The Thing I Most Ask to Be Delivered From

A book I’ve been reading posed a whopper of a question: “If God were to remove one of your greatest sources of pain, what would you ask him to take?”

Now, this was not followed by another ill-fated health-and-wealth excursion, no tired treatise of living your best life now through positive thinking and self-actualization. The author was actually framing it as a teaser for heaven, one of whose rewards will be to wipe away every source of pain.

But when I read the question, I found myself applying it to my life here, on earth.

What would I ask God to take?

My mind riffled through any one of countless prayer requests, obstacles, and disappointments, both for myself and those closest to me. If I could pick only one, what would it be?

I know a handful of things I probably would have settled on, in years gone past.

Now, I wouldn’t pick any of them.

Instead, one goal now overrides the rest.

I would ask God to remove my inability to know his love.

Scripture and its teachers keep on telling us that we can find true purpose, joy, and safety only in God, but do we listen? Not particularly. We’re the stubborn teenager who just has to find things out for herself.

We look for satisfaction in being selected for projects and leadership. It lasts for an instant. Then we’re wondering why we didn’t get selected again, or whether we did well the first time. It crumbles to ash in our mouths.

We look for satisfaction in relationships. It lasts for an instant. Then we’re overanalyzing, navigating hurdles, finding ourselves in need of constant reassurance. It turns to sand in our hands.

We look for satisfaction in food, drink, or distraction. It lasts for an instant. Then we wake up to the consequences, sending much of it literally into the toilet.

I’ve tried these things, in varying degrees. I’m glad to say I’ve never committed any grievous sins in them. But there was one: thinking that they’d be better than God.

We don’t always wake up explicitly thinking “these things must be better than God”. It’s not that we high-ball the Other Things; we just low-ball God. It’s hard to cultivate a relationship with the unseen, so we gravitate towards the seen. And oftentimes, we find what we think is a “safe zone” within our Other Things (enjoying lots of food but not alcohol, seeking a godly marriage rather than just any marriage, looking to bring your talents to ministry rather than the corporate meat cleaver). It’s still not God. Not necessarily.

When God says he’s the source of life, he’s not being insecure. He’s not giving a big cosmic “you’ll get nothing else and like it”. He’s not being the psychotic parent who goes out and sabotages a daughter’s relationships so she’ll stay home. He’s rescuing us from disaster. As long as we build anything without his love as the foundation, it will collapse in on itself, taking us with it.

For that reason, and for his own glory, I really do want to know his love more than anything now. Seriously. He’s convinced me.

So I ask him to remove the barriers. He has erected none of them; they’re all of my own construction. But he can show us what they are, help us tear them down. All that’s left is beating the illusion, destroying the images of worldly goodness that crop up all around us, even good gifts that God has given us, or wishes to. They look so good. So we must endeavor to fill our minds with God instead. Meditation, Scripture, the spiritual disciplines…only then will he look good to us.

 

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You are Not in Control of Your Own Happiness

I get it. The common sentiment that “you’re in control of your own happiness” is meant to bring us from a place of learned helplessness to one of responsibility. It’s intended to take our focus off external circumstances, to free us from waiting for the galaxy to align and make us happy, and instead empower us to take charge of our attitudes. On the surface, it sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

In reality, it’s jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Sure, there’s value in learning to shape our worldviews. It’s life-changing to realize that there are days in which we can stare our stresses and disappointments in the face, say “I can have a good day despite you,” and discover that it actually happens! It’s not every day, admittedly – the meter tends to bounce back and forth – but we do have a role to play. A limited one.

If we are ultimately in control of our own happiness, though, it’s a sentence of death and despair.

We are disasters. When you examine what Scripture says about our nature and our ability to honestly perceive ourselves, we are disasters. I nearly left the house wearing mismatched shoes last Thursday, and the Bible says that’s the least of my dysfunctions. Am I trustworthy with my own happiness? Not on your life. I know myself too well.

How do we really know what will bring us happiness? Most of us are willing to look back on mistakes we made five years ago and admit we were off the beaten track. But we’re still judging from the same vantage point: by what feels right. We may have some more wisdom to aid in the squinting, and that’s something, but we haven’t actually changed positions. It felt right back then, too, though we didn’t know why.

Isn’t anyone starting to suspect that we might not be the best judge in these matters? I’m looking for a better yardstick – something outside myself.

