Category Archives: Musings on life

Getting His love from my head to my heart

This post records some additional thoughts about the podcast “Stop Doing”.  Located on The God Journey site:  www.theGodJourney.com  

 

What’s our part in this process of getting God’s love for us from our head to our heart?  Believers can usually find mental agreement to the assertion that “God loves you”.  But experiencing the deep assurance of His delight and enjoyment of us as His children in our hearts requires more than our agreement; it requires our participation. A couple quotes from the letters Wayne and Brad shared:

“How do I live there? I feel that sitting around waiting for the change to come is accomplishing nothing.  What are the things I should be doing to get this through to my heart?” From another letter: “How do you make the jump from head to heart? We know Jesus loves us, because the Bible tells us so.  We hear Thomas Merton’s words and yours and recognize their truth.”  Wayne response: “I think the whole part of that program performance based mindset is “OK, I now see what I want, what do I do to make that happen?”  The heart of the righteousness that faith produces is sitting before God and saying “I can’t do this, no matter how hard I try. I can’t do what God wants to make real in my heart.”

I was reminded a few months ago about something I said in my brash and self-confident young adulthood.  I remember telling my pastor “Just tell me what to do to live the Christian life and I will do it!”  So I join Wayne in whining about how many years it took me to see that was the wrong tree to be barking up.  Thankfully, very thankfully, my pastor didn’t respond to my ignorantly sincere request.  Instead, he encouraged me to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to me. But it still took years! J  I share this by way of background to segue into my thoughts about how Wayne and Brad responded to these questions.

 

What I heard on the podcast was a bit unclear and possibly confusing. I want to help by thinking here about this question.  Paul Young, author of The Shack, said something in his interview on the God Journey about salvation being spoken of in three verb tenses in the bible.  The actions that Jesus did on the cross and the actions He will do in the future at the end of the age to bring us into our full inheritance are His alone.  But the present tense activity of His transforming work in us requires our participation.  Briefly, what He is offering us is a relationship, one in which we must participate willingly and with conscious intention.  To be known by Him in the way that truly meets our deepest needs requires us to open ourselves to His involvement in our lives.  He brings the power and the initiative to transform us, but we retain the awesome responsibility to respond and choose to open the door to His knocking.  

 

The Reformation placed such a heavy emphasis on salvation by faith alone that the notion of personal transformation through a dynamic relationship with the living Lord Jesus was marginalized, even minimized.  In our current day when we grapple with the question of the nature of our participation, there exists even still such a strong influence to pull toward describing our part in terms of “grace through faith alone” that our participation in the transformation process is expressed with the same kind of passive cognitive belief constructs that define faith as mental assent.  It stays in our heads and doesn’t get to our hearts!  Ordering off that menu gets us hamburger instead of filet! 

 

But there is a trap lurking for anyone who begins to articulate anything that resembles a “program” or hints of “performance” to move towards heart transformation.  The aversion to legalism hobbles people from engaging in a robust pursuit of God!  Yet, I don’t think we can expect to see spiritual heart transformation by “sitting around waiting for change to come” as the dear sister wrote to Wayne in her letter and attests to.

 

Over the past couple weeks I have listened to about twelve hours of teaching audio from Dallas Willard and audio from a five-session Renovare conference with Richard Foster.  If you know of these men you will recall that they both have written well-received books about the spiritual disciplines.  Both of them taught in these sessions about the benefits of the spiritual disciplines of Solitude and Silence!  And then what I heard Wayne and Brad articulating sounded strikingly similar: (the numbers are the location on the MP3 file. The text is not word for word but very close.)

·         31:57  How does it happen? When He speaks. You can’t hear his voice without Him speaking. The reality is that I can’t control that.  There is not a button that I can push: Speak, God!   It’s more like I can make myself available. Get into some space that helps allow that to happen.  For the most part this is really getting into some space, getting away for a bit, even if it’s to take a half hour walk. But creating a space for that to happen.  Our harried world existence where we’re running from one responsibility to another responsibility doesn’t allow for the space for revelation to happen. It doesn’t take going up to a mountain and praying for 24 hours, but it does help taking a little bit of space in your life for that opportunity to happen

·         34:23  I think rest opens up space and not being afraid, and not being harried. Even if it means going in a room for 15 minutes, close the door and say “Jesus, would you make yourself known to me?”  Creating that space to me opens up the opportunity for us to know love that way. 

·         37:58  The heart of the righteousness that faith produces is sitting before God and saying “I can’t do this, no matter how hard I try. I can’t do what God wants to make real in my heart.”  That is a great place of faith.  I’m now at peace with the fact that I can’t get there. 

·         39:56  That can be a real place of peace, not self-pity, self-loathing, or frustration.  It’s liberating, because now I can stop doing all the stupid things that I have been doing for all these years to try to make this happen in my heart, and now just do the one thing I can do, which is to say “Jesus, would you do this in me?”  It’s coming to a place of acceptance, not defiance. It’s coming to place of relaxed rest that God is big enough to do this in me, and I’m not big enough to do this in myself.  So I’m going to stop trying, and I’m going to learn to listen and learn to live loved.

