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.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

3 Scriptural Promises that Speak the Language of Anxiety and Depression

Ray Of Light Forest Trees Sunlight Sun SunbeamAnxiety and depression are almost synonymous with our day, and they only seem to be growing with the lateness of the hour.

The memes may fly about how we’re the generation of the neurotic, but like many good jokes, it’s truer than we’d care to admit. The anxious and depressed long for a full, light, and steady heart. They’d give an arm for just a day of that. Instead, a great bell seems to hang from it, turning the mountaintops into plains, the plains into valleys, and the valleys…well, you can imagine. And like many bells, it takes only a small tap to start everything vibrating, shaking the heart with worried thoughts. You know what I mean – that chronic, racing overthinking, the endless suspicion, the corner of your soul that perpetually waits for the other shoe to drop.

The answer was intended to be passed from one generation to another. Instead, the reality of God’s faithfulness is becoming lost knowledge, like cursive, or how to speak Latin. Technology adds to the exodus. It’s a double-edged sword. I look around my youth group, or my classroom a few years ago, and mourn at the ease with which teenagers have all the chaos and discord of the world – and endless comparisons – beamed straight into their pocket. I’ve seen it truly paralyze some of them. It’s a burden they shouldn’t have to bear, yet one they can’t shed without falling behind in the world.

Everyone has a theory for anxiety and depression’s cause. Everyone, from theologians to self-help gurus to pharmaceutical companies to diet fads to Michelob Ultra to certain fallen angels of ill repute, claims to have locked down the solution. Drown it. Find stability in another’s arms. Stay distracted. Or busy.

The truth is, the cacophony of dueling answers is almost as discouraging as the problem. Accusation and confusion piggyback on what should be a lifejacket for the soul. And many of them don’t work, or backfire and make it worse. They’re proving they don’t speak the language. Ultimately, only God is the healer. Yet even we, his servants, struggle to get our story straight amongst ourselves.

I personally believe that the God who had a different war strategy for each stage of the Promised Land campaign, the Son who never healed someone the same way twice, prefers the personal touch. There might be many different ways God chooses to heal us. They might be extraordinary or mundane. And they might not operate on our timetable, for reasons that are far above my pay grade.

While we wait, however, God does not leave us empty. Though he cannot be anxious or depressed, God proves in his Word that he can still speak that language. It is amazing to peruse even familiar Scripture and find promises targeted straight towards our afflictions, like an ancient Rosetta stone buried in the earth. He fully intends to sustain us this side of the mirror dimly.

Here are three promises that have spoken to me.

 

1. “I do not condemn you for this.”

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Many Christians are under the impression that depression is a sin, a failure to adequately read (or believe) Scripture. They rebuke the anxious and depressed accordingly. A great many genuine, heartfelt followers of Christ therefore have guilt added to their burdens.

I don’t count myself in this camp. Anxiety and depression can stem from a place of spiritual ignorance (how depressing our future indeed without God!). But they can also be chemical, seasonal, hormonal, the product of spiritual warfare, or simply the soul’s response to tragedy. I know people whose depression clears up with caffeine. Others shed it by changing lifestyles or thought patterns.

More importantly, condemnation of the mentally beleaguered forgets the work of the Cross. If no sin or offense is beyond God’s forgiveness for the repentant, then neither are anxiety and depression – whether they’re sins or not. This reality ought to reign in our judgments, soften the contemptuous tone we sometimes level towards the depressed. They are instead candidates for grace – as are we all.

 

2. “I’m happy to reassure you as often as you need.”

Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

One hallmark of anxiety and depression is seeking frequent reassurance of love – even from those who are closest and most loyal. Ever felt like you’re always vaguely “in trouble” somehow? Ever seen a friend act distant and assumed the problem is you, that you upset them with some little offhand word or action a month ago and they’re just too polite to tell you? Anxiety brings this stuff in spades.

I have friends with anxiety, and it’s amazing to watch their spouses. They know their mates’ needs, and they’ll “check in” with them on a regular basis. During a long church function, they sometimes won’t let an hour pass without swinging by to see how they’re doing. Though knowing they can’t be God to their spouses, they offer what they can. They don’t groan, roll their eyes, or tell their spouses to buck up. They took “in sickness and in health” seriously.

We see this understanding in Lamentations 3:22-23, though perhaps we never read it that way before. God is never outdone in compassion. He is not stingy, doling out a little love here and there, expecting it to tide us over for weeks and then chiding us when we long for more or forget a verse. Nothing in Scripture suggests that. He welcomes a daily dependence on him, promotes it – and then fulfills it, overflowing like the sunshine, oxygen, and moisture that never run out. If he gets frustrated, it’s because we don’t depend on him, that we try the independence thing and wind up dry and desolate.

