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”

Getting out of difficult circumstances

“But here’s my caution: don’t be so focused on getting out of difficult circumstances that you don’t get anything out of them.  Sometimes the very circumstances we’re trying to change are the very circumstances God is using to change us. . . .  listen carefully to what God is saying during the tough times (emphasis author’s).”- Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson continues Chapter 11 of Whisper as he talks about two overarching lessons learned from the story of Job:

  1. Let’s not pretend that pain doesn’t exist.  As Pastor Batterson previously advised, don’t fake it to make it.  In other words, it’s okay if you’re not okay!  And admitting that represents the first step in the healing process.  For when we fail to grieve, wounds remain open.  We need the emotional antiseptic of grief to cleanse the wound.
  2. Let’s not explain the pain away with trite truisms.  When Job’s friends kept their mouths shut, they provided the greatest comfort.  So, when you feel pressured to say the right words, Mark advises that you say less and listen more.  He adds: “You can say a lot by saying little.”

Furthermore, Mark stresses, when it appears as if God’s letting us down, He’s setting us up for something quite possibly beyond our ability to comprehend at that present moment.  Thus, Pastor Batterson reminds us, faith is:

  • weathering the storm, not flying above it
  • trusting God’s heart even when we can’t see His hand
  • understanding that, at times, the obstacle = the way

While pain’s part of the curse, God’s certainly able to redeem, recycle, and speak through that pain.  No doubt, Mark notes, pain’s a difficult language to discern.  But like every other language presented in Whisper, it’s a love language.  Pastor Batterson concludes:

“The Word of God chose to die the most excruciatingly painful death to whisper His love to us loud and clear.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses shift your focus from getting out of difficult circumstances to getting something out of them?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Contending – harder than conceding”

Pain – sometimes a gift from God

“Pain is a result of the curse, and it’s most often a symptom of sin.  But sometimes it’s a gift from God.  It’s the language that can’t be ignored.  You can leave the Bible on your bedside table untouched.  You can ignore desires, dreams, doors, promptings, and people.  But you can’t ignore pain . . .”- Mark Batterson

As Mark Batterson continues Chapter 11 of Whisper, he stresses that many prominent people in Scripture endured dark nights of the soul.  However, they also had one additional, significant thing in common.  In their darkest hours they heard God’s whisper.  And by His grace, they all came out the other side.

Therefore, Pastor Batterson’s prayer for you isn’t that you’d be pain-free.  Rather, he prays that you discern God’s loving voice in the midst of your pain.

Most noteworthy, Mark posits that the healing of the lepers represents the miracle Jesus repeated more than any other.  Among other things, the author states, curing leprosy restored the leper’s sense of touch.  Because leprosy numbed those affected to the world around them, the disease caused great danger.  And when Jesus restored their sense of touch, that included both pleasure and pain.

Yet, as Mark explains, most of us prefer gain with no pain.  He writes:

“Let’s be honest.  Most of us prefer this philosophy: no pain, no pain.  We opt for the path of least resistance, but that doesn’t get us where God wants us to go.  I’m certainly not suggesting that we need to seek out pain.  Pain will find us soon enough.  But when pain comes, we shouldn’t try to go around it.  Instead, we need to go through it and learn to discern what God is saying through pain, through grief, and through suffering.”

Today’s question: What past pain in your life do you now see as a gift from God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Getting out of difficult circumstances”

Pain gets our full attention

“Nothing gets our full attention like pain.  It breaks down false idols and purifies false motives.  It reveals where we need to heal, where we need to grow.  It refocuses our priorities like nothing else.  And pain is part and parcel of God’s sanctification process in our lives.”- Mark Batterson

“I would still have this consolation — my joy in unrelenting pain — that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.”- Job 6:10 (NIV)

In Chapter 11 (“Joystick”) of Whisper, Mark Batterson covers the seventh love language – pain.  Pastor Batterson begins as he cites Job 6:10.  Most noteworthy, Mark observes that the Hebrew word for “joy” in this passage from Job appears only once in Scripture.  Here the word refers to rare joy, extreme joy.  It’s a joy that doesn’t deny reality.  But, it defies reality!

Furthermore, Pastor Batterson writes, the most literal translation of this joy = “to leap like a horse so stones spark.”  Thus, it’s more than jumping for joy, Mark exhorts.  It means to dance on disappointment.

However, in the midst of adverse times, we may believe God’s turned His back on us.  As a result, we usually want to return the favor.  Hence, we turn our back on God.  Yet, that’s precisely the time we need to lean on and lean into Him.  Like Job, we must refuse to cut God off.  And we continue listening.

In conclusion, Mark dares to broach the subject of pain as a gift.  For without discomfort, we would:

  • repeatedly reinjure ourselves in the same way
  • simply maintain the status quo
  • ignore problems capable of killing us

During difficult times, we find God’s presence and hear His voice most clearly when we’re hurting.