·         42:35  “To some degree, until you stop all you are doing, how in the world are you even going to be able to see what He’s doing? I really think that in all of the flurry of our well-intentioned activity, I am so aware of what I am doing, that I am least aware of what He’s doing.  But if your identity is wrapped up in what you’re doing, it’s almost impossible to stop.  That is where the Holy Spirit is first nudging our heart.  Pull back, your identity is not based on your doing, your security as a believer is not based on all the things you’re doing, but we’ve been taught that it is.  But until I stop doing, I may not start seeing.   

·         “But it begins with him.  It’s empowered by him.  I have to get to the place where I settle myself and open my eyes and open my ears and ask “help me see where this is.”  It’s only when I know that I’m not doing this that I can be aware of the activity He is doing.  And then I do start to feel loved.  I start to perceive an activity that I couldn’t otherwise.  That is where living loved begins, in that space.”

 

There are intentional actions that we can take to create that space for God to speak!  Both Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have written and spoken extensively about those actions that we can take.  Do we invoke God to action by our preparations or make Him obligated?  No, ours is the action of humble servants, like the wise maidens who trimmed their lamps and were ready when the bridegroom arrived.  We do have our part in the great dance of relationship with God.  There have been earnest disciples in every age that we can learn from as we ask God to guide us on our journey.

 

There may be some materials from these other sources from which you can benefit. (I certainly have appreciated the other voices and viewpoints seeking to describe this Life that He offers!)  The audio tracks I mentioned are downloadable for free at http://christianaudio.com search on Willard and Foster.  A page with links to Willard’s other audio teachings is here: http://www.dwillard.org/resources/audio.asp 

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Menu Choices – Will I let God pick for me?

I came across a podcast series by the two men who helped Paul Young, the author of The Shack, get his book published. They have been hosting a weekly podcast for a couple years. The focus of most of their informal, rambling discussions usually touches upon “living loved”, experiencing God’s love for us personally in a transformational way.

In last week’s podcast entitled “Stop Doing”, there were some comments about dealing with suffering and unmet expectations. Wayne and Brad offered some suggestions that got me thinking about some things I’ve been reading in the last few days related to this very same question.

Wayne replied to a letter from a listener with this observation: “This life is lived best as we celebrate what God gives rather than trying to get God to give us what we want”. There was a bit of discussion about the mistaken mindset that God’s love for us is evidenced when everything goes our way. Wayne speaking in the podcast:

“How do you interpret love? Does it mean that everything great goes your way? If to be loved by God means I have a carefree existence with no trouble, then you’re going to run into that issue every single day. It’s not even that it’s just suffering; it’s sometimes the disappointment of my own agenda. I’m praying for God to do these things, fix these things, give me these things. (And Wayne quipped…) And if I loved me, I would!”

I laughed!

I think God’s definition of love toward us encompasses so much more than our temporal happiness (read that: pleasure derived from what is happening now). He desires our blessing, a deep joy which is not based simply on our present pleasant circumstances but instead as an outcome of our relationship with Him. A practical way I have found to wrestle with this mistaken mindset is to pray “Lord, please bless me with every blessing You have for me today, I want to receive everything you have for me as your child.” You might recognize this attitude from the popular Prayer of Jabez. When I first began praying that part of the prayer seven years ago, I was intentionally opening myself up to whatever God had for me: His agenda, His pruning, His choice of the daily menu of life’s events. It’s a way of declaring my resolute trust in His faithful delight to extend His care to me and share His life through all of life’s experiences.

I remember at the beginning of praying that prayer, imagining mostly the kinds of blessings that bring that flush of thankfulness for pleasant circumstances. In the past couple years I am seeing that the greatest blessings are not “the stuff”, but the growing sense that He is Enough!

But I really think it would have been a challenge at the beginning of praying those prayers to comprehend the value of experiencing that sense of intimate fellowship into which He has drawn me. I can testify, though, from this vantage point, that the blessings are real and unexpectedly satisfying. If you have never tasted a good filet, hamburger tastes just fine! But after tasting a good steak, simple hamburger will not do! We spend so much of our time seeking hamburger when God wants to help us acquire the taste for steak!

Power: right-handed, left-handed, His…

I recently read a blog post discussing power as being right-handed or left-handed.  The general description of right hand power is that which comes out of our self-determination and self-direction, focused on meeting our own needs.  Left-handed power was characterized as power subordinated to the needs of those around us. The discussion was about the virtues of left handed power.  I had some thoughts catalyzed by something Eric Ludy spoke about in one of his discipleship sessions.

In summary form, I see the issue as not one of our choosing to use our right-handed power or our left-handed power.  Instead, God is offering me to be enabled by His right hand!  So the focus is not on my power but upon His power. Here are some thoughts from that session:

In Biblical culture, the Right hand is the hand of blessing, the holy arm. 