No, God loves to check in with us. His words of love are written down in black and white, a limitless fountain at the turn of a page. He tells us to be filled with his Spirit, a regular activity like eating or drinking. He is not embarrassed or annoyed that we seek him again and again. He is delighted – and responsive.

 

3. “You will get a new mind one day.”

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Imagine the moment we see God and receive our glorified bodies – and minds.

Imagine the incessant weight of sadness lifted, falling from our souls like useless scales, never to burden us again. Imagine constant lightness of heart, for no reason other than God always wanted it for us. No more clouded intellect, or unshakeable cold-blanket pessimism, or constant replaying of every word or conversation looking for where you screwed up. Every corner of our soul now conquered and owned and healed fully by God. Everything clear.

Until then, it’s a war. No doubt about it.

But the war will end. For the Christian, God has planned an entirely new body and mind, and nothing can avert his plans. It will be yours. “But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.” (Matt. 24:13)

It may not be easy, but at least it’s simple. Endure to the end. Hold fast to his Word, for it does speak our language.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Fostering a “Let’s Pray Right Now” Culture

prayerIt is under the vaguely pleasant tingling of a mild sunburn (youth group car wash) that I write to you this morning, dear readers, and I wish to talk about a “let’s pray right now” culture.

The other day, I walked past this guy speaking with a friend in church and saying “…let’s pray about it right now”. Heads bowed, eyes closed, right there.

I don’t know what the need was, but I know this is quite commonplace in my church. Right there, right then, in the middle of everything going on, we will often pray for each other’s needs, even if it is a remote uncle with an optimistic minor surgery. Not just because it comforts the person whose uncle it is, but because we believe prayer makes a difference. It is one of my greatest joys in belonging to this church family.

I used to think it was commonplace throughout Christendom.

But during my travels, I discovered differently. I found churches where apathy met even dire prayer requests. I found believers who, trying far too hard to sound smart, waxed philosophical in debates about whether it actually bore any power to pray for someone you didn’t know.

But most of all, I found countless promises of “I’ll be praying about that”.

Why say that? Why not do it right there? Embarrassment? Inconvenience? What great cost is charged to you to obey God’s command to pray without ceasing? And are we so boorish that we won’t drop a friend (or even a stranger) the slightest goodwill?

The other big problem with this, of course, is that we rarely ever do pray. We forget. We go on with our daily grind and forget. Don’t we?

My father taught me to keep a prayer list so that I wouldn’t forget. So, of course, I forget to keep a list.

Which is doubly ironic given that we all have electronic list-making tools in our pockets these days.

I don’t want to live in oblivion any more. I want to be intentional, determined, and opposed to laziness in my prayer life. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ as an obedience to our command to love; we owe it to the lost as a witness; and we owe it to God, for it proves that we actually take gifts like prayer seriously.

Let us foster a “let’s pray right now” culture in our own spheres. It isn’t going to kill us. In fact, it might save someone.

You Matter

Just the other day, Neil deGrasse Tyson dropped this pearl of morbid nihilism in his Twitter feed:

Well, thank you, Neil. You have a singular talent for brightening everyone’s day.

The greatest tragedy, though, might be how many likes that tweet got. If you read enough (forgive me, Lord) internet comments from the agnostic, scientifically curious types, you almost see a perverse delight in their rejection of anything significant about man. To hear them talk, we’re just another species adrift in the dark, clinging to a pale blue dot in its dance across the blackness, one that’s quite indifferent to whether we maintain our grip. Nothing special about us.

Anything to reject God, I suppose.

God is another matter.

You matter to God.

“I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints” (Ephesians 1:18)

We studied this last night and marveled. Our teens shared a bemusement: “Gee, God, couldn’t you have picked someone slightly better to gift with an inheritance?”

Perhaps. But he chose us.

When I observe Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You set in place,
what is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?
You made him little less than God
and crowned him with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:3-5)

Unbelievable. He cares.

…casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7)

You are not an accident or a leftover; you were planned.

That thing that happened to you in high school, the one you’ve never told anyone? He saw. He is furious. And he has plans to make it right.

The trial you’re undergoing now that’s lasted years with no end in sight? He is the God who produces solutions out of nowhere long after hope has surrendered.

Those sins you committed? God wants to forgive. He arranged for it, through the blood of his son, if only it is accepted.

Behold the black hole, one of which was first finally imaged by mankind yesterday:

hole

Amazing, is it not? I’ve waited my whole life for such a vista.