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7-8)

I found a great Tim Keller quote recently that basically says that the Bible’s contradiction of your own instincts and desires is actually proof of its veracity – that a Bible that never contradicts you, but somehow always conveniently echoes you, is probably one you should be highly suspicious of. Like spam in your email.

Something outside us, however, can be trusted – especially if its accuracy has been verified historically, as the Bible’s has (despite greatly exaggerated reports otherwise).

I’m glad the people in my life don’t want me to be happy. Well, they do, but they first want me to be holy, because they recognize that one comes before the other. God asks for some sacrifices in return for happiness, yes, but given the sacrifice he made for us, it’s not an unfair request. Without him, it would be a cross for us.

You’re not in control of your own happiness – and you don’t need to be. God is willing to take that over for you. That’s actually a relief, if you think about it.

 

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Your Greatest Worship Experience Won’t Come At Church

I don’t have much against flashy, neon-drenched worship services courtesy of starched hair and skinny jeans.

That’s because I don’t know the hearts of the hair and jeans. When the great test of worship comes at 3am – when they get the dreaded phone call, or when they simply wake up with the old terror pressing in – for all I know, they pass with flying colors. They trust God. They worship at their bedside. Why assume they don’t?

See, your greatest worship experiences probably won’t come at church.

I attend a church that doesn’t have one of “those” worship experiences every week. We try to stay simple, competent, and authentic. Fortunately, it’s also a church that teaches us to think of ourselves with “sober judgment”, which has helped me check my critical spirit towards other churches and how they operate. We celebrate when other churches succeed.

After all, what access do I have to the hospital rooms in which the rubber of those believers’ faith meets the road?

What access do I have to their last late-night session with their thinning checkbook?

What access do I have when twenty years of isolation finally breaches the dam of their hearts and leaves them curled up against a silent wall, even after all their valiant demeanor from stage?

Your greatest worship experience won’t come at church. It comes unscheduled, unrehearsed, unforeseen, on days other than Sunday, when your character and trust are tested by life’s nastiest assaults. It comes when you’re on the ragged edge of snapping at your coworkers, or when the bottle’s comfort just feels irresistible, or the arms of someone you know you shouldn’t be seeing. The true and only question is simply this: will you choose him? Over despair? Over idols? Over distance?

That’s worship.

Raising your hands on Sunday means nothing if you sin with them the other six days. Tithing means little from a resistant giver. A degree from a Bible college is pointless if it’s not put into practice. This sounds harsh, but I can draw no other conclusion from Jesus’ words.

Worship at its deepest form happens not on the stage, but in the closet.

That’s actually comforting. It means your life doesn’t have to be the internal equivalent of multicolored spotlights and smoke machines for you to come before him. It means that humble churches without such assets can still run to him. It means that the “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10) is ours regardless of the rest of our wardrobe.

Worship with your life.

And if it’s been a while since you did so, worship with repentance right now, in your closet. It can be done. Jesus awaits with open arms.

 

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When God Moves Us Fraidy-Cats

23746683041_6dd4b048d1_zThis weekend, I helped someone move, and there was a cat involved.

Some cats handle moving better than others, staring wide-eyed with fascination out the window as a world beyond their understanding flits by.

This was not such a cat. She has to be the most timid beast I’ve ever met. For weeks, she has been crouched behind whatever will give her cover while her owner clanked dishes into boxes and thumped belongings around – the usual chaos of moving. At one point, once almost everything was packed up, she hid behind a book on the floor. A book. The front cover was upturned, and she hid her face behind it, rump protruding from behind.

And once she was safely in the car and there was nowhere left to hide, she simply turned her face to the corner and kept it there for the entire ten-hour ride.

I was tempted to make fun of her.

But then I saw myself in her.

The cat had no way to comprehend what was happening. It was beyond her. Cars, houses, moves, jobs, thunder, sunshine…she lacked the faculties to understand a tenth of it. All she knew was that she was being moved into an unfamiliar environment, without knowing how long, sound and fury all around her.

Yet the humans in charge knew it signified nothing. We knew it was an unremarkable move between states. We knew it would all be over soon, that she’d be okay, and that she would eventually grow into her new surroundings.

We are this cat.

When God moves us, it scares the willies out of us, honestly. We haven’t the capacity to see or understand a tenth of what’s going on. The spiritual clanks and crashes behind what we see and hear, the purposes of God in it all – it’s on the same level to us as elevators and internal combustion are to the average cat.