Today’s question: How does pain focus your full attention on God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Pain – sometimes a gift from God”

We spend ourselves on what we value the most

“Yes, we spend ourselves on what we value the most.  Whether it’s money, time, energy, or emotions, we pour ourselves out on the thing that we deem most worthy of our devotion.”- Ann Swindell

In Chapter 3 (“When Waiting Costs You Everything”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell discusses the high price of hiding.  On a personal note, Ann states that she found herself unable to untangle the lie from the truth.  Thus, she believed any brokenness tainted the successes in her life.  She failed to realize her daily failures with truth didn’t define her or negate her strengths.

But, Ann asks, at what cost?  Hiding her condition from her friends and teammates cost her a great deal.  Ann paid in time, energy, and friendships.  In contrast, friendships build on the back of brokenness.  Also, intimacy often stems from shared pain.

Furthermore, we feel desperate when we need something from God.  We frantically await His response and action.  To varying degrees, we all surrender time, energy, emotional wholeness, and sometimes money, to cover up our weakest places.

However, while desperation has it’s own cost, we face another cost in our painful places.  The cost of waiting.  Ms. Swindell explains:

“When we have to wait for God to move on our behalf — when we find ourselves at the end of whatever rope we’re hugging — it’s painful.  That’s because waiting demands that we pay . . . because when we are forced to wait for God’s work — for his healing, for his provision, for his answer — the waiting itself becomes a high cost.  We come to a point in waiting for his breakthrough when it feels like too much to bear.  The waiting is the thing that hurts — sometimes even more than the initial pain we faced.”

Today’s question: How do we spend ourselves on what we value the most?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The cost of waiting — payment of our self-sufficiency”

The sorrows of our lives – God’s weaning process

“The sorrows of our lives are in great part his [God’s] weaning process.  We give our hearts over to so many things other than God.  We look to so many other things for life.”- John Eldredge

As John Eldredge continues the Fall section of Walking with God, he states we’re vulnerable as long as we tie our happiness to things we can love.  In fact, the author notes a propensity in himself and everyone he knows- a stubborn inclination to view the world in only one way.  That way?  A chance to live a happy life.

Yet, the first and greatest command is to love God with our entire being.  And God’s given us many good and beautiful things in our fallen world.  John explains how to reconcile those two thoughts.  He writes:

“We are created to enjoy life.  But we end up worshiping the gift instead of the Giver.  We seek for like and look to God as our assistant in the endeavor.  We are far more upset when things go wrong than we ever are when we aren’t close to God.  And so Gold must, from time to time, and sometimes very insistently, disrupt our lives so that we release our grasping of life here and now. ”

Usually, the author notes, this disruption comes through pain.  However, our first reaction most often consists of getting angry with God.  This only serves to make John’s point.   We don’t really look to God for life.  We’re surprised by the course of events because we fail to see “the process of our life as coming to the place where we are fully his and he is our all.”

In conclusion, John makes a point to stress that he’s not suggesting God causes all pain in our lives.  But pain does come, and we must deal with it.  For example, what does our pain reveal?  How might God redeem our pain?  Most importantly, John urges, don’t waste your pain.

Today’s question: How has God used the sorrows of your life as a weaning process?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our desire to have a nice little life”

How we define the word good

“One of the reasons we have a hard time believing that God’s grace is working for good in our lives is because of how we define the word good.  We have our own ideas of how God should work for our good . . .”- Kyle Idleman

Pastor Kyle Idleman concludes Chapter 10 of Grace Is Greater as he talks about how we define the word good.  We tend to believe that if God works everything for our good, the results should match how we define the word good.  Conversely, when adversity strikes, we feel that God’s failed to keep His promises.

However, Kyle observes, God’s grace works in the midst of our pain to bring about goodness in two ways:

  1. God’s grace works in your pain to draw you closer to Jesus.  The worst thing that ever happened to you ends up as the best thing that ever happened.  Why?  Because that event brought you closer to Jesus.
  2. God’s grace works in your pain to make you more like Jesus.  God uses all you’ve been through to make you more like Jesus.  Therefore, your pain always has a purpose.  And when pain has a purpose, we’re able to find the strength to endure.

In conclusion, Kyle finds it helpful to distinguish between reason and purpose.  That’s because we don’t always know if there’s a reason for our pain.  But, we do know that God, in His grace, always provides a purpose.  Hence, Pastor Idleman compares reason and purpose.

Reason:

  • looks for a because
  • wants a logical explanation that makes sense out of what happened

Purpose:

  • focuses on the for
  • offers us a hope that God is able to work good out of what happened

As Kyle encourages, just keep reading.

