Where God tears great gaps

“Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words.  They should remain open.  Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .”- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Pain shields us from living a Christian life in which we claim to know God but never actually encounter him.”- Brian Jones

As Brian Jones concludes Chapter 6 of Finding Favor, he asserts that Job didn’t suffer because of his sin against God.  Rather, Job suffered because of his obedience to God.  And in the end, Job’s obedience brought him even greater levels of blessing.

Therefore, Pastor Jones underscores, the whole point of Job centers around the fact that all of Job’s life was blessed.  That spans the soul-numbing tragedies he endured, the embrace of his family, and his staggering wealth.

As a result, Brian emphasizes, pain allows us to encounter God face to face.  In addition, as Thomas a Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ, “The Lord bestows his blessings there, where he finds the vessels empty.”  Furthermore, Pastor Jones posits, there’s a reason in part why God doesn’t let us choose the kind of favor we receive when we ask God to bless us.  Because we’d only pray for good stuff, left to our own devices.

In conclusion, Brian offers a few final thoughts on pain.  He neither wants to cheapen your pain nor make you feel better.  Also, the author lists several reasons why you don’t need to feel better.  You:

  • need to feel every last ounce of that pain
  • must never forget
  • don’t need to look the other way, covering over the anger you feel toward God and your tragic situation
  • cannot hide from your pain
  • learn to sit in the silence, in the dark – with only Jesus

Regarding his own five-year experience with pain, Brian states: “But over time I learned to sit in the silence.  No answers.  No relief.  Just him.  His presence, not his relief, was enough for me. It will be for you too.”

Today’s question: Where has God torn great gaps in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Paralyzed with awe at the power of prayer”

Give God a second hearing

“Don’t just listen to God with the outer ear.  That’s how things go in one ear and out the other.  Give God a second hearing, with the inner ear.  That’s how truth gets from your head to your heart of hearts.”- Mark Batterson

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”- Isaiah 55:11

Mark Batterson continues Chapter 3 of Whisper as he notes the Latin word for obey, obedire, means “to give ear.”  Consequently, obedience entails tuning into God’s frequency and cranking up the volume.  And even if a thousand people scream something different, it means obeying God’s whispers.

Ultimately, genuine listening constitutes an act of submission.  We submit to one another through thoughtful, patient, and careful listening.  As Pastor Batterson adds, a relationship with God is no different.

Furthermore, Mark notes, the human ear possesses the mysterious capability to tune out certain sound while tuning in others.  In other words, some things we listen to once, other things twice.  Therefore, the author believes, Jesus’ exhortation – “Whoever has ears, let them hear” –  refers to listening not once, but twice.

For in the gap between the first and second hearing we discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit in God’s spiritual whispering spots.  When you discover your whispering spot, you’ll find it’s the place:

  • you go to hear God’s whisper
  • where His voice echoes loudest and longest
  • where He speaks via healing and revealing, convicting and creating

In conclusion, Pastor Batterson underscores, whispering spots are a unique exception to the inverse-square law.  According to this law, sound ought to delay in intensity as an inverse of distance.  But, God’s voice isn’t subject to the inverse-square law.  Unlike all other sounds, His voice doesn’t diminish over space and time.

Today’s question: What things block you from giving God a second hearing?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Consistency – the key to whispering spots”

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.”

Heartfelt honesty versus hostile honesty

“Heartfelt honesty comes to God on its knees.  Hostile honesty comes to God pointing a finger.”- Ann Swindell

As Ann Swindell concludes Chapter 5 of Still Waiting, she inserts on caveat about honesty with God.  As a result, it’s important to distinguish between heartfelt honesty and hostile honesty.  We must come to God on our knees rather than pointing a finger.  For if  offense pushes us over the brink, Ann asserts, we’ll walk away from God.  And we judge God, choosing to go on without Him.

Thus, although Ann found no answer for the whys of trich in her heart and head, she encountered God’s mercy.  God pulled Ann back from the “crag of offense” to His truth and kindness.  God gifted her, although she couldn’t perceive it for what it was at the time.