“For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou had a favor unto them.” Psalm 44:3

“O sing unto the Lord a new song, for he hath done marvelous things: his right hand and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.” Psalm 98:1

“Now know I that the Lord saves his anointed: he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.” Psalm 20:6

The notion of the right side of the body presented through scripture is one of strength, power, salvation, control, will, kingship, holiness, correctness, correction, honor, and wisdom. The right-handedness of man is symbolic of the scepter of man’s kingdom, dependence upon his own strength, his own wisdom, his own will-power, his own effort to rescue himself upon this earth. If a man refuses to relinquish this “right side” of his being unto God, he is despising the offer of God’s strength, power, salvation, control, will, kingship, holiness, correctness, correction, honor, and wisdom and is determining to seek those things by means of his own resource.  So the right side of one’s being must be willingly relinquished in order to become as he ought to be. The branch grown out of the root of our selfishness is pulled up and the Holy Spirit is planted within us, the righteous strength of Almighty God enabling us to experience and “live loved” in the life of the Trinity.

Jesus demonstrated how a right hand must be used, must be surrendered, must be consecrated.  Though He was God, he was “found in the fashion of men, he humbled himself and became obedient”, in order to demonstrate perfect right-handedness by exhibiting the power and glory of God’s right hand.  Philippians 2:6-11

What I am seeing here is that the option is not about declining to use my own right hand and instead, use my left handed resources.  Both of those sources of power are mine, limited and humanly frail at the core.  Instead, God is offering me to lean on His Right arm!  I wasn’t designed to operate alone, as my own source of power!  The process God has used to bring me to a deep realization that my right arm is not sufficient is a story of His kindness and love.  The drama has not been pleasant but the fruit is truly worth the pain of being confronted with the limitations of my own right arm to sustain me.

I suggest that we look at this metaphor as a choice between trusting in our own right arm or trusting in His right arm.  I think it is a much better choice than even using my own left arm!  As for me, I’m delighted to be “leaning on the Everlasting Arm”!

The indented material is almost all extracted from a teaching on Right Handedness by Eric Ludy, a young man with a fierce devotion to God and a poetic pen.  This teaching is available on his website as a download of MP3 audio and PDF notes.  The series is number 5. http://www.ericludy.com/ericludy.com/Discipleship.html

Do you ever feel God owes you a life free from suffering?

One of the questions that came up in my study group at church last Thursday night has prompted me to think a bit about hope and about suffering.  Here’s the question that came up:

“Deep down, do you ever feel God owes you a life free from suffering?”

Not any more. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that we are not going to get out of this life alive. And along the way to that inevitable end, there is bound to be suffering of some kind. There is not enough Ibuprofen, family counseling, and prayer intercession to counteract the suffering that is part of our lot in life as humans. I didn’t always think that way…

Young adulthood has a way of seducing us with the sheer ecstasy of our own possibilities; seducing us with the naive hope that we can navigate our way through life in such a manner as to avoid the ditches and potholes along the way. I am learning that even “Most Outstanding Boy Graduate of the Class of 1972” can’t expect to get through unscathed. 

There is a crisis of grief I’ve felt in the depth of my soul. These are sobering realizations that have crept in over the years as life’s events have unfolded and begun to form an undeniable pattern. The pattern is that even my best efforts, my most heartfelt, sincere desire to walk uprightly before God hasn’t shielded me from suffering. I guess He’s not in the business of “casualty and life insurance”. 

So somehow I got the wrong idea about the deal God was offering us regarding suffering. Without going into an analysis of how I embraced that wrong idea regarding what to expect, I am recognizing that an accurate perspective about reality was in some other explanation. That recognition came over time, not through reasoning of new facts, but of experiencing a new relational reality. When suffering occurs, God has been there in the midst of it with His comfort! Instead of feeling abandoned and estranged in the midst of suffering, I have experienced God’s presence more keenly and His encouragement more confidently. I am seeing a pattern that has its own seductive invitation to intimacy. My hope is becoming grounded in the unfolding experience of living in the embrace and fellowship of the triune God! 

I am in the midst of seeking a clear understanding of the part that we must individually play in the process and the part that the ever-active Holy Spirit takes. I am seeing that we definitely need help with the process! Letting go is hard; too hard alone; too hard without the refining fire that is applied to the glue that connects us to our “worldly goods”. Somehow the activity of the Holy Spirit enables us to relinquish our hold on this world and reach for Him. Suffering and pain are the elements of the fire that God uses to help us loosen our grip on the worldly things we hold onto as our hope for fulfillment.

Where was my hope before? It was in the bloom of becoming capable as a young adult, in the exhilaration of accomplishment, in the satisfaction of fruitful service to my family and friends. Largely, these are things that I was doing for God that He was blessing. Now I am seeing my hope grounded in my being in relationship with God. While life in recent days hasn’t been noticeably exhilarating, satisfying, or fruitful in the doing part, the being part of my experience has been flourishing! 

To conclude, here is a quote from Peter Kreeft’s Back to Virtue book:

Hope is a virtue of the soul. It is not something we can create by an act of our will, but (in large part) an emotional response to experiencing the love of God in our hearts.