Receiving clarity – your unique role in God’s story

“God not only reveals His story in the inner room, He also reveals in the inner room your unique role in that story.  You have a critical role to play in the story of God on earth, and that part become clear to you in the secret place.  In order for you to play your part well, you must receive clarity about what your part is.”- Banning Liebscher

Then they said to him [John the Baptist], “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?”  He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”- John 1:22-23 (NKJV)

Banning Liebscher concludes Chapter 7 of Rooted as he stresses what happens when God gives you clarity about your part in His story.  When God gives you clarity, it brings not only great authority, but also focus on you life.  As a result of that authority and focus, you never waver from your identity.  Thus, as part of the root system God’s in the process of developing, you begin to understand what He’s doing.  And you know the scope of your assignment.

In addition, Pastor Liebscher exhorts, discovering God’s story as it unfolds inevitably fills you with hope.  For God remains on His throne and carries out His master plan to bring all things under His rule and reign.  As Banning notes, the same God who reshaped the world through the Flood shapes history today.  And as we see this truth, it ignites hope in our hearts and creates an expectation to see God move.

Yet, the author cautions, often we’re more aware of what Satan can do than what God can do.  Therefore, Banning emphasizes, we must not let the darkness impress us.  Rather, we shift our focus to our part in His story.

Today’s question: How has God given you clarity regarding your unique role in His story?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Pregnant with a word from the Lord”

Hope – founded in Christ – never truly disappoints

“Hope — when it’s founded in Christ — will never truly disappoint us.”- Ann Swindell

” . . . we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”- Romans 5:3-5

As Ann Swindell concludes Chapter 10 of Still Waiting, she notes that waiting for full restoration muddies hope.  In addition, waiting batters and smothers hope- and threatens to usurp it.  Because, the author states, difficult waiting “thwacks against our hope.”  Thus, we question the reality of Christ’s promises.

Furthermore, waiting often pushes our buttons of anxiety and shame, weakness and worry, identity and worth.  However, hope provides a glass wall over those buttons.  As a result, hope gives protection to our hearts while we wait.  For hope, founded in Christ, never truly disappoints us.

Also, as long as we base our hope in Jesus, we won’t be put to shame.  Our hope must not rest in release from our adversity, but in our loving Savior.  Ann explains:

“My hope can’t be shaken . . . because my hope doesn’t depend on me . . . or on the outcome of my situation.  It depends on Jesus and his power. . . .  We have hope for both today and eternity — but we can’t confuse the one for the other.  We can’t confuse our hope for today with the only hope we have.”

In conclusion, Ann emphasizes, for now, we wait.  But, we wait in hope!

Today’s question: What Bible verses sustain your hope founded in Christ?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the annotated bibliography of Still Waiting

Tomorrow’s blog: “A spiritual Tomatis effect”

Hope – the antidote to despair

“Although it may get walloped and slammed against, hope is the antidote to despair, and it’s the only way to live through prolonged seasons of waiting without losing our faith or our sanity.”- Ann Swindell

“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”- Romans 5:1-2

In Chapter 10 (“Hope for the Waiting Ones”), the concluding chapter of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell underscores that Jesus called the Bleeding Woman daughter.  Always intentional in what He says and does, Jesus didn’t use the term daughter loosely.  Thus, He spoke identity to the Bleeding Woman.

But more than giving her a miraculous healing, Jesus gave her restoration.  He sent her out in peace — peace with God, with her people, and with herself.  As a result, Ann believes, the Bleeding Woman filled with astonishing hope.

And that’s the beauty and blessing of restoration.  Ann states restoration brings hope that:

  • the future can and will be better than what we’ve known
  • what’s ahead is better than what’s behind
  • stands in the midst of trial, in the midst of pain, and in the midst of struggle

Furthermore, Ms. Swindell states, one truth allows us to be a people of hope in our waiting:

“Jesus has restored us to himself, to others, and to ourselves.  And when the King of kings restores us — soul, body, and life — we are given hope, not only for this life, but for all eternity.”

Yet, as the author discusses next, our restoration to others and to ourselves continues to unfold.  And that’s where things get muddy – but never hopeless.

Today’s question: How does hope work as the antidote to despair in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Hope – founded in Christ

Moving on the wave of God

“When we do suffer with someone else, even a little, we may be sure we are moving on the wave of God.  We are doing what God does.”- Lewis Smedes, How Can It Be Alright When Everything Is Wrong? (1992)

“There is a world of difference between sharing the experience of suffering and endorsing despair.”- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 10 of I’d Like You More . . . , he describes two ways to suffer.  As somebody once wrote, you can suffer from something, or you can suffer with someone.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“As a victim of adversity, I suffer from illness, or injury, or mosquitoes.  But I suffer with someone when I choose to take that person’s suffering unto myself as an act of intimacy, a shared experience. . . .  Suffering with is an act of tremendous intimacy.”

However, as John reminds us, a world of difference exists between sharing the experience of suffering and endorsing despair.  A friend of John’s once took his ten-year-old son Andrew fly-fishing.  For three days in a row, they fished for a few hours after lunch.  They caught nothing.  But, another fisherman observing their futility told them to try at 5:30 AM.