Furthermore, no magic formula took the author from the brink of offense to renewed tenderness with Jesus.  Ann simply spent daily time with Him, reading the Bible and praying.  Most noteworthy, as Ann kept spending time with Christ, she found it impossible to harden her heart against Him.  Hence, Ann observes:

“I came to know his life and love not solely as words on a page but as hope spoken directly to my heart.  And I found, maybe fully for the first time, that all I really had was Jesus, and to walk away from him in offense would be more devastating that continuing to deal with trich.  If I couldn’t have healing, I knew I could still have Christ.  He would be enough for me.”

In conclusion, Ms. Swindell explains the benefits of obedience.  For example, obedience:

  • enables you to keep putting one foot of faith in front of the other, even when you feel no affection for God
  • consists of doing what you know to be true, even when you’re devoid of emotion
  • means saying yes to Christ, even if you don’t understand what He is – or isn’t – doing
  • trusts God through action and confession, even when your heart feels dead

Today’s question: Do you express heartfelt honesty or hostile honesty toward God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Letting shame live as a parasite

The deepest spiritual lessons

“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray.”- Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”- Isaiah 55:8 (ESV)

In Chapter 5 (“When Waiting Feels Offensive”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell confesses that when she couldn’t understand why Jesus withheld healing, she vacillated between hope and something else.  As she pointedly states, “there were times when offense crept into my heart and leapfrogged my hope, my tenderness, even my faith.”

Yes, Ms. Swindell notes, sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the truth of God’s goodness with worldly reality.  It’s hard to trust God’s goodness in the midst of pain, brokenness, and struggle.

Furthermore, at some point the Bleeding Woman easily could have chosen offense and anger.  Yet, she chose to trust Jesus rather than walk away from Him.  Ann summarizes:

“When we have begged and demanded from God all we can, and when He still doesn’t change our situation, we’re left with a choice: we can choose offense with him, or we can choose obedience.”

In conclusion, the author lists specific results of offense.  Thus, Ann stresses that offense:

  • puts us in the judgment seat over God
  • sets us in the place of declaring what God should do, how He should work
  • tricks us into thinking we possess the right to condemn God

Today’s question: How has waiting taught you the deepest spiritual lessons?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “The sustaining face of God”

The gospel – good news for the stuck

“Look the gospel has to be good news for the stuck too.  Or else it’s not good news.”- Jared C. Wilson

In Chapter 7 (“The Nine Irrefutable Laws of Followship”) of The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson opens with an observation about his church ministry.  Pastor Wilson states he rapidly realized one thing about his parishioners.  It took some of them all the faith they could muster that week just to get through the church doors.  They came on Sunday mornings because they knew they needed Christ’s strength.

As a result, Jared asks, “If any of us have what it takes, why are we going to church in the first place?”  Thus, no matter how stuck we feel, we need the confidence that Jesus won’t leave us behind, flailing in the quicksand.

Therefore, the latest and greatest self-help books offer no solution, even though we crave their advice.  Often they occupy space on church bookshelves.  In other words, neither a positive or negative approach to the Law works.  “Dos” and “don’ts” both create a burden.  Jared explains:

“”Dos and don’ts accomplish nothing resembling biblical Christianity when they are detached from the done (emphasis Jared’s) of the gospel.  The gospel gives us oxygen and space to breathe.”

In conclusion, Pastor Wilson underscores, God certainly cares about our “obedience unto holiness.”  Most importantly, God wants us to see that behavioral obedience must flow from a heart full of grace. Otherwise, it’s worthless and pointless.  Thus, the gospel provides power for obedience.  And grace teaches us how to repent and obey.  Also, St. Paul describes the gospel as distinct from, but not antithetical to, the law.  However, Jared cautions, “any time you add a ‘but’ to grace, you disgrace grace.”

The primary problem with many approaches to Christian discipleship, Jared contends, rests in their foundation of doing something different rather than becoming different.  Hence, in the next few blogs, Jared offers his Nine Irrefutable Laws of Followship.  Pastor Wilson bases these “Laws” on the “fruit” of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  For walking in the Spirit defines the kind of living that honors God best.  Tomorrow Jared covers the first three.

Today’s question: How do you understand the gospel as good news for the stuck?   Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Love others sacrificially and boldly”

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”

Our obedience in the valley

“Our timetable for advancement out of the valley is dependent on our obedience in the valley.”- Os Hillman

Os Hillman concludes Chapter 4 of The Joseph Calling as he reminds us our God is a God of the valleys also.  Therefore, it’s important that we don’t impatiently extricate ourselves from our valley experience.  Premature advancement results in leanness in your soul.