You are more than this.

You are more than just a failed star, more than just a void surrounded by cosmic detritus. That weird phenomenon, that collision of the most exotic, bizarre properties of our universe, endowed with power to anchor galaxies…God has done far more intricate work on you. Your body, your life, all stamped with his seal, bound up as a testimony to his love and care.

Amidst the energy and matter that collide hourly across the universe, you matter to God. Will you not accept this?

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Talking to a Generation in Pain

storm-3329982_640A childhood bouncing between foster homes, never once getting to stay and just be “gotten”.

The friend whose sibling just stopped talking.

Years of chronic pain from, of all things, falling out of a chair wrong.

This week has been a rough reminder of the valley through which an entire generation is slowly plodding en masse. My friends’ stories are piling up.

Feeling invisible because your siblings on either side get more attention.

Miscarriage.

An occupational disease from an employer that obscured working conditions to save money.

Loneliness – not just that of being single, but of being single without family or friends because of something “off” in the personality.

A denomination shifting doctrine (or shifting back) and leaving some behind, unsure of  their place in God’s kingdom despite how hard they’ve served.

Being attuned to poverty in every direction and unable to stop it all.

Coming home from the battlefield and wanting to end it all because of the carnage witnessed and the brothers left behind.

A knot of emotion, manifesting physically in the stomach, that just will not stop screaming lies hour after hour, week after week, year after year no matter what medication is tried.

And to top it all off, a Christianity that tells them – truthfully – that God has no obligation to make it end.

I would not pretend that previous generations have lived and died on a flowery bed of ease, but this is something else. Millennials are the grandchildren of the sixties. Enough said. Compound familial brokenness upon itself down through enough generations and you get…well, what we’re looking at now. God did say it would get worse towards the end. Even if that doesn’t explain all the trials I mentioned, it does make them harder to undergo.

And instead of love, only judgment often comes – “why can’t they just snap out of it?” Things like the recently revealed college admission scandals don’t help. The character problems of some give the entire group a bad name. Some of our pain, to be sure, is on us.

It’s tough to impart spiritual truth to millennials. Did you know that words like “glory” or “salvation” will shut some millennials down almost instantly? They’re priceless words, but the only thing they see is stern, detached buzzwords from a previous generation who don’t get what they’re going through. No, that’s not fair. No, I’m not willing to leave those words behind. But it highlights the difficulty of revealing Jesus to this group. Most want nothing to do with a God of pain.

We’re not dumb. We’re not (all) entitled. We’re not (all) seeking a victim complex.

But the swells do keep coming, and we’re tired of getting rolled.

A speaker I once heard said, “I believe the healing God wants to do in this generation is emotional.” Perhaps hearts, not issues of blood or withered hands, are what Jesus will pursue this millennium.

And perhaps we can be part of it. Consider God’s infinite patience for any person, his ability to convert even Paul to the side of the kingdom. If we simply embrace, listen, forgive, and weep with those who weep. Those are the foundation to the trusses of deep spiritual truth.

A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3)

His Peace Must Be Chosen

jordanEver heard psalmists and David Crowder sing unabashedly of God being “everything they need” and wondered, What on earth are they talking about?

Me, too.

One of the chief comforts of Scripture when we are disappointed, discouraged, or heartbroken, is that the Christian’s highest goal is not that dream or achievement or milepost you’ve fallen short of, but knowing God. Making him your peace, your joy, your contentment, your soul’s richest food and water. He, the Bible tells us repeatedly, is the only thing that will truly ever satisfy.

But you might have noticed it doesn’t just drop in with the mail.

Where is it then, God? Where are you?

Or as a friend put it recently, “Why can’t I appropriate for myself what God has promised me?”

We know God is faithful. His side of the deal is inerrant and unfailing; there is no lie or failure with him.

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Find a Savior Who Looks at You Like He’d Die For You

5661613189_65be533432_bLife has a way of breaking down your categories. You leave home and discover that Christians aren’t always decent people, nor atheists villains. You get a job and find out that some of the people out there with the foulest mouths and quickest tempers also have the very biggest hearts. You go through an election cycle. I’ll say no more about that. Whatever the case, our black-and-white definitions of things and people are constantly being broken down by life. It’s really a huge favor, if you think about it.

Same thing with marriage.

I’ve longed to be married for quite a while. I have many friends who can say the same. The world around me, too, seems convinced that this is the answer. You can tell by what they say, what they post, what they pursue. They just don’t talk about anything else. “Find a man who looks at you like…” Continue reading