By 7:45 the next morning, they still hadn’t caught a thing.  After hearing Andrew’s pleas, the father permitted five more casts.  On the fifth cast, Andrew caught a northern pike.  As a result, Andrew reasoned, God’s name must be “the God of the fifth cast.”

In relationships, Pastor Ortberg observes, suffering often leads to impatience.  Yet, one thing enables us to sit quietly during times of suffering – knowing that we serve “the God of the fifth cast.”

When philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s twenty-five-year-old son died in a mountain-climbing accident, he didn’t find a God who explains our suffering.  Rather, Nicholas found a God who enters our suffering.  In Lament for a Son, Nicholas writes:

“GOD IS LOVE.  That is why he suffers. . . .  God is suffering love.  So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. . . .  The tears of God are the meaning of history.”

Finally, John states, to keep hope you must give it away.  As you give hope to others in love, you receive it most yourself.

Today’s question: How do you move on the wave of God as you suffer with someone else?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Embraced by God – making space for others”

In the beginning – exquisite vulnerability

“In the beginning, in Eden, human vulnerability was exquisite.  Then came the Fall, and hiding, and shame.  And it became excruciating.  Then Jesus entered into our vulnerability, so that one day it might become exquisite again.  That is our hope.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 9 of I’d Like You More . . . as he observes we can’t get to exquisite without feeling vulnerable in the process.  Most noteworthy, as Henry Cloud points out, God deliberately placed tear ducts in our eyes.  Because, Henry states, God wants our tears front and center.  Right where we don’t want them, but right where other people can see them.

However, Pastor Ortberg notes, this reflects a strange truth.  Although we admire vulnerability in others, we dislike it in ourselves.  Writing in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1995), Madeleine L’Engle states:

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would not longer be vulnerable.  But to grow up is to accept vulnerability . . . .  To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

Yet, John adds, early on we learn to lie, pretend, and misrepresent inner thoughts and feelings.  But for us to achieve intimacy, we must show willingness to expose our weaknesses, insecurities, and true selves.  That entails humility as well as vulnerability to others.  Many people express no interest in this, as Kent Dunnington (Addiction and Virtue, 2011) describes:

“”We are afraid that if we confessed our sins, other people might make their claims on our lives by insisting on praying for us and asking us how we are doing.  Most of us are not sure we want the church to be that involved.”

Therefore, exquisite vulnerability = our only hope.

Today’s question: How does Jesus give you hope for exquisite vulnerability?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Shattering the illusion of self-mastery”

Until God becomes our only hope

“It is true that sometimes God doesn’t become our only hope until God becomes our only hope.”- Jared C. Wilson

Jared Wilson concludes Chapter 9 of The Imperfect Disciple as he notes that grace goes all the way down to our deepest pain.  In fact, Pastor Wilson posits that we’ve all prayed “I just want this to be over” kind of prayers.  Put differently, Jared asks if we’ve ever been undone from how done we are with suffering.  Jared adds:

” . . . given the sovereignty of God over all things, we ought to acknowledge that the Bible doesn’t teach that grace goes down only until you get to the point where Saran takes over and starts doing his (emphasis Jared’s) work.  No, it’s grace all the way down, even into the deep, dark cellar of affliction.”

Therefore, the author observes, when you’re in the pit of suffering, Jesus doesn’t send heavenly “good thoughts” or “good vibes” your way.  In addition, Jesus doesn’t blast you with some ethereal virtues.  Pastor Wilson continues:

“No, when you  are laid low in the dark well of despair, when the whole world seems to be crashing down on you, when  your next breath seems sure to be your last, Christ Jesus is down in the void with you, holding you.  He keeps your hand between his own. . . .  offers his breast for your weary head.  He whispers words of comfort a whisker’s breadth from your ear.”

In conclusion, Jared reminds us that grace is all-sufficient for suffering.  And for pain and glory too.  Grace not only goes all the way down, but grace also goes all the way up.

Today’s question: What brings you to the point that God becomes your only hope?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Swallowed up into his glory”

Where we place our hope and trust

“Our daily life communicates where our hope and trust is placed; we are actually ‘praying’ with our words and deeds every day.”- Jared C. Wilson

As Jared Wilson concludes Chapter 5 of The Imperfect Disciple, he describes prayer as “spilling your guts.”  Therefore, prayer doesn’t have to be pretty, tidy, particularly eloquent, or even particularly intelligent.  God speaks to us in the Bible and we speak to Him in prayer.  Also, spilling our guts in prayer enables us to process God’s Word.  In response, we interact with our friend Jesus through prayer.

Yet, God never checks His watch when you’re talking to Him – although, Jared suggests, you might!  In fact, Pastor Wilson stresses, God’s more eager to listen to you than you are to speak.  And God’s not distant, but, as John Ortberg puts it, closer than you think.  Jared explains:

“We are constantly moving away, and he’s constantly following.  He is a much better chaser of us than we are of him. And he’s a much better listener.  He picks up everything.”