In contrast, Mr. Hillman believes God gives us a picture of our future to remember as we go through our testing period.  This revelation enables us to trust God in our valleys.  Yet, this picture usually doesn’t show us exactly how God intends to reveal His purpose in our lives.  The author adds:

“It is important to understand that none of us really derive the character qualities God desires for our lives while we are on the mountain.  It is in the valley where the fruit is planted and harvested.  Fruit cannot grow on the mountain; it must grow in the valley.  God is a God of the mountains, but he is even more a God of the valleys.”

As a result, each of us must enter the valley to experience the God of the valley.  Yet, we usually do this unwillingly.  However, when we experience the God of the valley, we also get to know His faithfulness in the valleys.  And God never wastes valley experiences.

In conclusion, Os reminds us that we live out our calling for an audience of One:

“You must have the acclaim of God before you have the acclaim of people.  By the time you go through this process, you will not care one bit about the acclaim of others.  That’s the purpose for the training ground — to remove all trust in yourself and your abilities.”

Today’s question: What fosters your obedience in the valley?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Great riches we gain from the Joseph process”

Your time of convergence – clarity in God’s call

“Convergence . . . when  God’s circumstances, your heart, your talent, your influence, and your social capital converge to maturity.”- Os Hillman

Os Hillman concludes Chapter 3 of The Joseph Calling as he notes God often moves us beyond our natural gifting.  God accomplishes this as He allows us to receive via our obedience to Him.  In Not Knowing Where (1989), Oswald Chambers provides some valuable insight regarding this concept.  Oswald writes:

“The call of God only becomes clear as we obey, never as we weigh the pros and cons and try to reason it out.  The call is God’s idea, not our idea, and only looking back over the path of obedience do we realize what is the idea of God.”

However, to get us in a position to accept a call from Him, God often motivates us through calamity or crisis.  Thus, the crisis causes us to seek God for relief and answers.  Over time, this process encourages us to seek a personal relationship with God.  That’s in contrast to merely desiring His hand of provision or a solution to our problem.

Yet, there’s no specific age when the convergence of calling and purpose intersect.  But when God calls you to walk down a certain path, He gives you the grace for that assignment.  Furthermore, Mr. Hillman offers a three-step process for discovering your purpose and why God made you.  Also, the author suggests completing this exercise with someone close to you who knows you very well.  The three steps consist of:

  1. Create your own natural gifts list.
  2. Narrow your list (choose four key or prominent words).
  3. Create your purpose statement (wordsmith it into a phrase).

In conclusion, Os notes that while not everyone has a high-profile call, God calls each of us.  Whether your assignment is big and visible to others or hidden and seen only by a few, God’s reward remains the same for both.  Therefore, it’s vital we understand that God works through the mundane and ordinary as well as the more dramatic.

Today’s question: Have you reached your time of convergence?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Never lose infinite hope”

Daily disciplines

“No one achieves his or her dream without daily disciplines.”- Mark Batterson

In Chapter 7 (“Frozen”) of Chase the Lion, Pastor Mark Batterson underscores the fact that no shortcuts exist when it come to dream chasing.  As Mark explains, work ethic + prayer ethic inches you closer to your dream.

Therefore, chasing your dream consists of incremental steps.  Also, these steps must by worked on day in and day out.  Pablo Casals, considered by many to be the best cellist ever, still practiced three hours a day at the age of ninety-six.  When asked why, Mr. Casals said, “I’m beginning to notice some improvement.”

The author observes that we live in a culture that celebrates fifteen minutes of fame.  In contrast, God honors a lifetime of faithfulness.  And, as German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once noted, faithfulness involves a long obedience in the same direction.  Unfortunately, in Nietzsche’s nihilistic world, that philosophy didn’t extend to God.

Such obedience to God, Mark states, earns compound interest.  This creates a cumulative effect.  Rather than starting over every day, you build on the day before.  For example, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden live by one simple creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.”

To accomplish this, practice daily rituals designed to inch you closer to your dream.  By stacking those successes together, you achieve long obedience in the same direction.

In order to counter discouragement, Mark advises you to zoom out.  After all, he states, “you can’t just dream big; you have to think long.”

Today’s question: What daily disciplines help you sustain a long obedience in the same direction?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our greatest shortcoming”