Today’s question: How do you define the word good?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the Annotated Bibliography of Grace Is Greater

He [God] also really wants our sad

“I have learned through the years that God does not just want our happy; He also really wants our sad.  Everything is not fine, and God wants to hear about it.”- Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece continues Chapter 1 of No More Faking Fine as she notes that God doesn’t minimize our pain or compare it to the pain of others.  Hence, God wants us to surrender all our pain to Him.  He responds with infinite compassion, for He alone possesses the capacity to do so.

Therefore, as Esther writes, lament provides a pathway to honest expression:

” . . . lament is a pathway.  Honest expression to God makes way for God to come and work His real healing.  Lament is a channel for powerful transformation.  It is exactly the kind of song we need for hope and healing.”

As a result, real strength consists of identifying a wound and asking God to enter it.  While no one enjoys dealing with pain, Ms. Fleece observes that we lose a great deal by wishing that pain away.  In fact, Esther finds that, to the extent we minimize our pain, we only heal to that same extent.

In addition, when we silence the reality of our pain, Esther points out, we lose an entire vocabulary from our prayers.  Thus, the church needs to be the safest place to share our pain as well as a sanctuary for our healing.

As Esther concludes, in order to lament or overcome, we must identify ourselves with Jesus.  That includes acknowledging just how painful life can be.  Silencing our own cries inevitably silences the cries of those around us.  Ms. Fleece writes:

“There is no ‘fake it till you make it’ in Scripture.  When we fake fine, we fake our way out of authentic relationship with God, others, and ourselves.”

Today’s question: Knowing that God really wants our sad, how have you expressed lament to Him?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the latest Short Meditation, “Discover the beauty in sorrow”

Tomorrow’s blog: “Reclaiming the language of lament”

Get out of pain as quickly as possible

“We have not discovered the beauty in sorrow, so we try to get out of pain as quickly as possible. . . . But life will let all of us down, and we need a way to talk about it — a way we have lost along the way.”- Esther Fleece

In Chapter 1 (“God Wants Our Soul”) of No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece makes an astute observation about pain.  She states that whether your pain is (a) the result of others’ sinfulness or (b) due to your own deliberate sin and disobedience, the pain always goes somewhere.  Therefore, you need to face your pain and grieve your losses.  Also, in order to do that, you need a grid for grief.

Furthermore, the expectations of others as well as our self-imposed demands apply an incredible amount of pressure.  In fact, this pressure may be so significant that we default to faking fine.  We want to avoid the perception that we’re weak or in need.  Yet, our inability to neatly put things together and chart them out creates time, space, and quiet.  God then uses that time to expose our unhealthy normal and wrong patterns of identity.

Hence, during such times, you must allow God to transform you in the midst of your pain.  Walking you through your painful seasons reveals God’s kindness.  You learn to break the habit of faking fine.  As a result, you trust God and truly live, rather than waiting for God to deliver you from your circumstances.

In conclusion, D. A. Carson (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) ties it all together:

“There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering.  They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God.  Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”

Today’s question: Following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss, how have you tried to get out of pain as quickly as possible?  Please share.

SPECIAL NOTE:  on March 21, 2017 Crown hosted its 300,000th visitor.  Thanks be to God!

Tomorrow’s blog: “He also really wants our soul”

God meets us where we are

“God meets us where we are and not where we pretend to be.”- Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece recently published No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending to explain and apply the ancient biblical language of lament.  In the Foreword, Louie and Shelley Giglio (Passion City Church, Atlanta) describe the beautiful  nature of lament.  They write:

“The beautiful nature of lament is that it has a beginning and an end.  No one is meant to live forever in grief and sorrow, yet without it, our life loses all meaning and our sense of immeasurable joy that is intended for our journey.  Without lament, there is no joy.”

Next, Ms. Fleece follows the Foreword with a letter to her readers.  In the letter, she notes the desperate nature of her own circumstances- with no relief in sight.  In addition, Esther wondered if this moment pushed people to give up on God.  Yet, in the midst of a dying will and hurting heart, a lament began to surface.

However, this surfacing lament produced a deep, authentic, worth everything (emphasis Esther’s) faith.  But this type of faith comes with a cost.  Esther observes that lament was:

  • giving her a language for relating to God, her Creator
  • saving her faith
  • the only thing that enabled her to keep the line open to God in her moment of greatest need

Although  we experience pain, Esther exhorts us not “to settle for heartache without comfort.”  God cares for us too much to leave us alone.

In conclusion, Ms. Fleece provides some thought for the hurting, restless, disappointed, stuck, faithless- and even the faithful.  She writes that we’re all in this together:

“All of us need lament.  All of us long to be rescued from pain. . . . Pain will not be forever, but pain will be present in this life, and so I pray for you.  I pray for us.  That God will meet us in our distress, and that we will end the pretend, together.”

Today’s question: Following your vocation loss, provide examples of how “God meets us where we are.”  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Get out of pain as quickly as possible”