Hence, you find the rhythm of God’s kingdom in a consumer culture as you seek humility.  That humility comes as you reject independence, admit dependence, and confidently embrace God’s acceptance of you through Jesus Christ.

In addition, since we acknowledge our helplessness (spilling our guts) through prayer, the more we pray the more we:

  • abide in God’s strength and love
  • surrender thoughts of our own glory
  • unbusy ourselves with the enterprise of our own glory
  • lay down our bricks and trowels and let God knock down our Babel Towers
  • get off the treadmill of routine religion and find the rhythms of the kingdom

Today’s question: In your daily life, how do you communicate where you place your hope and trust?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Bringers of the gospel”

Great blessing out of difficulty

“God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.”- Peter Marshall

Os Hillman applies the Joseph calling to the larger stories of Jacob, Moses, and Paul, respectively, in Chapters 14-16 of The Joseph Calling.  Next, in Chapter 17 (“Experiencing Your Larger Story”), Os reminds us how those six stages usher you into the larger story of your life.  Hence, Os defines that larger story as ” a life . . . filled with the activity of God and the manifest presence of his life being lived through you.”

In 1990, the author notes, Henry Blockaby developed a popular Bible study series titled Experiencing God.  The very first principle established that God’s always at work around us.  Thus, our responsibility involves joining in what God’s already doing.  Os explains:

“We are not to think up things to do for God; we are to join him in what he wants to do and what he is already doing on earth today.”

Furthermore, Mr. Hillman observes, one kingdom principle requires faithfulness in small areas before God entrusts us with larger ones. In the process God causes fruit to be born from our obedience.  Not from our sweat and toil.

In conclusion, Os offers these words of hope:

“I want to encourage you to be more aware of where God is working around you.  Ask God to give you more opportunities to share his love with those with whom you come in contact.  One of the easiest ways to minister to people is to ask to pray for them when you hear of a need they have in their life.”

Today’s question: What great blessing do you see rising out of your difficulty?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “What God calls us to – simply be His friend”

Something that requires an appreciation banquet

“When we truly grow, then obeying God no longer looks like something that requires an appreciation banquet.  It looks like what should come naturally, like something that needs to be done.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 6 of The Me I Want to Be with four stages of spiritual growth.

1.  Incompetent and unaware.  In this stage, not only are we incapable of doing something, but we’re not even aware of our incapability.  As Pastor Ortberg explains, “the first cost of incompetence is the inability to perceive incompetence.”

Thus, living in continued ignorance represents the danger in this stage.  Because pain brings awareness, pain = the cure.  When reality crashes into us, we experience pain.  With awareness, change becomes possible.

2.  Incompetent and self-conscious.  At this stage we remain incompetent, but now we know it.   However, the danger here involves giving up due to despair over our incompetence.  As a result, at this stage we need hope.

3.  Competent and aware.  Here we constantly think about ourselves and our efforts at growth.  Furthermore, like the prodigal son’s elder brother, we often compare ourselves to other people.

Therefore, pride represents the danger during this stage.  Hence, stage three lostness, John notes, carries its own blindness.  People rarely seek help for their pride problem.  As the author quips, no Betty Ford Centers for the Insufferably Arrogant exist.  But not because we don’t need them.  We need humility.

4.  Competent and unself-conscious.  Pastor Ortberg describes this final stage as a place where “competence not longer looks heroic- just sane.”  We naturally just do what needs to be done.  Therefore, the best version of ourselves lives in this quadrant.

In conclusion, John states progress through these four quadrants isn’t strictly linear or sequential.  We move back and forth all the time- and this varies from one habit to another.

Today’s question: Do you feel you’re deserving of an appreciation banquet for your efforts in ministry or vocation?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “You and your Like – o – Meter”

Learning to hear the voice of God

“In learning to hear the voice of God, one thing is certain — if you cannot hear a ‘no,’ you will have a hard time hearing from God at all or believing that what you think you’ve heard is in fact from God.”- John Eldredge

As John Eldredge begins the Winter section of Walking with God, he presents two crucial concepts necessary for hearing the voice of God.  John states that hearing God:

  1. requires surrender, giving all things over into His hands
  2. not abandoning your desires, but giving them over to God

Romans 4:21 tells us Abraham based his faith on a clear and specific promise of God.  John observes that the passage states that “God had the power to do what He had promised.”  Thus, John notes, when it comes to our faith, we must be careful that our earnest hopes and desires don’t lead us to claim a promise God hasn’t given.

Furthermore, no matter how hard our adversity hits us, those adversities don’t have to be brutal and lonely.  Most importantly, accept the grace of God when it comes!

However, we must remain aware that Satan loves to act as an opportunist.  Mr. Eldredge explains:

“He is always looking for open doors, opportunities, a chink in the armor.  He’ll seize what might otherwise simply be an event- an argument, an emotion, a loss- and he’ll use it as an entrée for his lies, deceit, and oppression.”

Thus, even in moments of tenderness and sorrow, we can’t drop our guard.  While that seems unfair, Satan never plays fair!   In that way, we remain free to bring our hearts to God sans Enemy interference.

Today’s question: What Scriptures assist you in learning to hear the voice of God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Worship language – or the living God?”