Pastor Batterson adds:
“He crucified our sin by nailing it to a cross.  Don’t resurrect it!”

We appreciate the grace of God by fully acknowledging our sinfulness, rather than underestimating it.  We also appreciate and reflect God’s grace by not labeling others by their sins.  There is no gradation of sin.  We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 8:23).

In order to step into what if, we have to get past if only.  The cross of Christ, the crossroad, “turns if only regrets into what if possibilities.”

Mark believes that when we focus just on the penalty Jesus paid for us at Calvary, which is wonderful beyond words, that’s only half the gospel.  Pastor Batterson refers to this partial focus as the glass-half-empty gospel.  Since Christ’s righteousness has been credited to your account, your glass is full of the righteousness of Christ.  Mark elaborates:

“This half-empty mindset causes us to focus on forgiveness, but Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to forgive you. . . . He died to change you.  And He didn’t die on the cross just to keep you safe.  He died to make you dangerous- a threat to the enemy.  He died so you could make a difference for all eternity.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you see yourself as a new creation in Christ?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The emergency exit”

The historian’s favorite question

“It’s been said that what if is the historian’s favorite question.”- Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 1 of If by observing that history, as well as Scripture, if full of what ifs.  In fact, there is a branch of history, counterfactual theory, that asks what if questions.  Mark believes counterfactual theory and thinking is a healthy exercise for all of us.  He states that counterfactual thinking is:

a.  a critical dimension of goal setting and decision making.

b.  thinking outside the box.

c.  going against the grain.

d.  the divergent ability to reimagine alternatives.

Pastor Batterson previously wrote that neuroimaging shows that our cognitive center of gravity shifts from the imaginative right brain to the logical left brain as we age.  If we start living out of memory and stop living out of imagination, we stop living by faith and start living by logic.

Mark believes that each of us is our own historian:

“It’s God who ordains our days, orders our steps, and prepares good works in advance.  But we have to be students of our own history, including our if only regrets. We have to learn the lessons and leverage the mistakes.  We have to connect the dots between cause and effect.  And we have to reimagine our future through the frame of God’s promises.”

In this book, Mark Batterson unpacks the promises of Romans 8.  Martin Luther called Romans 8 “the clearest gospel of them all.”  Mark notes that the 10 ifs in Romans 8 add us to infinite possibilities.  He adds that the touchstone of the chapter is verse 31.  Verse 31 is the lynchpin on which the chapter turns: “If God is for us, who can be against us.”

Mark’s prayer for his readers is: “May you fall in love with the God of what if all over again!”

Today’s question: Following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss, have you primarily been living by logic or by faith?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the Annotated Bibliography of Moving Mountains

The deadly peril of familiarity

In Chapter 8 of Prayer, Timothy Keller embarks on a detailed discussion of the Lord’s Prayer.  That discussion covers the address, the seven petitions, and the ascription.  The address and first petition are presented today.

Pastor Keller prefaces his discussion with the assertion that the Lord’s Prayer is an untapped resource, partially because it is so familiar.  In fact, the prayer is so familiar we can no longer hear it.  By studying the Lord’s Prayer, the author explains, we can overcome “the deadly peril of familiarity.”

1.  Our Father who art in heaven.  Martin Luther believed this address was a call for us to first recollect our situation and realize our standing in Christ before proceeding into prayer.  We are sons of God because we’ve been adopted as children of grace in Christ.  Luther states we should start by asking God to “implant in our hearts a comforting trust in your fatherly love.”

2.  Hallowed be Thy name.  Luther points out that all baptized Christians have God’s name put upon them and thus represent a good and holy God.  In this petition, then, we are praying that God keep us from dishonoring the name by which we are called.  We’re also praying that God would empower us to become good and holy as well.  Citing John Calvin, Pastor Keller adds:

“To ‘hallow’ God’s name is not merely to live righteous lives but to have a heart of grateful joy toward God- and even more, a wondrous sense of his beauty.”

Today’s question: How have you been able to avoid “the deadly peril of familiarity” of the Lord’s Prayer and make it an essential part of your prayer life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Lordship or lordship?”

The rule of grace

Timothy Keller concludes his discussion of Calvin’s rules of prayer in Chapter 7 of Prayer with a fifth “rule” that actually is a major qualification of the word rule.

5.  The rule of grace.  Calvin urges us not to conclude that any set of rules could make our prayers worthy to be heard.  Only grace can qualify us for access to God.

So, Pastor Keller asks, what is the function of rules? Why does it matter how we pray if it’s all by grace?  His answer:

” . . . prayer should be shaped by and in accord with that grace.  The joyful fear, the helplessness yet confidence, are all ways of approaching God that are possible only if our access is not earned but is received as a gift.  Only when we see we cannot keep the rules, and need God’s mercy, can we become people who keep the rules.  The rules . . . align our prayers with who God is- the God of grace- and thereby unite us to him more and more.”

When we pray “in Jesus’ name”, Pastor Keller explains, we come to God consciously trusting in Christ for our salvation and acceptance.  We don’t rely on our own credibility or record.  Praying in Jesus’ name also means to recognize our status as children of God, regardless of the inner state of our emotions.

Today’s question: How has grace shaped your prayer life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Your name or Jesus’ name?”