And so we turn our faces to the corner, and a little part of our hearts (maybe not so little) resenting God. We want our old place, our comfortable toys and occasional plate of tuna water.

But God sees a greater reality. Wonderful things are happening, or at least necessary. He knows our destination, knows his purpose, knows all the plans he’s carefully laid out. He is not callously throwing us to a new owner, or casting us onto the street.

He has packed everything we need and sent it ahead of us; he has arranged for its unpacking when we arrive.

When we drive through thunderstorms on the route, they will not destroy us; when the sun rises and sets on our journeys, he remains our light.

And most of all, he himself will be there.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3)

And though we hide from him in fear and frustration, he keeps pursuing us, like I did with this cat. He seeks us in our hiding places, turning over unpacked bags and blankets until he finds our trembling form, and reassures us.

Will we wander out again? Will we peek out from the maze of dollies and askew furniture, walk back up to our Owner, and take a drink from his water again?

 

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Resting Killface and the Hard Glory of Yet Another Task

desertResting killface is a condition in which the mouth’s corners do not naturally turn upward, even when you’re eight tics happier than you look. The result is a face like mine, perpetually frozen somewhere between “quietly petrified”, “incurably grave”, and “Deep South serial killer”.

Your parents during your childhood: “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” you’d reply over your book.

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

“You look annoyed.”

“I’m not. Now I’m annoyed because you keep asking.”

Years ago, I arrived at a party to announce I’d nabbed a new teaching position, only for a friend to go, “so why do you look like someone just shot your dog?”

If any of this is familiar, you might have resting killface. We’re good, we swear! We only look like we’ll strangle the next person who approaches us.

But eventually I had to face how my killface was impacting my social life. When I stood around in neutral, my downer look would repel folks. When I made a joke, my lack of smile would conflict with my tone, leaving others unsure of my intentions. It was subtle, but influential.

Following on this revelation’s heels was the fact that the onus was on me to change.

oasis-67549_1280.jpgThat was frustrating. I’ve never been socially gifted; friendmaking has been slow. To hear that I had a hand in getting where I was, and had more work to do, felt honestly like insult added to injury.

But the world wouldn’t change for me. Social dynamics were social dynamics. No matter how many Disney movies sang “be yourself”, no matter how many memes of people snapping their fingers in a “Z” motion and celebrating rejection of all advice, the score was the same. I needed to accept either this new “growth opportunity”…or the status quo.

Have you waged a years-long campaign only to be confronted with yet another battle?

Your student with special needs uncovers another learning disability.

Your illness breaks remission.

The new boss appears and turns out worse than your last three.

God exposes another soul weakness that needs work before he ends your singleness (I do believe he does this with some, my last post notwithstanding).

Another retreat fails to fix your marriage.

Your church keeps on bickering and back-biting, and now its foremost tither announces he’s moving.

Ugh.

I think of Shasta in The Horse and His Boy. He has just raced thousands of miles across country, first in a desperate flight from slavery, then carrying word of a coming invasion of the free and noble Archenland. He’s evaded city police, endured days of desert heat, and been chased by lions. Gasping, ready to collapse, he finally reaches Archenland’s citizens with news of the impending attack – only to learn that he’s the only one who can reach the king in time. He must keep going.

…”he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed, your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one.”

I don’t know where C.S. Lewis got this sage stuff (well, yes I do), but it’s the kind that alters a young man’s trajectory.

Perhaps it is not cruelty but honor and reward, wearying though our journey be. Perhaps we should throw ourselves in without hesitation, as Shasta did the first river he found after his desert crossing. Or into the next leg of his journey.

For Shasta’s mission succeeded. In fact, not only did Archenland receive his warning in time to fortify its defenses until Narnian reinforcements could arrive, but Shasta discovered who he really was: the long-lost son of the very king he’d warned, heir to the very kingdom he helped save.

Be refreshed by God today. It is only through these travails that we will discover Whose sons and daughters we’ve been all along.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

mountain-background-hd-14

 

How the Doctrine-Averse Can Know God Really Loves Them

lostOccasionally, you might spot a Facebook page promising a Toyota 4Runner to some random user who shares the page.

Naturally, those pages are fake. They’re newly created, lacking Facebook’s verification symbol. Reminds me of that watershed of generosity, the Nigerian prince, who somehow dug up your email address and settled upon you(!) to receive his inheritance.

Baloney radar, start beeping. It claims to be good news…but how do you know?

I’m staggered by our willingness to accept any agreeable thought that crosses our minds. If it feels good, offers resolution, or minimizes emotional resistance, it stays.

Me? I’m leery about even the most encouraging thought, like a hiker balancing on a shifty rock in midstream, unless I know it comes from God. Unless an idea has his royal stamp, I’m holding onto it loosely at best.

You’re probably bracing for a dry, theological rant about how what feels good is not necessarily truth.

Well, yes, but that “necessarily” matters. Sometimes, a thought tickles our ears for good reason. Some theological truths can make us feel amazing. Though he is too big to wrap his existence around our emotional states, God still cares immensely about them. Otherwise, vast swaths of Scripture would not have been bothered with.

So…how do we know?

I mean, you and I have crossed dark places because of lies we couldn’t spot. We believed we were inadequate, that we had to be someone else to be loved. We believed that we had to control others, step on them (or over them), to get due credit. Though they look like a dark alley now, those thoughts looked agreeable at the time because they seemed to offer a way out. It’s a testament to our minds’ deceptivity.

How do we know what will really make us happy?

Take the news that God’s grace is a free gift, independent of our merit. It’s the best news we could hear. Yet our baloney radar fights it tooth and nail – we insist on a system where it must be earned. That’s why we fear losing God’s love after we sin. Our incredulity at such abuseable love surfaces at the worst possible time.

How do we know it’s true?

Doctrine.

We know because God’s Word holds it true.

Massive allergy-trigger-word, I know. Doctrine isn’t popular. Too many feel that it’s used to stifle joy and freedom rather than give life.

Yet doctrine also conveys amazing, true-beyond-all hope. There is a steadying quality in elevating Scripture above all. It eliminates the middleman of our own minds. Though some doctrine is difficult, with the bad comes incredible good.

It’s true that cults invoke this logic, gaslighting our intellect to cow people into subservience. But those cults don’t rely on (or don’t correctly interpret) archaeologically reliable documents that claim God’s inspiration. I mean, Scriptures is our only source of Jesus (one reason he lived in obscurity – to prevent the existence of fifteen “historical Jesuses” waiting for their own A&E specials). If we love him, why would we reject the rest of his words?

This is why this blog elevates Scripture above all. I trust what’s outside of me. It’s not about chasing our own happiness, for only Jesus knows where happiness lies. It lies in him alone!

 

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Does God Need ME to Correct This Person?

Scripture Religion 3d Faith Glasses Bible Book

We’ve all been there. We look at someone else’s life, we see an issue that might need speaking to, and we experience an urge to be the one to bring it up – “for their own good”, of course.

I’ve learned to stifle these urges, for the most part.

One of the most encouraging possible relational truths is that whatever correction is needed in a person’s life, God is already on top of it. He hasn’t missed it; he doesn’t need to be notified. In fact, he saw it millennia before it came up.

Sometimes God doesn’t even use a human speaker. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve kept my mouth shut about someone else’s rough edges and, months or years later, heard the person speak of working on that very matter themselves, without any involvement from me. God laid it their heart all on his own.

And that’s when I’m right. Sometimes I’m wrong about what I’m seeing. Or, what I’m seeing is the result of deeply rooted habits or wounds that would change the conversation entirely if I knew them.

If the person doesn’t seem to be changing, there are a few possible explanations:

1) God is waiting for a moment when they’re ready to hear correction;

2) God is grooming the right speaker with the right words;

3) The person isn’t listening to God;

4) Change is slow. (Or has change been fast with you? I’m afraid it hasn’t been with me.)

Whatever the case, I find I’m rarely the person God uses – or nearly not as often as I’d volunteer myself.

Some of that’s just simple math. If we assume every person has twenty mature, Scripturally literate people in their lives that they trust to speak difficult truth, just how many times should I expect to be the one out of twenty?

It’s also worth mentioning that I’m often just ooking to eliminate an inconvenience on myself (the ripple effects of their behavior) rather than honestly seeking to help.

So I don’t say much anymore. Instead, I trust God to have eyes to spot what’s important. Like a pair of colored glasses, he sees things I don’t. And what I do see, he sees differently.

Besides, don’t I have enough sanctification to work on in my own life?

Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent, discerning when he seals his lips. (Prov. 17:28)

 

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